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roadkill-skyjump.jpg (5257 bytes)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 Sony’s booming installation base and a little thing called name recognition. While a whole bunch of people bought the game, I’ve yet to meet anyone who actually liked it.

shadowSnow.jpg (5392 bytes)In case you’ve missed it, I’m 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.

Grimm-Sunshot.jpg (5970 bytes)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 it’s nothing like that. In reality it’s really loud with lots of big, brilliant explosions and people screaming because they’ve been run over or lit on fire, but you get the general idea.

Swat-5-Car-pile-up.jpg (6320 bytes)Perhaps the biggest improvement on TM’s 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, it’s very cool.

Sweet-Tooth-Mech095.jpg (6620 bytes)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.

grimSparks.jpg (7249 bytes)Ten 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 vehicle.

tmb4-01.jpg (5741 bytes)The 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.

tmb2-01.jpg (4276 bytes)While the 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. It’s not the most original approach in the world and the execution is a bit cliché, but at least they look pretty cool doing it.

tmb3-01.jpg (3838 bytes)While 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, it’s 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; it’s 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, it’s the best multiplayer game currently available for the PS2. The Twisted Metal franchise has redeemed itself at last. That pretty much says it all.

Jeff Luther   (09/10/2001)


Ups: Great revival of series; excellent graphics; frantic action; big levels; lots of fun.

Downs: Those FMVs are pure cheese.

Sony PlayStation 2


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