For quite some time now,
loyal GamesFirst! enthusiasts have been listening to me complain about the tragic feud
that erupted between Singletrack and Sony after the brilliant success of Twisted Metal 2.
The result of the conflict was that Sony owned the name Twisted Metal, while Singletrack
kept all the goodies inside. 989 took over the development of the TM franchise and
produced the crap that became known as Twisted Metal 3. The vastly inferior TM 3 actually
became the best-selling edition of TM due to Sonys booming installation base and a
little thing called name recognition. While a whole bunch of people bought the game,
Ive yet to meet anyone who actually liked it.
In case youve missed it,
Im bitter about the whole ordeal, or at least I was bitter. I took it rather
personally because playing TM 3 was a lot like watching an old friend jump off of a
building. While the resulting splat provided a moment of stunned amusement, the
overwhelming tragedy of the situation vastly outweighed any sick enjoyment that could be
derived from the shameful spectacle. The next installment, TM 4, showed vast improvement
over the crap that is more commonly called TM 3, but still failed to deliver the magical
pulse pounding action the series had previously been known for.
Ah, but all that has changed now. Members of the original development team have
returned to create the what is not only the best game of the series, but the best car
combat game ever. The painful memory of my friend going splat has finally begun to fade.
Playing Twisted Metal Black is a lot like having someone hold you and whisper in your ear
that everything is going to be all right. Actually its nothing like that. In reality
its really loud with lots of big, brilliant explosions and people screaming because
theyve been run over or lit on fire, but you get the general idea.
Perhaps the biggest improvement on TMs road to redemption
was fixing how the vehicles handled. The tight control that was so sorely missed during
the dark ages of TM has made a triumphant return. The resulting battles are superb,
high-speed cat and mouse battles that periodically erupt into twisting, turning jousting
matches fought at intense velocities. In short, its very cool.
The excellent vehicle control is what makes the game what it is.
While most arcade-like action games played for competition, like first person shooters,
provide standard level characters and equal access to weapons, TM: Black does not. Each
vehicle has vastly different statistics for handling, armor, and speed. Each vehicle is
also equipped with a really cool special weapon that must be handled in the right way. As
a result, each character must be played differently in the attempt to bring their
strengths to bear. This variety also exists in fighting games, but is less effective. Slow
but powerful characters (Tekken fans think Kuma or Jack) are routinely routed by their
more nimble counterparts. The effect is far more balanced in TM: Black as all of the
vehicles can be devastating when played with skill and quick thinking. In this respect,
TM: Black successfully combines the variety of a fighting game and the even playing field
of a FPS.
characters are initially playable, and five more can be unlocked during gameplay. Rather
than simply having to beat the game to unlock characters, TM: Black employs the much more
novel approach of actually having to find secret areas hidden in the various stages in
order to find the new characters and quite literally drop them into the game. All of the
vehicles are thoughtfully and carefully designed and display a high degree of detail. For
example, each vehicle displays the weapon currently equipped in a way unique to that
stages of TM: Black are simply amazing, not only because of their sheer size, which is
impressive in its own right, but once again because of the attention to detail. Each level
is complex, geographically varied, and full of well-designed, interactive structures.
Houses and other buildings can be destroyed, and most levels have environmental weapons
that can be discovered and exploited. Nothing is taken for granted or simply left looking
boring. Even the sky is full of helicopters and jet planes that can be shot down. Certain
stages must be played by all characters, but you may also choose between stages as you
travel through the game, and this of course improves replay value tremendously.
story mode makes a noble effort at dark irony, it comes up short when compared to the joy
of the frantic gameplay. Characters have short movies for the beginning, middle, and end
of the game. The opening movies are for the most part the least interesting since the
graphics are virtually identical and the movies themselves differ primarily in the
voiceover alone. The mid-game movies offer a slight improvement, but the ending movies are
by far the best. They offer cool looking, sometimes gory, scenes of the Twisted Metal
participants learning that one must be careful what one wishes for. Its not the most
original approach in the world and the execution is a bit cliché, but at least they look
pretty cool doing it.
the promise of the movies and the variety created by playing through the game with all of
the unique characters gives TM: Black quite a bit of life for one player, its real
lifespan is going to be in the multiplayer mode, which is of course outstanding. The
variety of characters and stages brings a lot of strategy and technique to a game that is
basically about blowing the crap out of things. TM: Black also supports the multitap for
four player action; its the first of the series to do so, and one of a few PS2
titles to support the multitap. Other game modes include survival and challenge, which
allow you to choose opponents and a stage and just go wild.
The bottom line is that TM: Black is a superb arcade game full of action and a dark
environment that is aided by lots of explosions, gunfire, and the squeal of unlucky
pedestrians and vanquished foes. Even more, its the best multiplayer game currently
available for the PS2. The Twisted Metal franchise has redeemed itself at last. That
pretty much says it all.