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A Trip Down Nightmare Lane: The Twisted Metal Retrospective

Posted on Friday, February 10 @ 07:50:42 PST by Jonathan_Leack

What's better than cars, guns, and explosions? That's likely what David Jaffe was thinking when he came up with Twisted Metal nearly two decades ago. What once would be considered a demented idea has spawned a series of vehicular combat video games that have lasted over 16 years, entertaining millions in the process. To show our respect for the longest-running PlayStation exclusive, we've decided to take a trip back down memory lane just in-time for the the next release coming this month, recalling some of the series' most explosive moments while we're at it.

So what is Twisted Metal? While on one hand you could just label it a "vehicular combat" series, that wouldn't do it justice. Beneath all of the explosions and squealing tires is a game with a lot of heart. Fundamentally, the game is about risking your soul to be granted any wish you desire while blowing up anyone who gets in your way. There's a simple story delivered, but a diverse cast of creepy characters that make the journey from start to finish unforgettable. Whatever Twisted Metal is, I like it, and judging by its sales of over six-million across seven games, a lot of other people do too.

Twisted Metal - the only game where an ice cream truck
versus a taxi actually makes sense.

When the first Twisted Metal metal came out in 1995, reception was all over the place. While we gave it a solid B+, several other sites shunned it for its washed-out visuals and weak single-player mode which lasted fewer than two hours. Actually, the controls were relatively clunky, too, and the text-delivered ending scenes were no better than just saying congratulations like most classic games do. Myself and plenty of other people didn't care, though, as being able to drive down city streets at break-neck speeds while firing homing missiles was enough to overshadow any and all of its shortcomings. I'm sure a lot of the people in the industry were thinking, "Now, why didn't we think of that!?" when it first came out. Truth is, Twisted Metal is awesome, and all it needed was a few maps, weapons, and vehicles to make it one of the best split-screen games of its time.

While the original release didn't score particularly well, Sony saw its commercial success as a reason to use it for a holiday bundle. Whoever thought that bundling a game about battling to the death in a PlayStation package for the holidays was either insane, a genius, or both. My parents purchased the bundle for me on Christmas, and since it was the first true split-screen multi-player game I had ever played, it holds strong memories for me. I spent hours trying out all of the cars and seeing what each of them offered, similar to what many fighting-game fans experience. It was the first time since Mortal Kombat came out in 1992 where I found pleasure in kicking ***. Doing fatalities with Scorpion was cool, but launching off a ramp before barraging a group of vehicles with Mr. Grimm's Death Spawn was too awesome to describe.

"You think this machine gun hurts? Wait until you see my special package."

Sony saw a lot of potential for the series and almost immediately began work on Twisted Metal 2. When it finally came out in 1996, it sold extremely well despite its mature image, and would become the best-selling Twisted Metal on the original PlayStation. It added new contestants including Axel, Grasshopper, Mr. Slam, Twister, and Shadow. Sony also chose to use real-world settings for its locations like Paris, Moscow, and Los Angeles. Who doesn't want to drive around Paris in a giant semi-truck crushing cars in their path? The maps were also a lot larger and had stronger design with plenty of death traps and secret locations. Most of all, co-op multiplayer was added, and nothing beats taking down groups of cars with a friend.
Both Twisted Metal III and Twisted Metal 4 would follow the second release in yearly cycles. At that point, 989 Studios took over the development for the series after some corporate changes at Sony, and David Jaffe was moved from Designer to Director. You might know 989 Studios for games like Syphon Filter3Xtreme, and Jet Moto 3, so you would almost bet that these two Twisted Metal games would be killer releases. Unfortunately, Twisted Metal III and Twisted Metal 4 didn't do so hot, and while they added new locales and characters, they didn't innovate enough to spark interest. They were both considered to be backward steps for the series with sluggish controls and no noticeable design improvements to speak of. Truthfully, the series could've died after Twisted Metal 4, but there was way too much potential for it to just end there.

"I scream you scream we all scream f... OH NO IT'S SWEET TOOTH!"

It wasn't until Twisted Metal: Black released on the PlayStation 2 a couple of years later that the series really took off. Incognito Entertainment returned the series to its roots and churned out something that only nightmares could imagine. It was extremely dark, with intriguing narratives for each of the game's psychopathic characters. The gameplay was so well designed for its time that the game managed to win several Best Shooter awards in the year 2001. Not bad for a game that's only half-shooter. The visuals were also competitive, and since the cutscenes were delivered with strong audio and brutal visuals, presentation was at an all-time high.

Following the stellar release of Twisted Metal: Black, there was a huge void in the industry. There would be a PlayStation Portable release titled Twisted Metal: Head-On in 2005, but it didn't do well commercially. It was a direct continuation of Twisted Metal 2, as the development team deemed it better to just ignore the fact that Twisted Metal III and Twisted Metal 4 existed. It was the first of the series to include an online-mode from day one which would be one of its only major selling points, as it was considered much more of a tribute to the original two games than it was a major new release for the series. People like Twisted Metal because it wears leather, drives a Harley, and is a blast to play with a friend. Ruling out split-screen and making a comedian out of Twisted Metal was exactly what Head-On, did and as such it wasn't up to the standards of the originals or Twisted Metal: Black.

"When they captured me, the only thing I could think was, "What a waste."
All those people I hadn't killed yet." - Sweet Tooth (Twisted Metal: Black)

There's something extremely mysterious about Twisted Metal that makes it so difficult to put down. Sweet Tooth is cool, gambling your soul to Calypso is even cooler, and being able to blow cars up to tracks from Rob Zombie just sends cool-dar to its limits. We've been waiting a long, long time for another Twisted Metal, and the cancelation of Twisted Metal: Harbor City has only made it worse. But now a new Twisted Metal is upon us, and just like with Twisted Metal: Black it's the first release for a new series of console, and has had several years of careful development behind it. I'm locked and loaded for the next game and hopefully you are too.

Related Games:   Twisted Metal (2012)

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