This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Twisted Metal.
Why, there are so many good reasons for me not to drive a car, I wouldn't be surprised if there's a law against it; I work from home, I'm based in the inner city, and we live in an age when even the most limbless housebound cripple can headbutt a nearby handset and order a hooker online to come over and massage his ruined prostate. And then there's my prowess with driving video games, in that “taking my foot off the accelerator as I go around sharp mountainside bends” is advice my brain just can't seem to absorb properly. And there's something about being in a sturdy, powerful machine and being forced to wait for pedestrians crossing the road in front of you pushing some stupid pram that makes me want to physically inform them of their place in the grand scheme of things, as I explained to the judge. Most of that came from playing Carmageddon back in the ironically bad pun period in the nineties (see also Wargasm). I never got around to playing any of the Twisted Metal titles, but that's all right, because the new one is just called Twisted Metal, which obviously means it's exactly the same as the original, doesn't it? Oh, fuck you.
I do know that Twisted Metal is from that stable of games you fall upon when you've got friends over late at night and you've all had a few, so you put something on you can play split-screen that operates on the same intellectual level you're all currently occupying. So naturally that's the first thing I did with Twisted Metal. It must be said that wide-screen TVs have not been kind to the notion of split-screen gaming; with the horizontal split, you end up working with an aspect ratio more commonly associated with fortune cookie papers. HUD elements all being the size of a gnat's fart in the corner of the screen definitely doesn't help in a game like Twisted Metal, where the one-on-one showdown is decided not by skill or strategy but by who can figure out how the controls work first.
I'm not complaining that turning into a giant clown robot and signing your name in someone's buttocks with your nose laser requires a certain amount of finesse, but I had to thumb through the manual to figure out how to go into reverse. Double tap the brake button? Why can't we just keep holding the brake, like every driving game that wasn't designed by the rear half of a horse? What the fuck am I gonna need the brake for after the car has stopped? Percussion? It was while hunting through the options menus for a control scheme that didn't inhale dead spiderlings through a whale's urethra that I discovered that this default setup is named "Classic Twisted Metal Controls". Oh, well, that's all right then, as long as you're preserving horrible ideas in the name of tradition. What's good enough for the Catholic church is good enough for you.
Even the single-player is tight-lipped when it comes to player training, and I won't apologize for having gotten used to the first level of every single-player game consisting of an instructional tiptoe through the tulips with a friendly instructor patiently handing out participation awards every other step. Fortunately, there is an optional training mode, and I would highly recommend going through it, because it was only there that I found out about the jump command, which would have been handy in the previous mission when my progress was being stymied by a chest-high wall on loan from the shooter next door, as well as the SIXAXIS boost command you activate by shoving the controller forward like you're fending off an amorous fat person at an otherwise splendid orgy.
There's something about the story campaign that worries me, and I'm not even a parent looking for a nice goofy driving game to stop my little sodbasket from squalling while Newsnight’s on. The story concerns this bloke called Calypso who couldn't be more obviously Satan if he was wearing horns and idly chewing on Judas Iscariot. He organizes a no-holds-barred destruction derby driving competition that you can't even enter the qualifying match until you've murdered at least one family and designed a vehicle capable of skidding straight through a major population center without slowing; which, as plans to sow discord in the realms of man go, seems unusually direct, by Satan's standards. The prize on offer is a single wish for anything you want, so the story covers a parade of colorful nutters, none of whom have ever heard of getting a lawyer to once-over the contract, receiving an appropriate comeuppance for their failure to observe the highway code.
But the cinematics depicting all of this look like they got Zack Snyder to re-cut the opening sequence of Se7en after a particularly difficult night on dodgy seafood, and they just seem rather far removed from the world the gameplay takes place in, where semi-trucks fire electric stun lasers at ice cream vans that turn into giant robots and nobody butchers screaming families with giant novelty bread knives. Okay, so firing rockets at someone's car and running over the screaming, burning occupants as they run flailing from the wreckage isn't exactly a lesson in appropriate social interaction, but that's more of a goofy, entertaining class of horribleness, while the cinematics belong more to the kind that suddenly comes back to you at three in the morning when you hear a creak downstairs and you aren't entirely certain you set your prowling murderer alarm before you went to bed.
It's a bit of an inconsistent tone, is me point, and the single-player missions themselves seem rather horribly balanced, and the difficulty goes up and down like an excited dog on a malfunctioning escalator. There's almost no chance of winning a “race” race if you pick anything but the fastest car available, and there's a particularly obnoxious event in the third chapter where you're expected to take down two murderous semi-trucks while every other motorist on the highway has been told there's free candy in your boot. I wanted to throw the controller at the cat and say, “Look, if you motherfuckers want to be doing any other races, you need to get off my fucking back. Because you're only wasting your own time when you're treating my bumper like the choppiest buttock in the whorehouse."
Twisted Metal is pleasingly evocative of a better period of gaming, which is a diplomatic way of saying it looks like it belongs on the PS2. But that's not necessarily a bad thing; if you and your friends can overcome the seven or eight lagers sizzling away in your brainpans long enough to figure out the controls, then there's a lot of nice, unconstrained, OTT, highway code-defying action violence to be had. But does it have a right to exist if the previous installments did the same but generally better?
I find the single-player elements upsetting in many ways. I'm sure I needn't remind viewers that I'd rather hug the venomous quills of a tarantu-hedgehog than a human child, but it's a shame when a game essentially about watching things explode at high speed with gurgling childish mirth tries to make itself all dark and edgy as well, like a ferris wheel with the face of Stanley Kubrick painted on the side. Just seems like unnecessarily limiting the audience; I'm picturing Mrs. Stephens leaving her rosy-cheeked boys in the care of the latest electronic babysitter only to freeze mid cookie-baking at the sound of an f-word drifting through from the lounge, whereupon she storms in and wrenches the controllers away from her children so hard their little arms snap off at the elbow. ...Huh. Actually, on second thought, I'm down with that. Carry on, Twisted Metal!
Drives a hard bargain: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
So a man gives in to a long-repressed dark side and butchers his own family as they plead to the man trapped inside and then YAY GOOFY RACING GAME
My car's fucking your car's mum