Calculated Chaos: Hands on with Twisted Metal at E3

Has David Jaffe managed to recapture Twisted Metal’s unique brand of vehicular mayhem?

It’s been over a decade since I last spent time with Twisted Metal, but the franchise doesn’t seem to have changed much in the interim. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I jumped into a standard eight-person death match at E3, and the new reboot feels exactly like Twisted Metal, even if it does take a few minutes to get reacquainted with the controls. I frequently became so preoccupied with the weapons that I’d forget about the gas pedal, although the game is otherwise quite intuitive and it’s easy to figure out which buttons correspond to acceleration and which buttons correspond to death.

The driving mechanics, meanwhile, don’t leave anything to be desired. Your turning radius is fantastic, and a well-executed handbrake turn will send you into an immediate 180. The tight controls allow you to keep a target in your sights with minimal trouble, and the precision makes it possible to outmaneuver your opponent as long as you’re deft behind the wheel.

Beyond that, Twisted Metal is – as it always was – the epitome of vehicular mayhem. I drove around spraying bullets and missiles at everything that moved while glass storefronts shattered whenever anyone dared to drive through them. I didn’t see quite as much environmental destruction as I expected (although I did enjoy tearing through the seats of an auditorium), but the levels are surprisingly intricate and I kept discovering new areas throughout the entire session.

Unfortunately, I’m not convinced that the game encourages exploration. Cars seem to pool in certain central areas like farmyard animals being sucked into a tornado, and while that makes for some relentless action, you feel as if you’ll miss all the fun stuff if you drive off on your own. That might change once people become more familiar with the game – regulars are always looking for something new, and the maps definitely have replay value – but the insanity nonetheless threatens to overshadow the intricateness of the design.

What’s strange is that there’s clearly a lot of method behind Twisted Metal’s madness. Power-ups are evenly distributed and none of the weapons feel overpowered. Even so, I couldn’t tell you where I ranked on the leaderboards at the end of our match. I know I had fun – the sheer kinetic energy makes it tough to get bored – but it almost feels like I was a part of a controlled chemical reaction.

The fact that I can hardly recall half my session would indicate that David Jaffe has managed to engineer the gaming equivalent of the idiot savant, and that was probably the goal all along. I often didn’t know what weapons I had in my arsenal, but you can be sure that that never prevented me from pulling the trigger.

The multiplayer dynamic is ultimately unlike anything you’re going to find in any current first person shooters. Even with an accelerated pace, there are no one-hit KOs so you have time to adjust to the shifting conditions of a dogfight. It’s easy to steal kills from other players (and for them to steal kills from you), so Twisted Metal requires both gameplay skill and ruthless opportunism. That’s not a criticism, but it is the sort of thing you should know if you’re considering the title.

Moving on, Twisted Metal has the expected assortment of cars – the motorcycles are fast and light while the larger trucks sacrifice mobility for armor – and I didn’t see anything that would have me overly concerned about the balance, even with the addition of a helicopter. The aerial option could have thrown a wrench into everything, but Eat Sleep Play seems to have gotten it right and there’s no inherent advantage if you’re going airborne. All of the weapons are located on the ground, so you’ll have to descend if you want to engage with the other cars and the auto-targeting system ensures that homing missiles will usually find their mark even if you’re at altitude.

However, I should mention that there are still some serious technical bugs that will have to be addressed. Multiple consoles froze during my brief time with the game, and the reset button only provides temporary relief. We were looking at an older build, but it is a concern as the game gets closer and closer to launch.

So while Twisted Metal most certainly isn’t high art – and I doubt David Jaffe would argue that point – it is a deep multiplayer experience that’s faster and more chaotic than anything that relies on two legs for movement. It’s Twisted Metal updated for the latest console generation, and if that’s all you’re looking for, you’re probably not going to be disappointed in the fall.