I reckon that it's been about 12 years since I last played a Twisted Metal. The second game in the franchise was one of my favourite releases on the original PlayStation, but somehow I ended up losing track of the series after that. It's been a long time, and yet somehow David Jaffe's new instalment is instantly recognisable: the messy, chaotic destruction, the over-the-top vehicles with eccentric special weapons, and the hyperactive rock soundtrack with its squealing guitar riffs.
It was rather exciting when Twisted Metal finally popped up at this year's E3. It wasn't that much of a surprise, really; even when Jaffe was vehemently denying the project's existence in the run up to the show, there were plenty of clues to the contrary - not least the artwork that was splashed all over the man's own Twitter page. There was an undeniable sense of buzz about the series' reappearance, and yet the critical reaction has not been without the odd grumble. In particular, I've heard quite a few people muttering about the way the new game looks, and it's certainly true that in comparison with Rage, Crysis 2 and Killzone 3 - the undisputed homecoming queens of this year's prom - the pre-alpha code looks a little bit shabby.
But here's the thing: Twisted Metal has never really been that pretty. It's a series that thrives on delivering visceral, hard-fought battles, and one that has always managed to do that in a surprisingly deep and original way, given that the central concept can be summed up as "shooty cars." Having watched a presentation by Jaffe himself, I have little doubt that the new TM will recapture the feel of the old games. That might not explicitly guarantee a killer masterpiece, but it's certainly a damn good place to start.
Tellingly, much of Eat Sleep Play's demo was spent dwelling on some of the rides that will be available for your motorised massacres. Twisted Metal has always had certain parallels with one-on-one fighting games, in that each vehicle has a distinct personality, as well as its own strengths and weaknesses. In the single-player campaign you'll choose a character with their own unique set of wheels (or rotors), but for the team-based multiplayer events, everyone has access to all the rides, regardless of their faction. In other words, it's entirely possible for Dollface's team members to ride in Sweet Tooth's ice-cream van. There's nothing to stop everyone picking the same vehicle; This is a slight departure from the enforced diversity of previous games, but it also means you'll never be stuck with a car you don't like if you've been dithering on the selection screen.
The first car that Jaffe showed off was nicknamed "Roadboat" - a family car with a massive electro-magnet mounted on the bonnet. The latter can be used to grab rival cars, at which point you can then ram them into a wall or set them up for some form of combo using your other weapons. The magnet can also be set to an alternate fire mode, where upon it spits out ricocheting rounds that can be bounced around corners. The game's motorbike, meanwhile, allows the rider to wield a highly damaging chainsaw that can be thrown at your rivals. If you're in the mood to show off, you can also perform a wheelie and drag the saw behind you, causing it to catch fire. When you then finally throw it in someone's face, it'll really hurt - because obviously a chainsaw to the face generally feels like the softest of licks from the Andrex Puppy.
Other special attacks seem to open up a greater degree of tactical flexibility, or at the very least demonstrate the series' trademark black humour. The tow truck is capable of dropping off health packs that heal your allies, but it's also got the power to spawn a yellow taxi on its rear hook, which can then be flung directly at your foes. The game's ambulance, meanwhile, uses its unfortunate client as reluctant human missiles. The back doors open, and out comes a gurney bearing a terrified patient, loaded with explosives. It looks ridiculous in the best possible way, and since you can assume direct control of the gurney, it'll probably be very useful too.