A few decades ago, video games were cheap enough to produce that developers could afford to take some creative risks when coming up with new titles. This miraculous sweet spot between accessible technology and an expanding audience resulted in highly successful games with a lot more personality than what you typically see in the industry these days. Mostly unconstrained by corporate interests and soulless market research, this era before the rise of live-service titles and abusive DLC boasted some of the greatest gaming experiences of all time – and one of my personal favorites came in the form of Sony’s Twisted Metal Franchise.
With Twisted Metal finally being revived in the form of Peacock’s recently announced TV series (which features Samoa Joe as Sweet Tooth!), we thought that this would be the perfect time to look back on the iconic vehicular combat series with a definitive ranking of every main entry in the franchise.
While this list is obviously based on personal opinion, feel free to comment below with your own personal ranking if you disagree with our picks. Just keep in mind that we’ll be excluding a couple of spin-offs like 2002’s TM: Black Online and 2008’s TM Head On: Extra Twisted Edition for the sake of brevity.
Now, onto the list…
8. Twisted Metal 3 (1998)
Twisted Metal 3 is by no means a bad game, but there’s a reason why it (and its sequel) would later be retconned once David Jaffe and his team returned to the franchise. Developed by a new group of programmers who didn’t have access to the original games’ source code, TM 3 feels like a cheap cash-grab despite some legitimately impressive production value and an amazing soundtrack helmed by Rob Zombie and Pitchshifter.
The more advanced multiplayer was a plus (though you’d need a really big CRT to get the most out of the four-player split-screen), but that’s no substitute for engaging level design and sheer style. 989 Studios would eventually get another chance to please Twisted Metal fans with the vastly improved TM4, but TM3 will forever be remembered as the series’ lowest point.
7. Twisted Metal: Small Brawl (2001)
Originally called Twisted Metal Kids, Small Brawl can be summarized as “Mario Kart for demented children” and I absolutely love that idea. I actually don’t understand why so many fans immediately dismiss this title as an unworthy spin-off when it boasts some of the best car combat of the fifth console generation. If you ask me, the game gets a bad rap simply because it was released on aging hardware after Incognito Entertainment had already brought Calypso’s race to the PS2.
However, looking back on Small Brawl as a standalone title, you’re likely to find that the game is much more enjoyable than its watered-down premise would initially have you believe. The child-friendly re-imaginings of these vehicular murderers still have an ironic edge to their designs and the gameplay here is even more refined than in its predecessors despite a disappointing lack of violence.
6. Twisted Metal 4 (1999)
989 Studios’ second attempt at continuing the franchise without the original team backing them up, Twisted Metal 4 is a much better title than its predecessor (featuring improved level design, 3D physics and even more weapons), but it also holds a special place in my heart as the first TM game that I ever played.
Sure, the game’s still not up to the standards of David Jaffe’s productions, but there are worse demolition derby simulators out there. TM4 is also the only videogame that allows you to play as Rob Zombie himself (who’s obviously driving a low-polygon rendition of The Munsters’ iconic Dragula), and that alone makes it worth the price of admission.
5. Twisted Metal (1995)
The combat racer that started it all, there’s no understating the importance of SingleTrac’s first foray into vehicular madness. With the game boasting trailblazing 3D visuals and an edgy sense of style, there’s a reason that the title (and its sequels) would later be rereleased as some of the PlayStation’s Greatest Hits. Unfortunately, coming back to the original game today is a frustratingly antiquated experience.
Muddled graphics, confusing controls and an abysmal draw distance keep this three-dimensional pioneer from holding up nearly 30 years later, but you can’t really fault the game for being the first of its kind. In fact, I’d go so far as to recommend revisiting the title on an aging CRT television in order to enhance the game’s charmingly wobbly textures – but only if you can stomach the glaring difficulty spikes.
4. Twisted Metal: Head-On (2008)
While it’s a shame that third party developers never really embraced Sony’s first handheld console outside of Japan, the PSP actually boasts quite a few high-profile releases meant to legitimize portable gaming. One of the most underrated of these bite-sized projects is Twisted Metal: Head-On, a surprisingly innovative addition to the franchise that got lost in the shuffle of the console’s other launch titles.
Sure, the simplified graphics and limited resolution mean that things sometimes feel slightly cheaper than in Head On’s big budget counterparts, but that’s a small price to pay for the series’ first foray into online gaming – not to mention a surprisingly entertaining collection of maps and vehicles. That’s why it’s no surprise that this underrated TM classic would later be remastered with additional content for the PS2.
3. Twisted Metal 2 (1996)
When discussing the Twisted Metal franchise with friends, I’ve always compared the games to Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead films. Not necessarily because of the over-the-top violence (though both series definitely have that in common), but because the first entries of both franchises served more as a stepping stone for what came after.
Bigger, badder and easier on the eyes, Twisted Metal 2 is where Calypso’s contest really came into its own, boasting the first appearance of iconic racers like Axel and Shadow as well as greatly improved visuals. In some ways, you might consider the first game as a mere proof of concept for this ground-breaking title.
2. Twisted Metal: Black (2001)
Almost unanimously considered to be the peak of the Twisted Metal franchise, Black was a much-anticipated return to form during a time when rival vehicular combat games were running rampant. Featuring a brand-new coat of (black) paint and a kick-ass soundtrack to accompany the revamped gameplay, there’s a reason that this is remembered as one of the best games in the genre.
That being said, much of this praise is the result of fans wearing rose-colored glasses, as the game’s frustrating difficulty spikes and muddied visuals are kind of hard to come back to after more two decades of gaming. While there’s no denying that Twisted Metal: Black is a classic, I’d argue that it’s not quite the champion of the franchise.
1. Twisted Metal (2012)
It may be a little unfair to compare PS1 and PS2 games to a title that had the benefit of decades of technological advancement (not to mention more experienced programmers and years of fan suggestions), but I firmly defend Eat Sleep Play’s 2012 reboot as the absolute smoothest entry in the franchise and the best one for newcomers to dive into.
The faction-based character selection and frustrating boss battles might not be to everyone’s liking (I still have nightmares about that final Sweet Tooth challenge), but the extremely polished driving and grindhouse-inspired presentation make this the definitive Twisted Metal experience – which makes it all the more tragic that the game remains trapped on 17-year-old hardware.