Twisted Metal is the oldest Sony-exclusive franchise in all of Sony-exclusive franchise history and yet it hasn’t properly graced the cirsp Blu-ray diskiness of the PlayStation 3. Well clearly Eat Sleep Play has merely been biding its time until the climate was perfect for a new Twisted Metal because this one feels like the car combat game everyone has been waiting for. Vehicles defy reality, twisting and drifting to the player’s whim, combat is fast-paced and intense, and the destruction and mayhem is absolutely top notch. There are some minor hiccups, some of which are probably more of an issue to Twisted Metal fans than those who have never played a Twisted Metal game, but overall this is a game to keep your eye on.

Ever since humans first dreamt they could drive large blocks of metal, they wished they could smash them into other blocks of metal, or perhaps blow them up with all sorts of weaponry, but feared the social impact of having so many deaths on a daily basis. In comes video games, gateway to awesome things unattainable in real life, and with it, the car combat genre. Somehow this genre is one of the most difficult things to make work. You’d think it’d be super easy, like… cars + bombs = win, right? Not right. There’s a million ways to implement the idea of car combat, some use racing, some use deathmatch, some are top-down view, and some… are Twisted Metal. Twisted Metal has always been the epitome of a car combat game, the game other car combat games base themselves off of, and this iteration is no different.

Traditionally Twisted Metal has been an arena-style car combat game and it still is. However, in the past each car had a character attached to it (along with a car-unique special weapon) and everybody had to fight over which character they were going to play, though “everybody” only extended to four human players and bots. This time around, there’s a rather robust multiplayer mode which supports up to 16 players and the game has changed to accommodate this. Now, there are several factions to choose from, four of which are available in the demo, along with any vehicle and basic weapon combination when preparing to play a game of Twisted Metal. While each vehicle still has a unique special, multiple players can pick the same vehicle now, which is super cool. Last of the real big gameplay changes is the inclusion of the helicopter vehicle which freely flies about the sky wreaking mayhem and being generally difficult to target, but short to stay alive.

The demo itself has both a single player experience with bots and two online modes including Deathmatch, a timed kill-everybody-athon, and Nuke, a team based capture-the-flag plus sort of deal. Fearing my Twisted Metal skills were suspect after not having played since Twisted Metal: Black (like nine years ago), I opted to play some single player first. The initial controls completely eluded me, but thankfully there are plenty of control styles because just about every button on the controller is used in this game. After figuring out what button does what, I settled in and quickly started to enjoy myself.

Cars are fast, even slow cars are pretty fast, especially with turbo, and yet a sort of “break reality drift” button allows cars to take ridiculous turns and operate with the precision necessary to even dream of hitting anybody with the myriad of projectile death-causers in this game. That mechanic is really the anchor to this game that makes it playable, enjoyable and not the slightest bit frustrating or difficult to play. The gameplay strategy of weaving in and out of battles still exists, taking time to stock up on weapons and entering battles when it’s feasible. Demoltion derby or not, there’s still strategy to this game. The only time the core mechanics get in the way of themselves is targeting, without a way to manually target or switch targets (as far as I found) sometimes the game locks on to the wrong target and that Reaper (fragile motorcycle) gets away with no health while you target that Darkside (beefy semi) and she laughs at you. While that can be frustrating, those issues only exist with the homing weapons, and there are plenty of non-homing weapons to use.

On that subject, the available arsenal is pretty fantastic. The addition of passenger-used weapons like the sniper rifle and shotgun are awesome. Both are special-case weapons (polar opposites in range) but they can be very useful for securing kills both in and out of the mayhem. The traditional weapons return with the power missiles, swarmers, homing and fire missiles, and they’re all super fun to use and remain a staple in every combat situation. There are a couple items including a remote bomb and RC-C4 Car which use a pop-up cam when fired off into the distance to monitor if there are enemies in its blast radius. User interface-wise, weapons with areas of effect do different are qualified when the damage notification pops up, saying “Napalm Close: 30 Damage” versus “Napalm Far: 10 Damage”, same with shotguns etc. While not crucial to gameplay, it does help give the player an idea of how they need to lead their target and judge space within the universe.

Game mode wise, every mode was super awesome fun times, but each had a bit of a hiccup that was a tad frustrating. The single player mode in the demo is elimination style and, while totally fine in theory, can be frustrating because like most games with cars the AI makes a habit of making sure it’s around you at all times. Most every game I finished (after dying and losing) I have taken a significantly greater amount of damage than my AI opponents, having healed so much trying to evade their incredibly tenacious chases. That’s no fun. It’s no fun to be hunted down and forcibly removed from a demo experience. It’s one thing to be killed because, well, it’s a game about killing each other, but it’s annoying when consecutive matches end with receiving way too much AI attention.

The two online modes, Deathmatch and Nuke, were far less hiccupy. Deathmatch pits up to sixteen players against each other in a giant clusterfuck on a massive map (the same map available in all modes) and gives players points for kills and assists. Before hiccups, it should be noted that this game might be the only game to get freaking assists right. Why is it so hard to credit players for assists in first person shooters? No idea. But in Twisted Metal you get varying levels of points based on how much damage you contributed to the death of any player ranging from soft to hard assist. Hard assist is much like the Halo assist in that it is essentially a “kill steal”. Beyond that, gameplay is frenetic and filled with all sorts of explosions and people driving through and off of buildings, leading to immense satisfaction in victory and in loss. My only qualm is with the often-unobserved Twisted Metal powers including the mine, shield and freeze. While the first two are totally fine, freeze lasts way too long; with sixteen players blowing the shit out of each other constantly, getting frozen is pretty much guaranteed death unless you’re Darkside.

Nuke is a team mode where players alternate offensive and defensive roles, with the offense team attempting to capture faction leaders, sacrifice them to nuke firing devices, then guide a nuclear missile into the other team’s statue. Awesome in theory, awesome in practice. This take on capture the flag is really fun, and takes full advantage of the all of the game’s features, giving fast vehicles a dedicated role and tanky vehicles a dedicated role as well, allowing mid-ranged vehicles to play the field. The strategy here is really under-the-radar, but man can a good strategy just dominate. Unfortunately, the biggest strategy I’ve seen so far is to have the helicopter capture the faction leader, fly a million miles into the sky then go deliver it safely. The helicopters are far too difficult to target, but they’re not that fast or durable so it’s plenty easy to counter this strategy, but it is frustrating nonetheless.

Twisted Metal is absolutely back, though it has changed in more ways than one. Just about every change to the core mechanics of this game has been to accommodate the current generation and is ultimately welcome, this coming from a massive Twisted Metal fan. Combat was fast, frenetic, and even when hunting for weapons I couldn’t escape the violence for long. Destroying the level, finding weapon caches and entering and leaving combat at the right times remain the key to victory and fun, and no game with cars does it better. This game must be demo’d, everyone should try it, even if you’re not a racing fan because it’s more about using a car as a giant weapon than driving an actual car, and any lover of shooting things or BSU needs to play this.

Twisted Metal is out on PS3 exclusively on Valentine’s day, February 14; blow up your significant other then hand them flowers. Then blow those up.