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Twisted Metal PS3 review: Imperfect, unapologetic fan service

A worthy last hurrah for the series?

The most recognisable name from the once great vehicular combat trend, Twisted Metal is now the last bastion of a fragile baby bird of a genre. In many ways, it's a wonder it's even arrived on the PS3 at all. The problem is, when you're the performing monkey for a fiercely loyal but dwindling fanbase it's all the more difficult to tell the organ grinder to change up the music.

When you first drop into this PS3 version's initial match - a classic deathmatch in the Sunsprings, California battleground - you'd be forgiven for thinking nothing had changed since the last instalment. It's a sprawling but relentlessly brown level, which is thematically identical to Twisted Metal: Black's Suburbs arena. Don't be embarrassed if you find yourself flipping the jewel case and scanning it for the words 'HD' and 'collection'.

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In terms of the basic handling and weapon set, it's also business as usual. You'll recognise the same anarchic combination of guided missiles, dramatic direction changes and rattling machine-guns. Physics are very much consigned to the back seat and success still depends on canny target prioritisation and judicious use of the tail-happy 'tight turn' button.

When you take a glance at what has been changed, you'd be forgiven for thinking the decisions were made in the aftermath of a particularly nasty concussion. In this reboot, the characters have been separated from their vehicles and many of the louder personalities are missing entirely. The single player mode focuses on just three: Sweet Tooth, Mr Grimm and Dollface.

That separation means the new vehicles aren't based around a particular deranged personality, they're just new cars, and as a result they're missing the traditional Twisted Metal charm. A grimy, horror inflected aesthetic is no substitute for imaginative characters and just slapping a rising sun paint job on a thinly-veiled Audi R8 doesn't make for an interesting chariot. If you're expecting new and interesting psychopaths to tangle with you're going to be disappointed.

CALYPSO-SO
The emphasis on machinery rather than character hits the story as well. Twisted Metal's plot has traditionally been about each competitor entering the competition with a wish or desire, which is then corrupted by series antagonist Calypso when they finally win the tournament. Alright, it's not Dostoevsky, but discovering each character's grisly fate was motivation to play through the game multiple times and experiment with the different vehicles on offer.

What you get instead is linear progression through three stories, which will last you around six or so hours in total. The game offers up medals based on the time taken to clock each stage, but unless you're some kind of fanatic, there's no reason to replay.

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What's more, throughout the entire campaign, no matter who's doing the pedalling, you're likely to end up sticking to a conservative loadout of your three preferred vehicles which can be hot-swapped at each map's garage during combat. The addition of a helicopter that has all the structural integrity of a wet paper bag only serves to dilute rather than enrich the experience.

Combat is limited to a mere eight arenas, meaning even during the relatively short runtime there's repetition of scenery. If you were to be unkind, you'd suggest that Twisted Metal had accidentally left its developmental origins as a PSN title hanging out of its trousers. They're not all classics either - the Black Rock Stadium is a collection of half-formed ideas crammed into a dull arena and we failed to find one interesting corner of Watkyn's Harbor, which makes us feel like we dodged a bullet when Twisted Metal Black: Harbor City was canned.

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