As a huge fan of the Twisted Metal series, I tend to get interested in a game whenever I hear that vehicles and weapons are involved. Scrap Metal is a downloadable title that fulfills both criteria, so I went in hoping for something of a "Car Combat Lite" experience. It may not offer the fully fleshed-out vehicular carnage of a Twisted Metal game, but there's enough fun here to make it worth a look.
One thing that immediately separates it from other car combat titles is mission variety. Whereas series' like Twisted Metal or Vigilante 8 typically stuck with arena-style deathmatches, Scrap Metal regularly shifts between different styles of play and new gameplay mechanics. One mission might be a straightforward "blow up the other cars" affair, while the next may be a Burnout-esque elimination race. You could be participating in a survival gauntlet against circus freaks, only to be met afterwards by a surprisingly tolerable escort mission. There really aren't any game types that end up being so groan-inducing that you'll dread playing them.
Your vehicles handle well thanks to the easy to pick up control scheme that has you directing speed and direction simply by aiming the left analog; another more challenging option resembles classic RC Pro-Am controls. Even with solid controls, the camera can be an occasional issue. Similar to the first two Grand Theft Auto games, the view is perched above the action, making it difficult to take out far-away opponents in Derby mode or prepare for upcoming turns during the races.
Vehicle customization plays a large role in Scrap Metal, but there is one major stumbling block. Winning races earns you points that you can use to upgrade your firepower, armor, speed, and other abilities. You can also claim vehicles from your defeated opponents to use as your own. In doing so, you have to place the new vehicle in one of four slots in your garage, which means you'll oftentimes have to replace vehicles into which you've invested a lot of upgrade points. When you do choose to replace that Class 3 car that you've fully upgraded, you receive no form of "resale" compensation. All of those points that you pumped into your vehicle are gone, and you no longer have access to it.
Fans of the Twisted Metal series know that a good chunk of its appeal comes from its sick sense of humor and colorful characters. Scrap Metal makes no attempt to be particularly edgy, and its characters are generic and wholly uninteresting. Twisted Metal offered up classic characters such as Sweet Tooth, Mr. Grimm, and Calypso, and Scrap Metal's "Jane Junktrunk" just can't compete. Even the stages themselves are dull, offering no zaniness along the lines of blowing up the Eiffel Tower in Twisted Metal 2 or taking the ski lift warps in Vigilante 8. All of Scrap Metal's missions are straightforward affairs - you destroy the other cars or race them, with no real curveballs thrown into the mix.
When you're finished with the numerous single player missions, you can take King of the Hill, Derby, and Race modes online. Gameplay doesn't change significantly when the action is brought online, but a tense round of KOTH can be a fun distraction if you're done with the missions.
If Scrap Metal was nothing but arena deathmatch missions, it would be much harder to recommend. An awkward camera angle and the lack of creative characters would keep it from being worth the asking price. However, the variety of vehicle types and mission objectives should satisfy car combat fans looking for signs of life in the genre.
Scrap Metal offers a refreshing amount of modes, but the characters and tracks are as generic as can be.