Twisted Metal 2 Review

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Playing games from my childhood is always fun. Many games I wanted back in the day I wasn’t able to obtain and that’s one reason why I would play specific games religiously as a kid. I could only play what I already owned. Super Mario World, Spyro, Sonic Adventure, and Crash Bandicoot Warped are just some of them but it wasn’t until I obtained a copy of Twisted Metal III that I could say I had a favorite action series. It was this game that introduced me to the Twisted Metal series and a few years later I got Twisted Metal 2, the game that many would say is the best in the series. Taking the basic structure from the first game, Twisted Metal 2 introduces some brand new elements along with doing everything else a good sequel does, adding more content. Developed by SingleTrac and published by Sony Computer Entertainment, Twisted Metal 2 was released for the Sony PlayStation in 1996 to critical acclaim and some even call it the greatest car combat game ever made.

Nowadays, Twisted Metal 2 is considered a classic and it’s also where the Twisted Metal series really began to take shape. In 1997 a PC version was released and it’s just downright inferior to the PlayStation version. The PC release was marketed so horribly that many people didn’t even know it existed and it’s extremely hard to find now. As a game collector, I searched high and low for a good three years before I finally obtained a copy, complete in box, and it’s now one of my prized possessions. It’s also the rarest game I own right now. I’d still rather play the PlayStation version but just knowing the fact I own a copy of the PC release puts a smile on my face. Plus, it came in a huge box with that awesome artwork of Sweet Tooth’s head.

The premise in Twisted Metal 2 is pretty much identical to that of the first game. A mysterious man named Calypso runs a contest called Twisted Metal where drivers from all over come and battle to the death for a grand prize of anything they wish. Rather than using images of live actors and rolling text to advance what little story there is like the first game, cut scenes are presented in a comic book style with full voice acting. In contrast to his freaky appearance in the original Twisted Metal, Calypso now has sleek long hair, his face isn’t burnt to a crisp, although he still retains some facial burns, and he has a more charming personality. Each driver has their own reason for participating and only after winning the contest will you see what the driver truly wants. With full voice acting and cut scenes now, the stories are definitely more appealing and interesting this time around. All of the stories are still kind of campy and crazy but it all adds to the charm of the game. Not every driver ends up living happily ever after and seeing how Calypso twists a driver’s words around can be comical.

Several vehicles return from the first game like Thumper, Roadkill, Mr. Grimm, and Hammerhead, among others. Sweet Tooth also returns but the developers decided to make him a hidden driver unlocked only by using a cheat. Minion also returns as a mid-boss and also as a playable vehicle. But he, too, is locked behind a cheat. Minion is my favorite vehicle of the bunch just for the fact he’s a demon with a badass tank and special weapon. Many of the returning vehicles don’t actually include their drivers from the first game. Plenty of new vehicles are introduced including the series iconic Axel, a man trapped between two massive wheels. By default, there’s twelve vehicles to choose from but this can be increased to fourteen if you unlock the other two, Sweet Tooth and Minion.

Once again each vehicle has its own stats that include handling, armor, special weapon, and speed so just like the first game, vehicles with little to no armor tend to move faster and the more armored vehicles won’t be as quick. Special weapons return and are unique to each vehicle and these attacks are more powerful than the other standard weapons and will recharge over time after being depleted. Every vehicle is equipped with two machineguns with infinite ammo and a limited amount of turbo. Vehicles caught on fire can use turbo to put out the flames making turbo a much more useful tool than just being used to drive at super speed. Turbo and other standard weapons can be obtained within the environments. Fire, homing, and power missiles return along with new weapons like napalm that will set vehicles on fire, remote bombs, ricochet bombs that bounce around the environments, and even lightning attacks. Twisted Metal 2 introduces advanced attacks and these can be performed by pressing a specific sequence of dpad buttons. Advanced attacks include a freeze burst, jump, temporary invisibility, temporary shield, rear mines, rear attack, and even napalm. Using these will drain a portion of the energy meter located in your HUD, above your active weapon, but that meter will refill over time. Using advanced attacks can be both helpful and even crucial for survival in this game. Advanced attacks also add some strategy as well allowing you to combine them with the standard weapons for doing even more damage. For example one of my favorite combinations is to freeze an opponent and then place a remote bomb near them, detonating it as I quickly drive away resulting in a massive amount of damage.

Twisted Metal 2 includes several attacks, including special weapons, that seem to be powerful enough to just send you flying or sliding across the environments. It becomes very hard to regain control of the vehicle and in the areas where you can fall off ledges, New York and Antarctica, it becomes even more of a problem. I also have a minor gripe with the ricochet bombs and napalm. And that’s because if you’re playing as a fast vehicle you can easily drive into these attacks immediately after you fire them. You’ll just need to remember to slow down beforehand.

Now the advanced attacks are great when they work, however the game seems to not always register the button presses for whatever reason making these attacks hard to pull off at times, and usually at critical moments. This is one of my biggest problems with this game and it is really aggravating. I can’t tell you how many times my vehicle wouldn’t jump because the button presses just didn’t register or how many times I died from an attack because my temporary shield wouldn’t appear for the same reason. It really is annoying, especially considering the advanced attacks can prove to be extremely useful.

After the previous Twisted Metal contest, Los Angeles was left in ruins so Calypso decided to turn the world into a battleground. Needless to say the areas are much more diverse than those in the first game. There’s also eight areas now instead of six. All of them are set in different places around the world, including Los Angeles itself. You’ll battle on the rooftops of New York, the fields of Holland, Paris, Hong Kong, Antarctica, Moscow, and even Amazonia, filled with molten lava. Pedestrians no longer shoot at you and only seem to exist to be comically killed and teleporters are now scattered throughout each area. Health stations are replaced with health pickups and blowing shit up will reveal weapons, health, and even secret areas.

If you play through the Tournament, you’ll get to battle against two bosses. Amazonia marks the half-way mark and here is where you’ll battle Minion who is even referred to as “last year’s boss”. If you manage to survive in the final area, Hong Kong, you get to battle the final boss, Dark Tooth, and apparently he’s pissed at you for killing his son, Sweet Tooth. This boss may actually be a reference to the driver of Yellow Jacket in the first game. And after defeating this cheap-ass enemy, you’ll get to battle the flaming head atop of his truck which really just adds insult to injury.

Just like the first game, Twisted Metal 2 is extremely challenging, even on the Normal difficulty mode, and if you play on Easy, the game won’t let you progress passed Minion. Unfortunately, the difficulty is hard for all the same reasons as the first game. Driving can feel like a chore thanks to being easily able to oversteer. Your vehicle can slide all over the place and making sharp turns can be really hard to pull off without crashing into something, especially with fast vehicles. The AI is still relentless and they still seem to focus their attacks directly at you. If you’re not in the vicinity the AI opponents just seem to drive around or gravitate towards you. They never go for health when they need it and they never seem to go after each other intentionally and if one opponent does manage to kill another it’s normally because they missed you or another opponent was caught in the blast. They have an extremely annoying strategy of just spamming you with freeze bursts before repeatedly using their special weapons. At one point I was playing as Grasshopper, in Holland, and my vehicle was blown up in less than a minute of starting the match and if I play as Mr. Grimm, I’m lucky if I can survive longer than three minutes. The AI is blatantly cheap and when you notice it it can take you out of the immersion. It’s the same problem I had with the first game, what kind of contest is this if I’m the only one blowing up opponents? To those who despise Twisted Metal III, I’d like to point out that the AI opponents will actually kill each other and even go for health when they need it in that game.

I don’t have a problem with most of the areas, Paris being my favorite, but New York and Antarctica are by far the worst. New York is full of rooftops and the entire battleground is very vertical which really doesn’t work for this game. I had the same problem with the Rooftop Combat arena in the original. Due the ease of oversteering and sliding, it’s very easy to fall off a rooftop to your death. The Antarctica battleground is just not that interesting to me, visually, and even gameplay-wise. You drive on glaciers and they begin to chip away and fall off so it becomes another instance of battling controls to not fall off ledges. Holland is definitely a stand-out area. I don’t hate it or anything but it can be extremely challenging because it’s just a wide open field with very few obstacles to use as cover and contains nine opponents, the most you’ll ever battle against at once. Considering the AI loves to attack you on sight, you can only imagine how hard this area can be.

Twisted Metal 2 does contain passwords for everything, just like the original, so there is no saving to the memory card. However, instead of containing passwords for each individual area, each vehicle has their own set of passwords for each area. This is both good and bad news. The good news is it encourages players to play as each vehicle and battle through all the stages to obtain the passwords, the bad news is that doing that can be extremely tedious. You can actually play through the tournament with a friend which can help mix things up but it’s still a repetitive game by nature as is the series. Thanks to the internet, you can easily look up passwords and cheats and beat the game with each vehicle in a short amount of time to see the endings. But if you plan to beat the game legit with each vehicle, then you’ll be playing this for quite some time and that’s the common problem with the entire series. Each area requires you to do the same thing and that’s blow up every other vehicle. There’s not much more to it. This is the kind of series that really caters to junkies of the genre and nobody else, so it seems. Unless you’re like me and can play these games for hours on end then you may get burnt out relatively quickly and I can see why many players would want to play these games in short bursts. With only eight battlegrounds, the game can be really short and the only form of  length comes from beating it with each vehicle, multiplayer, or playing Challenge Matches.

It’s obvious the game is multiplayer focused but luckily, Twisted Metal 2 includes a Challenge Match mode where you can choose any battleground, driver, and even the AI opponents to battle against. This is how I spent most of my time playing Twisted Metal 2 as a young child and even to this day. It’s a great incentive to keep playing, at least for me. Challenge Match is kind of like the game’s way of letting you decide how you want to play instead of it forcing you to play through the tournament mode. I think some form of single player stat tracking would have been a great addition just because I love that kind of thing. I’d love to see how many hours I’ve played and kills I’ve racked up while playing this game over the years.

Minion and Sweet Tooth are two of my favorite drivers. Now I can understand Minion requiring a code to unlock, because he’s a boss, but not Sweet Tooth. The biggest problem with these vehicles is that they do not have individual passwords for each area. This really sucks because it means you have to get through the entire tournament with only the three lives you start with. With Minion, I can easily blast through most of the areas with no problem because he’s well armored and his special weapon is devastating plus it recharges rather quickly. You also won’t have to battle Minion in Amazonia, instead skipping ahead to New York. Sweet Tooth, too, is well armored but he’s not quite as fast nor is his special weapon quite as powerful. It still packs a punch and recharges quickly but considering how hard this game already is, I just don’t understand why they didn’t include Sweet Tooth in the normal lineup. He will often appear as a standard opponent throughout the game so unless you know the code, it’s like the game is just taunting you. And worst of all, you can’t select him or Minion as AI opponents in Challenge Matches even after you unlock them.

When it comes to the visuals, compared to it’s predecessor, everything still looks kind of blocky, pixelated, pop-in is frequent, the entire game is colorful and even more pleasant to look at. All of the colors are vibrant and the game has this overall cartoony look which really fits the theme well. Vehicles will display visual damage when they lose a certain amount of health and they satisfyingly blow up when destroyed with car parts flying every which way. When there’s a lot of action happening on-screen the frame rate will dip which seems to be a frequent occurrence. You can once again enable a rear view mirror to see behind you but that, too, will drop the frame rate. There’s no longer a behind-the-wheel camera perspective but now you can view the action from overhead if you want.

I’m happy to report the audio design here is leaps and bounds better than that of the first game and the music is still fantastic, containing of mostly excellent heavy metal riffs. There’s more music in general and now you can adjust the volumes for sound effects and music independently.

Twisted Metal 2 is a great game and also a product of it’s age. It’s now a classic and is still fun to play, even to this day, and I would recommend it to any players that are new to the series. It does have its share of issues but I can’t say these issues ever stopped me from playing or coming back. The gameplay has been significantly improved since the first game and many of the established elements here have been carried over into the sequels. Many fans may tell you this is the greatest game in the series but from a gameplay standpoint I’m usually torn between this and Twisted Metal 2012, but from a single player standpoint, yes, I would agree this is the best. At least when talking about the games developed by the original team, directed by David Jaffe.

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