Let's Twist again!
Out of the dark recesses of a remote maximum-security mental asylum come 8 deranged, homicidal maniacs driving massively destructive hotrods from hell. These spiteful, highly volatile men and women are here for various reasons - revenge, redemption, a chance to make things right. And flat out murder through car combat is the primary means of achieving these ends.
You guessed it, Twisted Metal: Black has shipped and GR has the skinny. The fifth TM game comes from developer Incog Inc., made up of many of the same folks from Singletrac who made TM 1 and 2. Maybe now we can all forget the 989 mishaps in TM 3 and TM 4.
Boys and girls, Twisted Metal: Black is the Hellraiser of car combat. Just imagine if Freddy Krueger, Jason Vorheese, Michael Myers, Candyman, Pinhead and all the cenobites entered a demolition derby of death with cars specially outfitted for one thing: to kill a man in a manner that is creative, gruesome, painful and often hilarious. While it doesn't really bring any new gameplay elements to the table, it does serve up the most polished and complete car combat experience the genre has ever seen, surpassing all previous Twisted Metal efforts. And jumpin' jehosaphat, this game is fun, fun, fun!
While imprisoned in the asylum, all eight drivers (plus a few hidden ones) are approached by the mysterious Calypso. His proposal: Whoever wins his little contest of vehicle carnage will be granted their heart's desire. Needless to say, everyone jumps at the chance and the game is afoot. My question is: what the heck does Calypso get out of the deal? He wasn't exactly a 'friend' in the previous TM games. Hmmm.
To find out what devious machinations our ugly contest host is up to, you'll have to do battle against 6 to 8 other murderous drivers across 9 astonishingly detailed environments. This entails picking up power-ups for your vehicle and using them to utterly demolish all other drivers in the said environment. If you're familiar with the Twisted Metal series, then you'll notice nothing has really changed in terms of gameplay.
But a lot has changed in terms of level design, as TMB features some brilliant, wicked environments. Many of the maps are enormous with a near limitless degree of interactivity. Almost everything can be smashed or blown to smithereens. Destroy the support beams holding up the Ferris Wheel on the Suburbs level, and you've turned the once amusing and kid-friendly attraction into a runaway death circle, as the thing freely tumbles down the hillside to crush houses, gas stations and enemy vehicles alike.
Perhaps coolest is the Prison level, which begins with you fighting baddies on a huge barge making its way to shore. Once the boat docks, you're able to disembark and roam about a giant prison facility. The number of interactive objects here is amazing. You can even be the one to activate the switch that electrocutes three inmates seated in electric chairs awaiting that last cigarette. How pleasantly sadistic is that?
Most of the large levels are more geared towards actually driving than the smaller arena-style levels in the previous TM games. A few levels still retain the arena feel and seem a little out of place. But for the most part expect to see city streets or dirt roads with traffic and pedestrians just waiting to be added to your collection of rundown, blown-up and perforated victims. This game is brutal!
Would any of this be fun at all if the cars looked like crap? Luckily we'll never know, because TMB has some of the most devilishly creative-vehicles of any car combat title to date. Like the rest of the game, car textures are meticulously detailed with the appropriate cuts and grooves. The articulating parts are simply amazing. As you select different weapons to fire, watch as the vehicle contorts and panels flip or slide open to reveal your implement of intended destruction. Sometimes I flip through the various ordinances just to see them slide into view from some hidden slot on my car. I love it!
The game's 12 weapons are a real treat. Machine guns, explosive gas cans, plenty of rockets, various projectiles and special attacks all look pretty cool. The trails produced by missiles and rockets make them look like little comets. Particle effects from explosions are grandiose and impressive.
The special attacks for each vehicle are the result of some highly creative and demented imaginations. For instance, Preacher's special is to launch a human disciple strapped with explosives at an enemy. After latching on to the roof of an enemy vehicle and shouting "Repent!", the fanatical minion detonates his explosives, ending his life while delivering a good dose of damage to the opponent's car in the process. It's too funny!
Thanks to the power of the PS2, the framerate and car physics have been greatly improved. Turning on a dime is still a necessary TM feature, but it's no-longer dizzying or disorienting. The vehicles handle like they should. Smaller sporty cars are lightning fast, while heavier trucks and tanks are more sluggish with stronger armor. Wheeled vessels have working suspension and screeching tires to complete an already impressive package. And it's all running at a consistently smooth 60 frames per second. Smokin'!
With the amazing eye-candy and great gameplay, it's almost easy to forget Twisted Metal: Black's few shortcomings. But it's my job to think about these things.
Unfortunately, the game is still just Twisted Metal. Don't expect anything new, like a Racing mode or Shop to purchase items for car customization. It's really just a remake, from the largely identical control configuration to the basic strategies.
The multiplayer is a bit lacking. There's a two-player Co-op story mode via the split-screen, which is the same as the normal single-player story mode. Here you and a friend share a set number of lives while you both team up to kill every other driver on the map. Last Man Standing lets two players fight to the end with an identical list of vehicles.
TMB offers two-player deathmatch or up to 4 using a Multi-tap. But for some reason, you can't play with two players AND a bunch of CPU controlled cars. So it winds up being you versus a friend just tracking one another down on these enormous levels, and it gets a little dull. This game could have hugely benefited from a free-for-all deathmatch, or perhaps a racing mini-game or link-cable option. While mildly entertaining, ultimately multiplayer is pretty disappointing.
But when it's all said and done, Twisted Metal: Black is an excellent addition to any PS2 library. It looks outstanding, plays great and the level design is top-notch with an incredible amount of interactivity. This is the Hunter S. Thompson of car carnage, a hardcore title teeming with brilliance, flair and just enough attitude. And it works great with a few drinks.