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In Memory
Sean Pettibone



   

 

 

 

 

Developed by most of the same team responsible for the first two installments of the popular series, Twisted Metal: Black promises a return to greatness by enhancing the seriesí dark roots. It goes much further in this than any previous title and has earned an ďMĒ rating for itís darker storyline. Eschewing the excesses of previous games, this refortified Twisted Metal emphasizes gameplay over gimmicks, with huge levels, challenging opponents and an urgency and grittiness that the last few installments have lacked. It sounds like the developers have all the right ideas, but itís all in the execution Ė read on and see if this installment restores the series back to the top of the heap it helped create.

With the poor quality of its last two installments, Sonyís Twisted Metal franchise was in serious danger of losing the elements that made the original car combat title so appealing. Obviously, the series was in need of a serious overhaul for its debut on the PS2. Sony wisely turned to the development team of the original games to restore the series to itís former greatness. While the company behind the original games, Singletrac, is long gone, many of the former members regrouped to form a new developer, Incog. The result is Twisted Metal Black, a darker and deeper game that returns to the original feel and enhances it. TMB takes a significantly darker turn this time, as all the contestants are escapees from a mental hospital. There are familiar faces, such as the ubiquitous Sweet Tooth but theyíve grown much more sinister than they have been in the past two installments, giving the game the most adult feel of any title in the series so far. Each of the characters are now committed inside an insane asylum, and get a visit from the mysterious Calypso, who promises them one wish if they compete in his deadly car combat contest. The game goes into detail about each of the characterís back-stories, some of which are quite violent and disturbing. To reflect this, the game levels themselves are noticeably more ominous Ė the game has a darker, more sinister feel to the visuals which are predominantly sepia toned and monochromatic, while objects in the levels are twisted and warped to reflect the disturbed state of the contestants.

While TMBís plot has undergone a significant retooling to make it darker and more adult, TMBís gameplay is stripped down to basics resembling the first two titles more than anything else. There are three main modes of play included in the game: Story, Challenge and Endurance. In Endurance mode, you fight an endless series of enemies and play until your car is destroyed. Challenge mode allows the player to choose the rival vehicles and the setting for the battle. However, the main meat of the game is the story mode, where you progress through levels, and explore each characterís back story as you progress through a series of excellently produced cinema scenes. Itís in this mode where you can unlock hidden characters and levels, though this is far from a cakewalk and will take plenty of time to beat each character to do so.  

Like the previous games, Twisted Metal Black is basically a survival car combat title where you have to defeat all the enemy vehicles in order to advance to the next level before you are destroyed by the rival drivers, this is much harder than it sounds. Making the game more interesting are the large variety of power-ups scattered around each board. At the start of each level, youíre equipped with only a basic machine gun. The machine gun can cause some damage to other vehicles, but is honesty not nearly enough to get the player through the level. Luckily, TMB has a well-balanced array of offensive pickups which include missiles, enhanced machine guns, homing missiles, fire bombs, special attacks, exploding gas cans, and more powerful weapons such as satellite tracked and more sophisticated attacks such as environmental attacks, satellite weapons and the devastating Zoomy which fires ten missiles at your opponents and can really cause serious damage. Additional power ups enhance the machine gun, give you more turbo-boost and  power-ups that restore health. There are also helicopters that wander around each level dragging more destructive power-ups. Finally, each of the characters has their own unique attack that can unleash plenty of firepower on opponents. Players will need to make the best use of all of these and learn when to fire what in order to succeed. TMBís power-ups offer plenty of variety and assure that the game never becomes dull or monotonous because most of these attacks are, in addition to being highly effective, are also quite inventive and fun to use.

Twisted Metal Blackís gameplay is straightforward but there are some things that need to be understood before going in. Firstly, the rival cars in TMB are incredibly aggressive, much more so than in previous installments, and this means that they absolutely donít hesitate to unleash their firepower on you as soon as your car is in range. The key to winning the main levels is to minimize the damage you take and learn how to avoid taking serious damage. One of the strategies in the game that seems to work the best is to avoid the enemies when theyíre in clusters, and instead battle the rival vehicles one-on-one. Trying to take on all the vehicles at once will lead unavoidably to massive damage and a quick exit from the battleground. There are some instances where this is necessary but the key is to minimize damage by inflicting as much damage on your opponents as possible then exiting quickly for safer areas. You canít run from the enemies forever, and only wimps would want to but you can make things easier on yourself by using TMBís secret areas and the sheer vastness of the levels to your strategic advantage. You can do this by building up your arsenal of power-ups and unleashing them when your enemies fall into your traps or have been weakened by combat. This leads us to the other key element of the gameís appeal Ė its expansive and undeniably massive environments.

While the series has always been known for its large combat areas, some of TMBís environments are humongous. The levels are varied in approach and design but they all have a few things in common. Each one is non-linear in design that allows for plenty of freedom of movement while the visual look fits in well with the plot to make it more immersive and darkly evocative. Whatís almost as impressive than the scope of the levels is the interactivity they allow which goes far beyond that seen in previous games. Almost all of the objects in the game can be destroyed and there are many secret areas to uncover. Twisted Metal Black also has some of the most elaborate and deadly traps seen in a car-combat title to date, some of these are doozies, such as a giant crushing machine that sucks the player in with a power-up icon. Some of the other objects in the game do unexpected things when you fire upon them. For example, thereís a Ferris Wheel that you can knock off itís axles and rolls through the level. There are also smaller details that make the game more fun, in a sick sort of way: when you hit a pedestrian and they go flying in the air, itís quite funny. You can also blow up other objects such as street lights and smash through doors to find hidden power-ups Ė this makes TMB much more immersive and addictive, since the levels will need to be played multiple times in order to see the full extent of the environments. TMBís layouts are surprisingly intelligent showing a lot of originality and creativity on the developersí part while going far beyond what was expected.

One of the biggest problems that undermined the last two installments of TM was that the controls were absolutely sub-par, verging on the ridiculous with exaggerated physics that took the player out of the action and caused incredibly unbelievable crashes and roll-overs. Luckily, Twisted Metal: Black restores the classic feel and enhances this to resemble the somewhat grounded feel of the original titles. The cars feel about right when theyíre driving with a good sense of gravity, but thereís enough leeway to allow for huge jumps, spins and special moves that make the game fun. Itís got a good grounding in reality but enough of an arcade feel to make for an excellent vehicular combat experience. Twisted Metal: Black also makes good use of the Dual Shock 2 with the ability to implement the turbo by pushing down on the left analog pad and an excellent weapons system which makes attacks easy to unleash, though some of the more advanced weapons are a bit difficult to target effectively at first. This improves with experience and practice, though even then, itís still a bit like shooting in the dark. The controls are highly responsive, unleashing weapons is a snap and the overall interface is highly useful and transparent, allowing you to focus on the action without messing around with the controller. The game has an excellent interface that allows for intuitive play that flows smoothly throughout.

TMBís impressive graphics engine goes a long way towards making this a visual tour de force and upgrades game into the realm of the PS2 effectively. The consistency of design between levels makes for a believable and consistent Tim Burton-esque world with warped perceptions and strangely twisted view of things. Whatís even better is that the game runs at an impressive 60 FPS allowing for some incredibly fluid play. It should go without saying but Twisted Metal: Black has been upgraded substantially on the new hardware, with solid looking car models, richly detailed and huge environments with virtually no pop-in, excellent environmental visuals including menacing clouds and lightning strikes. The game also offers some truly impressive lighting and particle effects when weapons are unleashed Ė making their impact more striking against the nearly monochromatic surroundings. The one problem with the visuals is the fact that while everything is brilliantly designed, the unrelenting bleakness of the visuals can become oppressive after awhile, which makes for a rather depressing experience after awhile. Soundwise, Twisted Metal Black opts for an ominous and imposing soundtrack that is quite cinematic but also a bit over-the-top. There are some good voice-overs in the gameís cinematic scenes that enhances the characterizations quite nicely. Overall, the production values in the game are outstanding, making for a slickly-produced title that, while a bit bleak, does an excellent job of immersing the player into itís dark otherworld.

So what more needs to be said? The legendary Playstation game franchise is back in a big way Ė with the expected graphics improvements, only the beginning of what the game offers. Its darker, more sophisticated plot adds much to the atmosphere of the game. The improvements arenít just skin deep since Twisted Metal Black takes all the elements that made the original so appealing and enhances them with new weapons, characters and places them in massive, highly interactive environments. The controls are tight and responsive, allowing players to concentrate on the blistering action, which is good because the more aggressive opponents make for a much more challenging and addictive experience. While the unrelenting darkness of the environments gets oppressive after awhile, it really doesnít change the excellence of the gameplay. Itís safe to say that Twisted Metal: Black is easily the best in the series to date and is strongly recommended.