Review – Twisted Metal (PS1)

The original Twisted Metal has been something of a mystery to me. A friend of mine used to own a PS1, but the rental store we frequented only carried the sequel in perpetuity. I have vague recollections of having experienced later entries in the PlayStation series, but never the first. In fact, gazing at its bizarre early-PlayStation tall-case, it dawned on me that I don’t remember even having seen it before. Not every edition of it came in the ill-conceived tall case, but I don’t even remember spying a Greatest Hits edition. Only the digital PSN version ever passed my radar.

So, my elusive little devil, what do you have for me?

It’s like going back to the days of bashing cars from the toy box together. (Image source: mobygames.com)

CARS WITH GUNS

The vehicular combat sub-genre is one that is mysteriously scarce in the current gaming scene, but in the late ‘90s, it exploded in the wake of Twisted Metal. Much like how Street Fighter wasn’t the first fighting game, Twisted Metal was hardly the first vehicular combat game; it was just the one that cemented the genre. On that thought, vehicular combat didn’t meet the same lasting success as the fighting or beat-‘em-up genres, but there was undeniably a surge of them towards the turn of the millenium. Vigilante 8, Battletanx, Rogue Trip (a game actually by the original Twisted Metal devs), and many more all hit the market to varying levels of success.

The concept is simple. You’re given control of a chosen vehicle, and you have to destroy everyone else in the arena. In Twisted Metal’s case, most of the vehicles are simple civilian cars and trucks modified with machine guns and rocket launchers. You have a monster truck, a police car, a motorcycle, and, of course, an ice cream truck driven by an insane clown.

Weapons are picked up off the ground, giving you access to a plethora of missiles that freeze, burn, or just cause massive amounts of damage. There’s also a variety of mines that… I’m not sure if I ever found useful. Each vehicle also has a special weapon that recharges on its own. These have a little more variety in them, giving you access to arcing electricity, ghostly heads, and even flame throwers.

Finally, if your health is low, you can ride into repair points scattered throughout maps. These are single-use, but they do recharge after a while. It can be a bit of an issue, since the incentivizes driving away from danger while you wait for the repair points to come back online.

ELUSIVE LITTLE DEVIL

The story, such as it is, involves a man named Calypso holding his deadly demolition derby on Christmas Eve in the distant year of 2005. The winner of the competition earns a single wish; whatever their heart desires. I personally wouldn’t trust a guy who likes to watch people in station wagons turn their fellow man into a well-charred piece of scenery, but I guess there are people out there who would.

The cast has always been one of the better aspects of Twisted Metal’s narratives. It’s a bizarre collection of characters, each with their own reasons for entering the contest, each with a wish they’re seeking to be granted. There’s an individual ending for each one of them, as well, allowing you to see how things turn out for them. Originally, they were going to be capped off by a live-action FMV cutscene, but they were cut because they were considered too disturbing. Instead, you get a text crawl which is better than nothing, I guess.

Watch out! These cardboard standees like to shoot at you. (Image source: mobygames.com)

THE STREETS OF LOS ANGELES

Your tour of destruction takes you through the various neighbourhoods of Los Angeles; from downtown to the suburbs. There are only six levels but they vary greatly in size and layout. You start off battling a single opponent, but as you advance, you’re pitted against many more. Don’t think you can just hide and let everyone else take each other out, however. The AI doesn’t seem to really… exist beyond the draw fog. They make a show of fighting while you’re up close, but distant groups of enemies don’t seem to take damage over time.

Six levels also don’t take very long. I waded through the carnage in an evening and reached the final level. You have a choice to play through all the levels again as a different vehicle, and that’s not without merit, but the password system is so basic that you can use the same one to reach the last level with any vehicle; effectively skipping the game. Not that I recommend it if you want to get your dollar’s worth.

Speaking of its password system, Twisted Metal has this vexing little quirk where you’re given three lives to reach the end of a level, but they don’t refresh when the next level starts, nor is there a continue system. Instead, if you want to replenish your lives, you have to go back to the car selection screen, input the password and continue where you left off. It’s something that’s easy enough to work around, but it’s an annoying quirk that could have been alleviated by either replenishing you life stock every level or by having a “continue” or “restart level” option.

HIT AND RUN

Did I mention this game came out a couple of months after the PlayStation did? That’s kind of important because its graphics are pretty hard to look at it and not in a “blocky and pixelated” way. The perspective correction is non-existent, so textures warp and bend constantly. It’s so bad that it seems to affect the physics of the game and you’ll often find yourself looking straight through the textures at some other part of the map. Enemies have occasionally displayed the ability to fire through solid objects and ignore whatever force keeps them glued to the track, allowing them to spin like a top and mash you instantly. Try to do the same, however, and you’ll find that you’re not allowed the same leniency by the game’s physics.

Not that this really affects gameplay to any major extent. You kind of just get used to the game’s loose rules and try to work around them. Audio cues and a somewhat wonky radar will clue you in when a specific enemy is around, so it’s always possible to find and attack your intended target.

Speaking of the aesthetics, the music is interesting in the sense that it’s so generic and mixed so far into the background that it’s barely noticeable. I considered turning the music track up but decided not to after taking the time to actually listen to the guitars growling in the background. It’s maybe for the best that it’s mixed so low.

The level design can be a lot of fun, even when it adds additional hazards. (Image source: mobygames.com)

BURNING WRECK

While Twisted Metal certainly has tarnished with age, it’s surprising how well its simple gameplay has held up over the years. Oh, sure, it’s been outclassed by a few of its successors many times over, but there’s still a lot of joy to be found in ramming missiles up the tailpipe of a monster truck. It helps that the game carries with it a very distinct late-’90s, attitude-era kind of mentality that makes it charmingly dated.

Overall, despite all my gripes, I’m still pretty enthusiastic about Twisted Metal. It could stem from the affection I have for the series as a whole, but I feel I really enjoyed my time with the game and endorse it fully. Maybe I wouldn’t take it over its sequel, or later gems like Twisted Metal: Black and Head-on, but it’s a fun time capsule that simultaneously depicts the early Playstation line-up, the late 90’s, and the formative days of an enduring franchise.

7/10

This review was conducted on a backwards compatible PS3 using a disc copy of the game. It was paid for by the author.

About Adzuken 146 Articles
Adzuken has been gaming for as far back as they can remember. Their eclectic tastes have led them across a vast assortment of consoles and both the best and worst games they have to offer.

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