Twisted Metal: Black

Do you REALLY need a reason to read this? You should be playing the game right now!
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: July 10, 2001
I have to admit, I'm not a fan of the car combat genre. Sure, I understand the attraction, and I can completely appreciate the games for what they are, but my interest was never really piqued by them. That's why it's so odd that I found myself so horribly addicted to Twisted Metal: Black. Granted, the game offers some new territory, but by and large, it's the same thing you'd see in any other car combat game. The difference is that TMB just does it all better. Level design, graphics, weapons, vehicles, players... they're all pulled off to such a perfect degree that it almost seems like the other games didn't even exist. In the same way that Tony Hawk or SSX revitalized their respective genres, TMB gives the car combat genre a violent shove into classic gaming territory.

Violent is definitely the key word. If ever there was a game that screamed "mature," this is it. TMB could very well be the definition of an M rated game, thanks to the over-the-top gore and unwavering commitment to keeping the player firmly entrenched in a world of despair, chaos and death. Sounds wonderful doesn't it? However, for all of TMB's often times cringe-inducing atmosphere, there's enough pure gameplay here to keep even car combat haters entertained. It's incredibly fast, gorgeous and never, ever lets up on any fronts.

As I said before, it's not that TMB does anything in particular that sets it apart from other games of its ilk, it just does everything better. This is especially true for the gameplay. Neato menus are great (and trust me, TMB ranks as one of the best - if not the best - examples of great presentation ever seen in games), but if there's nothing to back up all the oohs and ahhs, it's all for naught. All of the game's cars are incredibly quick and agile, removing the preconception that games of this genre have to have slower, more deliberate action. Sure, there's faster cars than others, but overall, everything moves along at a cheek-flapping pace.

Twisted Metal: Black is so fast, in fact, that it took me quite a few games to get down the pacing and control. It's not that they were bad, it's just that everything happens so quickly that you're forced to constantly be on edge. Once you realize that from the moment the level loads, the action will never, ever subside, you'll be fine. The goals are simple: destroy your opponents before they can destroy you. You'll have three respawns and then it's game over (you can continue, of course, but all your opponents will be resurrected along with you). At your disposal are a plethora of death-dealing options. Rockets (in dead-on -- but low damage -- homing, medium-damage tracking, and high-damage-but-no-guidance flavors), ricocheting projectiles, environmental weapons (each level has a different one), satellite-guided air strikes, gas cans (that can be hurled or dropped), machine gun upgrades and more can be plucked from all over the brilliantly designed levels.

Each of the vehicles has also been retrofitted with some energy-based weapons, both offensive and defensive. Your car can cloak, shield itself, fire a freeze ray or lay mines to keep tailgaters at bay. All of the moves are accomplished with a simple set of directional combos, and the payoff, when used correctly, can be better than your normal weapons. By freezing an opponent, then lambasting him with your weapon of choice, you can rack up a sizeable chunk of damage on an otherwise slippery opponent. And then there are the special weapons. Each car has its own special attack, ranging from simply charging ahead at ramming speed to tendrils of electricity that seek out and drain energy from nearby opponents. They're as much fun to watch as they are to unleash, and can turn a grossly lopsided vehicle into a more well-balanced fighter.

TMB's levels are perfectly suited for the game. Each is bleak, dark, and incredibly interactive. The now-famous first level is a perfect example of the attention to detail that permeates every arena you'll be fighting in. A jumbo jet that constantly circles the scrap yard can be shot down, exposing a whole new section of the level. A gutted bomber's turret can be trained on unsuspecting opponents, and a little environmental destruction can pave the way for one of the game's key secrets. The levels can range from claustrophobic to immense, and often jump from one extreme to the next as you play through them. Environments span rooftops, junk yards, snowy mountains, drive-in movie lots, a bustling downtown metropolis, even a prison ship that starts out at sea and docks to literally double the level size. Each level is brilliant in design and perfectly shows off the power of the PS2 without resorting to any "look-at-me" graphical tricks.

TMB's graphics will set the standard for plenty of PS2 games to come, not in the same way that GT3 introduces your jaw to the floor repeatedly with reality-bending graphics, but with richly textured levels and models that constantly moves at a steady 60fps clip. Multiplayer understandably takes a very slight dip, but for single player games, you'll be hard pressed to find a scene where the action dips below 60 frames. It's odd that a game that shares a very dark, muted palette can look so diverse. There is a complete absence of bright colors, even to the point that the snow-coated mountains didn't even seem cheery. Grays, browns, blacks, and rusty reds dominate, and give everything an almost post-apocalyptic feel.

Each of the cars is meticulously modeled, and all of weapons that are launched from them actually come out of the car. No weapons just "pop" into existence, they all animate, sliding and flipping out of various cavities, parts, and attachments on the different cars. Each of the animations only lasts for a second or two at very most, but it's that attention to detail, something that never really gets old, that proves that the guys over at Incog Inc. know exactly what they're doing. What's more, the vehicles share a bit of personality with their owners, and nothing can wipe the smile off your face when you see Sweet Tooth's ice cream truck transform like it was ripped straight from the Decepticon ranks into a rocket salvo-firing instrument of destruction. Describing TMB's visuals, even showing screen shots can't do it justice. This is simply one of those games you'll have to play for yourself to fully appreciate.

Oh, and then there's the sound. From the deliciously evil voice acting to the music that makes you feel like every level is a boss fight, the audio only helps thicken the atmosphere. From the twenty-note melody dripping with melancholy (gotta love The 'Stones) to the constant screams from enflamed opponents as they run screaming from the burned-out husks that were once their cars. For once the sound is just as solid as the rest of the game.

Effects are standard, but well-varied, so just because you have two different kinds of rockets, they won't necessarily sound the same when they're launched. Likewise, different cars sound differently, and everything's sampled at a high rate. Tire squeals punctuate the usually constant sound of explosions, and the explosions themselves offer a thick, concussive "thump" that's plenty rewarding, even if you can't see it. The high-tension, pounding soundtrack quite literally makes the entire game feel like that nail-biting finale in every good Hollywood action movie.

It's funny, but so many people were waiting for a reason to buy a PlayStation 2. Most are holding off for the release of Gran Turismo 3 or MGS2, but there's absolutely no reason why you shouldn't plop down the $300 now for this game. The PS2 is going to have one hell of a good year leading up to Christmas, and Twisted Metal: Black is the perfect way to kick it off. With perfect controls that never need to be thought about, wonderful weapon variety and exquisite level design, TMB delivers.
The Verdict