Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Megabits Column: Twisted Metal

Megabits of Gaming contributes a monthly column in Charged Middle East – a leading Dubai-based gadgets and games magazine that provides news, reviews and features on the latest home and consumer electronics.

Each month, Megabits takes a look at a new release in a gaming franchise and considers how its evolved over the years and what makes it great!

Here’s the latest of the articles from the May 2012 issue. For more about the magazine, check out its Facebook page after the jump.

As an avid, thirty-something gamer, the words "ice cream" evoke two cherished memories. One takes me to a futuristic sports arena with the Brutal Deluxe players in the Bitmap Brother's seminal Speedball 2. And as I launch that small metal ball into my opponent's goal, I can just make out a vendor calling out "ice cream, ice cream" somewhere in the distance. The second bout of nostalgia involves a flame-haired psychopath dressed as a clown driving an ice cream truck in car combat game Twisted Metal. Thanks to Eat Sleep Play and Sony, it's the latter that being revived on the PS3... and it's a worthy return too.

Compared to its last outing on the PS2, it looks phenomenal thanks to the current gen capabilities, with the sharp graphics and sound combining with the supersmooth gameplay. There are eight huge maps, all of which are delightfully destructible so it's quite a spectacle when you get a few like-minded friends together who hellbent on causing havoc.

Besides stepping into the oversized shoes of killer clown Sweet Tooth, you also get to play as ex-stuntman Mr Grimm and disfigured model Krista Sparks - aka Dollface. They're all chasing the ultimate prize - a wish granted by the sinister Calypso. All they have to do is win his Twisted Metal tournament.

The latest in the Twisted Metal series brings with it the usual armoury of weapons and souped-up vehicles - including that infamous ice cream truck, motorbikes, juggernauts and even a helicopter. All entrants to the competition have one objective, to be the last one standing and to have their wish granted.

Vehicular combat is clearly nothing new. Twisted Metal itself dates back to 1995, making it the longest exclusive franchise in PlayStation history - but there have been plenty of other examples of games that have seamlessly merged the driving and shooting genres in the past few decades. There are of course the well-known cutesy titles such as the Mario Kart series, Crash Tag Team Racing and Blur - all light-hearted arcade racers that encourage rivalry and are just good clean fun. Twisted Metal is right at the other end of the spectrum.

It's a really macabre affair. Each of the main characters is unlikeable, their malevolence and hatred for others creating a dark overtone that means you relish wiping out your rivals. And there have been plenty of other similar games that have tapped into our deep-seated desire for virtual road rage.

Among the most famous of its predecessors was Carmageddon in 1997 - a game so violent that it was heavily censored in some parts of the world. Replacing human roadkill with robots may have watered down the impact a little but there was no escaping the gratuitous nature of the game.

Also among the favourites was Acid Software's Roadkill on Amiga's ill-fated CD32 (1994), a top down affair that was one of the best releases for the short-lived chunky grey console. When you weren't driving your opponents into spikes, you were firing rockets in their general direction.

A few years later and its namesake on the PS2, Xbox and Gamecube (2003) also summed up the feel of the car combat genre perfectly: a lone driver battling various gangs in a lawless, post-apocalyptic world. It wasn't half bad and either. It told a similar kind of tale of an unruly world, beset by plague, violence and gang warfare, with one man taking everyone on in a bid to survive. Typical fare really.

As Twisted Metal goes to show, the genre is still hugely popular today. In March, Wrecked: Revenge Revisited made its way onto XBLA and PSN - albeit to mixed reviews. Still, in all but name, it's a revamp of Supersonic Software's popular Mashed (2005). Not only was that a great racer in its own right but it was praised for its multiplayer back then. And that seems to be the common denominator with this genre, playing alone is fine but get some friends involved and you'll literally have a blast!