Way back when I was but a tyke in upstate New York, my dad used to take me to the car races. They were big oval dirt track blitzes with roaring souped-up stock cars that sent clouds of dust and grit wafting over the crowd. Every once in a while the track owners would feature a demolition derby as well. Old jalopies crashed into one another in a free-for-all melee until only one was left running amidst a field of crumpled sheet metal, shredded rubber and spurting engine fluids.
In a way, Sony's car combat game Twisted Metal is a berserk blending of those two events. But it's not a blending I would have recognized as a boy. This is a very dark and nasty blending, an apocalyptic corruption complete with motorized monstrosities, ballistic projectiles, machine guns and big-bang mines. Death tenaciously attaches itself to the destruction, sending a lot more spurting than just oil and antifreeze.
File Under "GM" for Grotesquely Maniacal
Over 17 years and through seven editions, the Twisted Metal franchise has essentially maintained the same core formula: There's this devilishly powerful guy named Calypso who hosts a competition each year between a slew of murderers and wild-eyed crazies, each driving his chosen speedy or tank-like vehicle. In their mad quest for a promised prize, the competitors fight to the flame-husked death while, incidentally, obliterating every scrap of civilization around them.
The 2012 installment takes the vehicular carnage to new high-def heights. There are a dozen and a half deadly vehicles to pilot, including road-blazing speedsters, an ambulance called the Meat Wagon, an enemy-thumping ice cream truck, a heavy-duty big rig known as Darkside, and even an odd contraption called the Axel—which is essentially two monster truck wheels held together by not much more than a guy with his arms spread wide.
Each of these killing machines has unique speed, armor and maneuverability gradings. And each comes with both a special weapon that replenishes its ammo over time and a standard sidearm, such as a mounted machine gun with unlimited bullets. Then you've got other freezing/burning/blasting abilities, along with scores of napalm, homing missile and laser beam devices you can pick up on the roadway as you speed past.
From Challenging to Charnel in One Easy Turn
If it all sounds like insane overkill, well, that's the name of the game here. Gamers must master the knack of turning on a pinhead while quick-changing through the best tools of destruction—all while mentally preparing for being relentlessly hit from every side by multiple enemies.
Everything on the highways and byways you traverse is destructible, by the way. So as you mow through vehicles, storefronts and city park greenery, the trees disintegrate, walls crumble, and metal and glass fragments shower everything. Oh, and if you hit an innocent bystander who's gawking from the sidewalk, he splashes across your windshield like a supersized mosquito.
Twisted Metal isn't just a lot of mangled racing, though. There's an even messier set of stories here. Interwoven around the numerous race-and-crush events are the tales of three competitors from different years of Calypso's race. In the first story, gamers play as a psychotic mass murderer known as Sweet Tooth, a clown-masked, flame-haired ex-ice cream man who wants Calypso to help him find the single victim he missed out on killing—his own daughter. While he was murdering the rest of his family, the girl jammed a pair of scissors in his eye and ran for cover. Now he wants to cut off her head and stow it in his freezer.
The other twisted tales are similarly grisly and insane—made all the more so by the fact that the cutscenes were filmed in live-action mode with a Sin City-like animated patina. People are shot, sliced, impaled, buried alive, decapitated, set on fire, thrown from high-rise windows and sacrificed in a sharp-mawed meat grinder.
Frozen in Time
When Calypso does finally give the killers their "just desserts," it's always with a be-careful-what-you-wish-for morbid twist. They get their comeuppance, but not before everyone gleefully celebrates the demented evil that's perpetrated by all.
Note that the game's language is equally raw, hitting players with a deluge of wide-ranging profanities regularly accented with f-bomb blasts.
As I said, the idea behind Twisted Metal initially tugged at my fond memories of demolition derbies past. But those warm and fuzzy feelings were quickly and effectively put on ice far colder than any freezer Sweet Tooth might try to use.