Tossing bananas out of go-karts, going off-road in rally cars, zipping along tracks in hovercraft – these kinds of games are fun. However, SingleTrac’s Twisted Metal series was a vehicular deathmatch frag-a-thon that proved to the world that blowing one another up in buggies, trucks, and even a demonic ice cream van can be just as enjoyable, if not moreso. Twisted stuff, indeed.
989 Studios stepped into the equation to create the third and fourth entries in the series. Despite high-expectations, Twisted Metal III disappointed many fans after its North American-exclusive release in 1998.
The titular Twisted Metal tournament invites drivers to battle one another in a series of gauntlets around the world for a grand prize: a single wish, no matter how outlandish it may be. Say goodbye to those fantastic comic book-style cutscenes from the previous game. Instead, this one has fully-3D cutscenes to tell the story, which are cursed with stiff animation and lazy writing. Hey, at least the opening looks cool.
Compared to the previous game, Twisted Metal III has some good visuals. It’s no major improvement, but the vehicles and environment look smoother, and the heads-up display is a lot more compact and informative compared to the clutter of green text smeared across the screen. It runs at a better framerate, too, and supports 4-player split-screen. However, the new physics engine is a bit iffy – you can drive up steep walls if you try hard enough, but can’t seem to steer without swinging around wildly while you’re accelerating. Though it’s only a video game, so there’s no need for any semblance of logic here… right?
Gameplay has not changed all that much, naturally. All you need to do is eliminate the competition, including the mini-bosses on tournament mode. Weapons like homing missiles and bouncy bombs are available to collect, but you can always rely on your machine guns or vehicle-exclusive special moves to dish out damage. Secret button combos will activate things like invisibility or a freeze ray, of which the AI will use a lot.
Health power-ups are available, but they reappear a bit too quickly, and the AI will automatically hone towards them. As a result, some matches will drag on at times. Worst of all, there are no other game modes outside of the story mode and deathmatch.
You can tell 989 Studios lost all interest in creating a likeable cast of characters to go with the line-up of vehicles. Instead, you’ve got a hotrod-driving pyromaniac who looks like a mix-up of Krusty the Clown and Keith Flint from The Prodigy. Even recurring characters look laughable; the soul-reaping biker Mr. Grimm resembles that of a decaying tramp. To top it all off, with exception of Mel McMurrin as Calypso, the voice acting is utter bum. Even the ending cutscenes are dull, and often contradict what the characters are fighting for in the first place.
While nostalgic fans will praise the second game for its great levels, in honesty, it did have a few rubbish maps (‘Field of Screams’, anyone?). Twisted Metal III’s level design is not that different: areas like Hangar 18 and Calypso’s zeppelin are symmetrical snorefests. The better picks include the icy, bumpy North Pole, and the twisty streets of London, all of which have destroyable secret areas with weapon stockpiles hidden inside.
Big points go to the soundtrack of the game. Rob Zombie’s horror movie-inspired tracks like “Meet The Creeper” and “Superbeast” go hand-in-hand with the anarchic gameplay (there’s even a Xmas-themed remix of “More Human Than Human” in the North Pole!). The same can be said about the blend of guitars and fast-tempo drum ‘n’ bass beats by Pitchshifter. Plus, the instrumental, in-house rock tracks are a decent listen, too. Plenty of head-bangers await in this one.
Truthfully, Twisted Metal III is not a bad game, though it lacks a lot of polish. Plus points include its smooth framerate, decent visuals and Metal-centric soundtrack. While the gameplay is what you would expect from a Twisted Metal game, some of the levels are far too boring, and a lack of extra game modes severely hampers its replay-value. On top of that, while there are a decent selection of vehicles, the drivers are ridiculous and their endings are a lackluster watch, too. There are nuggets of fun to be had in this one, yet, alas, it pales in comparison to its predecessor – it’s a soulless sequel.
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