In my high school days I spent more hours in a friend’s basement listening to Metallica and death-battling in Twisted Metal 2 than I care to remember. The title was my gaming life for a while, so needless to say, I was a little excited when the new one was released. Fittingly, the next installment in the vehicular combat series featuring the demonic tournament released on October 31st, Halloween of 1998 with much anticipation. What I didn’t realize when I purchased Twisted Metal III though, was that it was the first game in the series not by SingleTrac, but by a new developer, 989 Studios, and was going to cause a lot of mixed emotions, not just then, but now as well.
First off, I love the opening FMV. There is a video that introduces all of the drivers and the tone for the battle, but it has something different, with the colors and animation style, the real lack of destruction. This is not the same as the last game and certainly stands out as someone else’s work, but a lighter approach might not be so bad, right? There are returning combatants and several new vehicles, most of which are okay and fit in well, but these new additions add to that more ridiculous tone I mentioned. Apart from the art style, the level design honestly confused me.
The various stages are a big part of a Twisted Metal game. They are ground zero for the combat and dictate the pacing and strategy of a match in a lot of ways. For Twisted Metal III there were some arenas that were designed well and looked like they had some real thought put into them, with twists and turns, creative jumps as well as amusing secrets, along with calculated weapon placement, but some of them were just bad and overly simplistic. Without knowing more about what went into the development of the game, I wouldn’t accuse the team of being lazy, but some stages—like Washington D.C.—were simple box arenas with nothing to them and no reason to have players return or make them memorable. That is kind of the issue with a stage like Egypt also, which may be the worse one in the game. Other than having a cool musical track to accompany it, I just wait in a corner for my prey or do circles on the outside loop. It’s easy to get lost in because everything looks the same—boring. Overall the design was nowhere near as good as the last game, and that cost the developers. Many loved the multiplayer, but only on certain levels; this game shows how important good design is, but gets off easy considering some of its bad choices in this area.
Egypt isn’t special for having a good tune. I’m a fan of the entire soundtrack, which is mostly done by Rob Zombie with some help from Pitchshifter. If the White Zombie frontman isn’t to someone’s liking, then this may not have the same effect, but the songs all fit the game well and flow with the action, which a lot of games cannot claim. For me personally though, these are songs I still listened to way after I wasn’t thinking about the game anymore. Tracks like “Meet the Creeper,” “Superbeast,” and “Microwaved” still adorn some of my playlists to this day. Twisted Metal 2 did fine without using licensed music, but it was a good choice for this one.
The story is incredibly lacking in this one. There isn’t much to the series as a hole, but part three is simply just another random tournament, one of Calypso’s games, and the endings are just not good. They are short, too similar, the timing is bad, and many of the jokes don’t work—though the Hell, Michigan one always makes me laugh. The dark tones and morbid sense of humor are really not channeled well here, which again isn’t helped by the CG models. They look fine, but the comic book style and overall feel worked so much better in the second game that this felt like even more of a letdown.
So I saved the important part for last. In a vehicular combat game, the driving is what will make or break it, of course. The driving took some getting used to again. I had to convince myself that I was operating a tank and not the sportscar with extra engines that the game was showing me. It eventually began to feel a bit more natural again after a while and I found it helped to play the combat more like a dog fight in a flying game. That worked best with how I played. Continued forward momentum and working with that as my strength made me rely less on tricks and focused me more on using speed and offensive weapons rather than trying to perfect my Tokyo Drift techniques. I like these types of limitations sometimes because it makes the player think about how they play. This title might handle better than the previous one—as it is a little less slippery—your movements require more intent and turbo use is strategic. Learn how to stroke the D-pad appropriately and winning the tournament will be a breeze.
One final tip: don’t try to use the computer ally. It’s a death wish. Just don’t do it.
Now that I have found the time to go back through this one, I can understand a little more why the critics panned the single player. There is a lot here that was fun, and created some cool memories in my youth, but in the end it just is not as good as some of the others in the series. It will stay on my shelf in the Wilds Collection though, with some nostalgic pride, and probably get another spin with the system in another couple of years. Go play Twisted Metal 2 or Black if you want to experience what these games should truly be. This title sold well though, so 989 Studios was given another chance to do an even worse job, and I guess we have to talk about Twisted Metal 4 at some point, but thankfully, that is not today