Streets ahead

Twisted Metal is an important brand for PlayStation veterans. Many will have fond memories of weekends spent with turbo-charged cars and homing missiles, settling disputes between friends and family. It’s a franchise that, like WipEout and Gran Turismo, is an important part of PlayStation’s iconography. And if a short hands-on with Eat Sleep Play’s upcoming reboot is anything to go by, it’s still awesome.

Car combat has been a fairly under-represented genre this generation. Outside of the odd downloadable distraction, there’s been a real lack of substance in the field. That’s led to some criticism that the genre is irrelevant in a modern context, but Twisted Metal discredits that. Make no mistake, this is a game that thrives on nostalgia, but it feels retro in the best possible way.

Twisted Metal introduces its old-school sensibilities from the start. It eschews control expectations, opting for a default scheme that harks back to 1995. Using Square to accelerate and X to quick-turn feels unusual in a modern context, but once you wrap your head around the fact that it's not a racer – it’s more a shooter in reality – the system locks into place. There are more modern control schemes on offer – which assign accelerate to the expected R2 – but we recommend at least trying the default controls before making any changes. It really does make the most sense for the game.

Previous games have offered a range of personalities with their own vehicles and weapons. Now there are three factions to choose from – the Dolls, the Clowns and the Skulls – each of which are derivative of mainstays from the franchise. While the lack of character variety is a touch disappointing, Eat Sleep Play manages to capture the personality through the game’s vehicles instead.

Cars fulfil the roles you’d expect – some are nimble but slow, others are heavy but tough – but early impressions of the balance levels very positive. Even the helicopter – a new addition to the series and the victim of much concern – slots in perfectly. The few advantages the vehicle brings are balanced by its low armour and inability to quickly find respite in dangerous situations.

Each vehicle comes equipped with a unique special move. In the Meat Wagon’s case – a kind of Ecto-1 inspired ambulance – that’s shooting out a screaming patient rigged with explosives, and the Reaper – a gothic motorcycle – comes fitted with a pleasantly appropriate chainsaw. The detail in each weapon is impressive: you can power up the chainsaw by doing a wheelie and dragging it across the floor, causing it to catch fire and deal more damage.

Boom boom pow

Making it easier to strike targets is a freeze ability, allowing you to stall your target, while other standard abilities include mines and shields, all of which are operational from the D-Pad. Each car also comes packed with a standard machine gun, and in true Twisted Metal tradition there are countless pick-ups littered across each map.

Part of the challenge – and appeal – to Twisted Metal comes from exploring the game’s maps and learning its intricacies. Like a first-person shooter, where you eventually learn about sniping spots and cover points, it’s important to remember where health and weapons are in order to succeed. Unlike FPS games, where you initially spend most of your time running from spawn-points only to get sniped on the way, here you can still have fun while you find your footing.

It’s online where the game is at its best. We went hands-on with two modes: Deathmatch and Nuke. Despite some net code difficulties, which Sony promises will be fixed, the online experience is smooth and efficient. Lobby systems – with chatrooms – pave the way to recurring match-ups, with little to no lag on display during our time with the game. Deathmatch is largely what you’d expect – chaotic and challenging – but it’s markedly different from all the other modes on the market. Simply putting you inside a vehicle and driving around maps makes the race for the highest kill count feel new again – even if it’s really not.

But it’s Nuke that’s been consuming most of our attention. This is the game mode that Eat Sleep Play mistakenly decided to debut at E3, and while the mode’s not instantly accessible it’s some of the most fun we’ve had in multiplayer since MAG. The mode itself is a twist on capture-the-flag, except you must steal your opponent’s faction leader, located in a building and armed with a remote turret. You’ll need to drive over them to steal them away, at which point you become a target for the enemy team. Your next objective is to find a launcher with which to feed the faction leader, all while holding off opponent attacks. Should you manage to load the launcher, you then control a remote missile – or nuke – which you must steer towards the enemy faction’s statue. Hit the statue and you’ll earn a point for your team.

Behind you!

It’s complex but incredibly well done. Steering the missile into your opponent’s camp is unbelievably satisfying, and the sense of jubilation when your enemy misses is unmatched in video games.

For all its plus points, Twisted Metal isn't necessarily a looker: it’s a bit gaudy and rough. Sharp visuals take a back seat to slick performance, and it runs incredibly well, albeit with some very minor chugs. Furthermore, the vehicles look great and there’s some decent use of motion blur to convey the sense of speed.

The signs are good, then. Assuming Eat Sleep Play and Sony can resolve the game’s matchmaking issues ahead of launch – which we’re sure they will – the game’s looking like a refreshing multiplayer treat. And this is all without touching on the game’s single-player campaign, which Jaffe believes is the strongest in the series.

For whatever worries critics had about Twisted Metal pre-release, Eat Sleep Play could have silenced them. Car combat is still relevant – on this evidence, emphatically so – and we’re now counting down the days for the game’s full release.