There were plenty of big-name game franchises in the nineties, and one of them was SingleTrac’s Twisted Metal. Essentially, it was like a deathmatch in cars – driving around spacious environments and blowing up baddies with bombs was so much fun. Naturally, it had some dark undertones, as to be expected from a game all about committing genocide in trucks, sports cars, and even a demonic ice cream van. While the first two entries were best-sellers and scored rave reviews – even more so with the sequel – 989 Studios created the third and fourth entries from scratch, only these were released exclusively in the United States. Too bad that the third one was a sloppy, unpolished mess that many felt was not a true Twisted Metal title. The question remains: can the same be said about the 1999 entry Twisted Metal 4?
While the plot has been tweaked in areas, the general gist of the Twisted Metal tournament remains intact: a squad of crazy racers want to battle one another to the death in hopes of getting a single wish from its new leader, the killer clown Sweet Tooth. Compared to the third game, the cutscenes are, shockingly enough, watchable! Sure, they may seem a bit too ‘cartoony’ compared to the gritty atmosphere of the comic-style movies seen in the second game, but at least it comes with some good voice acting alongside.
The core gameplay is basically the same as before: just kill the other drivers to win the level. Weapons can be found across each level, including some new toys, like a freeze-bomb, and numerous different types of ballistic missiles. While your vehicle’s standard machineguns can chip away at opponents’ health bars, each driver has a nifty special move to deal extra-damage with. It’s carnage, devastation, and all-out fun. Visually, the game has not changed much, and the same can be said about the physics engine (which will have you inexplicably flipping or bouncing around at times – only, not as much as in the previous game).
Twisted Metal 4 has some quality maps full of secret passages, devious traps, and intricate layouts. You can take a ride on a monorail in a futuristic city, drop enemies to their doom with the crane in the construction yard, or ride the roller coaster tracks in the carnival. Each stage has a boss enemy that appears at the end of each match in tournament mode. Annoyingly, Sweet Tooth is a very unfair final boss as he spams you relentlessly with a plethora of rockets and MIRVs, chewing away at your health within seconds. In any case, secret levels can also be unlocked. Some of them are really simple and pretty uninspiring, but have some cool gimmicks to spice up any deathmatch, like breakable floors and.bounce pads. These make up for the lack of extra game modes… almost.
Long-time fans will likely scoff, and with good reason, at the cast of characters. An intergalactic bounty-hunting robot and a Drag Queen feel too out-of-place to be in a Twisted Metal game. Weirdly, Heavy Metal icon Rob Zombie is a playable character, too (this can only be a plus-point). Calypso, the main villain of the series, can be chosen for the first time, at the cost of significantly-less screen time.
There are plenty of cars to choose from, which vary in speed, armour, steering and the strength of their unique special weapon. These include a wind-up toy car, a hovercraft and a nuke truck. Most of them are pretty fun to play, while others feel really under-powered; there are quite a few rubbish small cars with such poor armour that you could probably blow it up by tossing a few handfuls of stale popcorn at it. Regardless, there are even unlockable boss vehicles, and a nifty create-a-car mode with plenty of different appearances to choose from. You can even save up to a whopping thirty-six creations all at once.
Do you love aggressive, upbeat songs to blow up people to? You’ll be in for a treat. Music by Rob Zombie, One Minute Silence, Ghoulspoon, and many other bands can be heard across each level. Nothing beats the grinding guitars of “Grease Paint and Monkey Brains” by White Zombie, or the breakbeat-delight that is Cirrus’ “Time is Running Out”.
Overall, Twisted Metal 4 pummels the third game into the dirt with ease, and even gives Twisted Metal 2 a run for its money… mostly. Sure, the reworked story, goofy characters, dated visuals and floppy physics engine will turn away any hardcore-fans of the series. Nevertheless, it has a sizeable selection of levels with mostly-great designs, a big bunch of vehicles, a large armoury, some sweet tunes, and quality gameplay to top off the package. Making it a US-exclusive title was a big mistake on 989 Studios’ part, because Twisted Metal 4 was a killer and a thriller.