Preview: Twisted Metal

David Jaffe is a big fat liar. He's a liarface. But at E3, he was finally able to tell the truth: Twisted Metal for PS3. The return of this beloved demolition murder derby series isn't so much a surprise as it is a relief for dedicated fans, fingers sore from begging for an original console sequel on any forum that will listen. Still in pre-alpha (and in the garage until 2011), Twisted Metal is up and running at Sony's E3 booth.

A 15-player demo (the game does support up to 16 players) staged in the "Slaughterdale" map showcased what Santa Monica Studios producer Chad Cox called the key feature of the new Twisted Metal: "online factions." While there will be free-for-all gametypes, the team-based matches appear to be the feature modes. You pick a side: in the demo, Clowns or Dolls (though more factions are to be revealed), and then you're free to choose and change your vehicle throughout a match; much like you might change up your character class or loadout in an online shooter before you respawn.
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The new Twisted Metal also introduces a helicopter to its roster of more than a dozen vehicles. While I felt overly safe hovering in my converted news chopper above the grounded warfare, tracking an enemy car from a distance before swooping down for a quick strike, Cox assured me that more experienced opponents would know how to quickly take down the helicopter with special items and attacks. (Though, obviously, a lot of vehicle balancing is going to be considered in the coming months of development.)

Speaking of special attacks, the copter's hooked up with a side-mounted Gatling-style gun, which is fully controlled through the eyes of a trigger-happy passenger in true first-person view -- a satisfying diversion from the third-person vehicle combat. Even more entertaining is the ambulance's special weapon, a sort of suicide patient strapped to a hospital gurney and loaded with explosives. This "man-made" missile is launched from the vehicle and can be controlled, screaming and flailing, until contact -- and immediate detonation.

Twisted Metal appears to employ the same demented humor as past iterations, but it's not yet clear if it steers toward the relatively light-hearted nature of the earlier games or instead continues in the darker vein of Twisted Metal: Black. Cox wouldn't comment on the story mode and instead focused on the multiplayer demo.

The core gameplay hasn't been tampered with and still reflects a totally chaotic, totally unrealistic design. Vehicles turn (180 degrees) on a dime and wildly spew all manner of firepower. Cox pointed out across the map as I hovered in the helicopter. The match had been playing out for ten minutes or so and Slaughterdale had been reduced to patchwork rubble -- only a few (indestructible) landmarks remained standing.

Clearly, what's on display at E3 is an early, early build of Twisted Metal. The game runs surprisingly well in its current state, with stable framerate and solid collision detection, but the world is still unpolished, the graphics flat and drab. What's noteworthy at this point in development is the clear foundation for a true-to-name Twisted Metal game. Perhaps vehicular combat games have had their run, but if anyone's going to pull of a relevant console successor to 2001's Twisted Metal: Black, it's Jaffe and company.

Just take it from the man himself: "We know this is going to be the best Twisted Metal ever released." And Jaffe would never lie to you -- would he?

This article was originally published on Joystiq.