In another departure, the unbreakable link between driver and vehicle is gone. No longer does Sweet Tooth drive only the ice cream truck, or Dollface drive only Darkside; you can drive any available vehicle as whichever driver the story is currently focused on. This means you're never stuck driving a vehicle you don't like, but for Twisted Metal veterans, using Outlaw while advancing through Sweet Tooth's story might feel a bit like playing as Guile while progressing toward Ryu's ending in Street Fighter II.
6350199Races bring some speed and variety to the Story mode.None
That odd disconnect between vehicle and driver aside, the live-action cutscenes are grisly, grindhouse-style fun, and Calypso's in top form when it comes to fulfilling wishes in wonderfully twisted ways. The three endings make a fine reward for your hard-earned victories over the Story mode's impressive bosses, though the feeling of triumph these battles leave you with is a reward in itself. Each of them puts you in the shoes of David against a relative Goliath (or two), whether you're battling a pair of massive monster trucks, a huge flying robot, or the staggeringly large vehicle that you face in the final confrontation. These battles have multiple stages, and though the game doesn't skimp on the difficulty, it's kind enough to let you pick up at whatever stage you reached when you died, so it never feels punishing. One particular stage of the second boss battle may still have you tearing your hair out in frustration, but for the most part, these face-offs are tough but fair, and they leave you feeling like a champion when you emerge victorious.
The Story mode also includes some challenging variations on the standard deathmatch scenario. In a few stages, there are trucks called Juggernauts cruising the field and spawning new enemies every few minutes, which puts the pressure on to hunt down and take out the Juggernauts as quickly as possible. A much more drastic departure from typical Twisted Metal action comes in the Story mode's few checkpoint races. Speed takes priority over firepower here, and the game's fastest cars are fun to put through their paces, making wildly tight turns and accelerating like a bat out of hell as you rocket toward the finish line. One of these races involves making some tricky jumps among the rooftops of Diesel City, where one mistake means you fall to the ground with no hope of catching up and may as well start over. It's frustrating, to be sure, but it's also thrilling to finally nail those jumps and snatch victory from one of your opponents in the final milliseconds.
You can put a personal touch on your favorite vehicles in the paint shop.
The Story mode can be tackled by two players via split-screen, just like in the good old days of the franchise. Sharing the struggle and coordinating tactics with a teammate is great fun, but disappointingly, there's no option to play the campaign cooperatively online. Outside of the Story mode, four players can play split-screen Death Match and other competitive modes. But it's in the large-scale online multiplayer battles that Twisted Metal really shines. In a 16-player Death Match, the action is far more raucous and unpredictable than when playing against AI. This is at least partially because AI opponents never really try to kill each other; they're all out to get you. In the free-for-all of human competition, players are smart enough to make full use of the map, clustering together in hostile frays when it's advantageous and retreating when health is low.
In addition to Death Match and Team Death Match, there's Last Man Standing and a team variant, and Hunted and Team Hunted, in which everyone's out to kill a designated player, and killing that player makes you the next target. Finally, there's Nuke, a team-based mode in which teams take turns playing offense and defense. On offense, your goal is to capture an enemy chieftain and speed him or her to a missile launcher, where the chieftain is sacrificed and you guide a missile into the other team's statue. On defense, your goal (of course) is to prevent this from happening. It's a thrill to speed across town with a chieftain in tow, enemy vehicles hot on your heels, and guiding a missile into the heart of an enemy statue is an explosive and satisfying way to help your team. In all of these modes, the human element gives battles a dynamic energy that's thrilling from moment to moment.
Stay on target! Stay on target!
Unfortunately, at this point, getting into those online battles isn't nearly as smooth and hassle-free as it should be. Connection errors are common when attempting to join games, and other quirks crop up frequently. For instance, you might select Team Games (which specifically refers to Team Death Match, Last Man Standing, and Hunted) under the Quick Online Action option, and find yourself dropped into a game of Nuke, which has its own separate category. Hopefully these kinks will be ironed out quickly, because the underlying online experience is immensely enjoyable.
Certain franchises go overboard, producing sequels so frequently that you don't have time to miss them before the next installment is upon you, like a houseguest whose company you enjoy but who overstays his welcome. With Twisted Metal, the effect is the opposite. This brand of vehicular combat is every bit as thrilling today as it ever was, and you may be left wondering why it stayed away for so long. But what really matters is that it's back now, and it is great; Calypso hasn't forgotten how to throw one hell of a competition.