Twisted Metal: Black Review

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The original Twisted Metal was released in 1995 for the PlayStation and was the start of an excellent franchise. You choose one of several vehicles and battle it out in various locations around Los Angeles for the ultimate prize of anything the driver wishes for. Each level is an open arena full of weapon pickups to destroy your opponents. The characters are crazy, the heavy metal soundtrack is awesome, and the game is fun. As awesome as the original Twisted Metal is, the series really took shape with the release of Twisted Metal 2, released for PlayStation in 1996 and PC in 1997. It refined and improved the gameplay the original had established and basically defined the Twisted Metal series as we know it today. My gateway into the series was Twisted Metal III, often considered one of the worst games in the series. I don’t care what anyone says, it’s actually one of my favorites and without it, I may never have played the first two games. Even Twisted Metal 4 wasn’t too bad, but I always preferred III. Sure, these games weren’t developed by the original team and didn’t really do anything new but they’re far from terrible, despite what series fans may think. Twisted Metal was my action series of choice until I was introduced to the Grand Theft Auto franchise in the early 2000’s. As a kid, I would spend many days and nights playing these games, blasting away opponents, enjoying the heavy metal riffs, and exposing myself to the open nature of the environments. Twisted Metal is not a racing series, you’re not forced down a specific path, and when I was kid, I thought that concept was pretty cool. I could drive anywhere I wanted, get into action packed car chases, and blow up my opponents in different ways. No match was ever the same.

Developed by Incognito Entertainment and published by Sony, Twisted Metal: Black was released in June, 2001 for PlayStation 2. Not only was this the first Twisted Metal game for PS2, but it was also developed by the same team who developed the first two games including the original series director, David Jaffe. Thanks to the new technology and hardware, Twisted Metal: Black is a much faster paced game than previous titles but still retains the same core elements the series is known for – a diverse cast of characters and vehicles, a powerful arsenal of weapons, and open environments to battle in. But what makes Twisted Metal: Black stand out isn’t the gameplay, it’s everything else. The developers decided to go a different way in terms of tone and atmosphere with this release. Gone are the silly and campy storylines, comic book style cut scenes, and most of the supernatural stuff that was found in the originals. Twisted Metal: Black is a very dark game and it was also the first game in the series to receive the “M” rating. The characters are still over-the-top but in a very different way. The storylines for each character are more grounded in reality with a somewhat serious tone and gritty feel. Black is often considered the best game in the series or contending with Twisted Metal 2 for the top spot, depending on who you talk to. One of the biggest things that made Twisted Metal: Black special was its online multiplayer that was free to anyone who purchased a PlayStation 2 network adapter and took the time to mail in the card that came with it. I have never played the multiplayer nor do I have any desire to but even after Sony shut the servers off, many dedicated fans still managed to get online games going, even today. From what I understand, the recent PlayStation 4 release of the game re-introduces online play using Share Play but I’ve never tried. For this review, I played the original PlayStation 2 version and even teamed up with Jeremy for some two player co-operative action.

Twisted Metal: Black consists of three difficulty modes – Easy, Medium, and Hard. There’s three game modes to choose from including Story, Challenge, and Endurance, and even variations of these for two players. The Story and Challenge modes should be pretty familiar to anybody who played previous games. In the Story mode, the driver battles through eight levels in hopes of becoming the victor and having their ultimate wish granted. Challenge mode is where you can choose your vehicle, level, and up to eight opponents to battle. Endurance is a new mode where you battle a never ending series of opponents one at a time until you lose. In the Story mode, you choose your vehicle and are introduced to one of the many insane drivers. Just like previous games, the basic idea is that each driver wants something and a mysterious man named Calypso can give it to them but only if they win his Twisted Metal contest. All of the drivers have seen some shit, got fucked over in life, and have been committed to the Blackfield Asylum. The storylines are dark and in my opinion, very depressing. The cut scenes are made up of images accompanied by narration from the drivers. The voice acting is hit or miss. It really depends on the driver. Some performances like Sweet Tooth are convincing enough but others could be better. Many classic vehicles return, however many of the classic drivers do not. Several returning drivers that do make an appearance have drastically different storylines and motives for joining the contest. Twisted Metal: Black pretty much defined Sweet Tooth’s iconic persona. He’s a sadistic killer with no remorse or empathy for others. Other drivers include a high school girl whose best friend is murdered, a war veteran who was basically forced into cannibalism, and small boy who controls his dead father with a remote. There’s also several new drivers and vehicles, some of which need to be unlocked. Some classic vehicles didn’t make the cut this time around including like Thumper, Hammerhead, and Mr. Slam for example. However, the memories of some classic vehicles are preserved within the roster here, primarily in the special weapons. Crazy 8 has a special weapon very similar to Outlaw’s special in prior games. The Outlaw here uses a turret as a special weapon. Darkside’s special is a ramming attack that can cause massive damage, similar to Hammerhead’s special. WartHog’s special is a flamethrower, which seems like a nod to Thumper.

There are no more supernatural characters and far less supernatural elements compared to what we saw in previous games. There’s no Grim Reaper, demons, or witches driving any of the vehicles. These are all people with some serious mental issues and horrific backstories. You can view a biogaphy of each character from the vehicle selection screen and even view each vehicle’s stats in control, speed, armor, and special weapon. Most characters have three cut scenes – the intro, middle, and epilogue. The unlockable characters primarily have one or two and all unlocked cut scenes can be viewed from the Movies menu. One of my favorite vehicles and drivers in previous games is Minion, a badass demon from Hell who drove an awesome looking tank. Minion does return here as the first boss and an unlockable vehicle, however, I’m not a fan of his new character, appearance, or vehicle. He’s no longer a demon and drives a large tanker truck. Without spoiling anything, during the storyline, in between levels, you can read quotes, or messages, from your vehicle’s driver on the loading screens. Minion’s quotes are made up of numbers that make up cryptic messages, revealing his identity. The final boss is Warhawk, a helicopter and nod to the development team’s previous game Warhawk, released for the original PlayStation in 1995, when they were still with SingleTrac. The boss battles here are actually quite challenging. Both Minion and Warhawk have a shield that must be destroyed before you can start attacking them and their attacks are relentless. Because Warhawk is a helicopter, taking it down can be a bitch.

I ended up getting this game maybe a year or so after it released. I was eleven or twelve at the time and I had enough money saved up to get myself something and when my mom took me to Walmart I immediatley grabbed a copy of Twisted Metal: Black the moment I saw it on the shelf. Being the Twisted Metal fan that I am, I was so excited to get home and blow shit up. I didn’t really follow game development like I do now so I had no idea it would be this dark in tone. I was immediately thrown off when I first started playing and I was ultimately disappointed. I’m just going to come right out and say it, this is my least favorite game in the series. I miss the campy stories, wacky characters, and humorous tone the original games offered. I miss the awesome heavy metal soundtrack and colorful arenas. All of that is gone in Black and replaced by way too much dark and depressing shit. One theory is that the entire game and storylines are all in Sweet Tooth’s head. I choose to believe this since that way I can keep it separated from every other release in this series. I really gave this game a chance back in the day and despite my disappointment I played this a lot. However, my issues with the game are not with the gameplay, they’re with everything else. In fact, the gameplay is fantastic. It’s one of the reasons why this is considered one of the best vehicular combat games ever made.

Just like in the original games, the basic idea is to blow up all of the other opponents in the level to proceed to the next. Each vehicles is equipped with one or two machine guns with infinite ammo that do very little damage and the only way for you to really succeed is to acquire the weapon pickups scattered throughout the environmnents and use them to obliterate your foes. You’ll also see helicopters flying around that carry weapons and health. Many of the classic Twisted Metal weapons return including the fire, homing, and power missiles, and even environmental attacks like lightning and a blimp that will attack any nearby vehicles. Each vehicle is equipped with a unique special weapon that needs to recharge after being fired. Several new weapons are introduced like Zoomy which lets you fire a barrage of missiles. Reticle will lock on to opponents and if you wait for the timer to reach zero you can unleash a devastating set of missiles that do massive damage. The Satellite weapon lets you launch missiles into the sky and rain them down on your foes. Gas cans can be lobbed at opponents and you can even acquire machine gun upgrades that amplify your machine gun damage. Every vehicle can use turbo to drive at high speeds and if your vehicle is on fire, using turbo will put it out. Turbo is also great for ramming opponents to cause damage. Once the turbo meter is fully drained, you’ll need to acquire more from Turbo pickups in order to use it again. By entering specific button combinations, you can perform special moves like a rear attack, rear mines, jumping, temporary shield, and a freeze blast. And this time, when you’re frozen, you can mash buttons to break free early. Every special attack, minus the rear attack, drains your special meter but it will refill over time. Twisted Metal: Black is very fast-paced and also very challenging, even on the Medium difficulty mode. However, just like previous games, the AI opponents rarely attack each other and only seem to gun for you. I understand that if the AI attacked each other it would remove some of the challenge, but on the other hand, it doesn’t make much sense for a last man standing type of contest. The AI behaved exactly the same in prior games and that’s the issue. It never improved. It just becomes more noticeable with each passing game. The AI opponents tend to just drive around waiting for you to pass by before attacking. AI opponents also don’t go for health which is both good and bad. It’s good because if you’re having a tough time, you don’t need the enemies restoring their health, making things even harder. But it’s bad because, again, for a last man standing type of contest, it doesn’t really make sense. The AI can be relentless so mastery of the controls and learning how to utilize special attacks properly is a must. The AI can also seem pretty cheap at times. I noticed they would frequently spam their special weapons in succession. For example, Darkside used her special on me three times in a row at the start of a level. Now I know for a fact when you first start a level, each vehicle starts with one, maybe two specials ready to go. In fact, Darkside starts with one and there’s no way she built up a stock of three in less than twenty seconds. It’s just blatantly obvious the AI has some advantages. When it comes to stats, the vehicles are pretty balanced and understanding your vehicle’s strengths and weaknesses can be very helpful. For example, vehicles with little to no armor like Mr. Grimm are normally very fast and have very powerful special weapons. Heavily armored vehicles may not be able to make those sharp turns and drive at super speed but they can also take a beating. If you play through the storyline cooperatively with a friend, for some reason you both share lives and friendly fire cannot be turned off which is really annoying. In Story and Challenge, you’re provided with a set amount of lives and after losing all of your lives, you have the option to restart the level. In Endurance, you only have one life. You no longer have to worry about passwords to save your progress since you can actually save to the memory card now.

Throughout the storyline, after winning in specific levels, you’ll sometimes be offered the option to choose the next level. Levels come in multiple sizes including small, medium, large, and massive. You can unlock some levels by killing a specific amount of opponents in specific levels in the Endurance mode but in the story mode you can unlock characters and other levels by finding hidden black cubes and control panels. These are actually well hidden and without a guide, it may take you some serious time to unlock everything which does give the game significant replay value. You may have to destroy something in the environment and/or drive to a specific location so you can gain access to another location and what you need to do is never really obvious. With that said, the environments are quite destructible. You can shoot and drive your way through various buildings and even destroy a ferris wheel and watch it go rolling through the Suburbs level. You may witness a train crash into a building, and you can even shoot down a plane circling the Junkyard level. The environmental details are really cool, too, and were really impressive back in the day. Rain and snow will be coming down in select levels, you can kill pedestrians running around, including actual prisoners in the Prison Passage level. Prison Passage is somewhat of a unique level because you start inside a prison ship with two other opponents and the level gradually opens up over time. Once the ship reaches the island, you can see just how massive the level really is. In the Drive In level you can actually see your vehicle and what’s happening on the movie screen and some levels let you blow your way through traffic. Health pickups are scattered throughout each level but they provide very little health so you’ll want to be on the lookout for repair stations that can fully replenish your health. However, the repair stations can only be used a certain amount of times per level, depending on the difficulty. I really don’t like this and worse is that many levels have multiple repair stations but once you’ve used any of them up to the limit, all of them become unavailable. It kind of makes the game feel unfair at times, especially since the AI can be relentless and health pickups don’t provide enough health for you really feel comfortable if you’re close to death. The smaller levels, like Snowy Roads and Drive In, turn into mass chaos with eight opponents driving around, enemies slamming into you, and projectiles coming at you from every direction. But when you are victorious, it does provide a great feeling of satisfaction. When playing in Endurance mode, repair stations don’t work so you have to rely on health pickups instead. It can be pretty tough.

Twisted Metal: Black looks dated by today’s standards but when things are moving so fast and you’re trying to focus on dodging missiles at high speeds, you may not even notice. The draw distance kind of sucks and is noticeable in some of the larger levels. This game also lacks in color, I guess to match the whole dark theme the game is going for. Every level is dark, dreary and gives off a sense of gloom. The levels are not based on actual real world locations, just regular everyday places. There’s a junkyard, freeway, highway, suburbs, drive in theater, and even a level set on the top of skyscrapers. You’ll have to deal with environmental hazards like things that can crush you and even falling off buildings in the skycrapers level. The amount of little details in Twisted Metal: Black is actually quite impressive. When a vehicle is destroyed you’ll hear a scream followed by the driver running around on fire.  When you switch between weapons, you can see different compartments opening up and mechanisms moving on your vehicle like missile launchers for example. Each vehicle’s machine guns may be placed in different spots, they may look like gatling guns on some vehicles and you can actually see them rotate when fired. Sweet Tooth’s special requires his ice cream truck to transform into what looks like a mech on wheels, it’s pretty cool. On the technical side, the game runs at a smooth sixty frames and I don’t think I noticed any dips when playing in single player. In two player, we noticed some dips here and there but not often. My vehicle fell through the ground once but overall, I didn’t experience any serious issues. Now the audio design is pretty good as well. You can hear missiles approaching and even whizzing past your vehicle. Machine guns sound awesome and it’s satisfying to see and hear a vehicle explode followed by the sound of a scream. Now the music is pretty good, I don’t hate it. During gameplay it’s primarily made up of orchestral scores. The songs sound very dramatic and even cinematic. I really prefer the heavy metal stuff heard in prior games but this does match the whole dark theme. Although, this game does include “Paint it Black” by The Rolling Stones so that’s pretty cool.

I don’t like Twisted Metal: Black. I didn’t like it back when I first played it and I don’t like it now. The whole doom and gloom thing is just too much. It’s just too much of a drastic change from previous entries. It’s dark, dreary, depressing, and that type of shit just isn’t for me. I don’t mind dark shit here and there but I really enjoyed the humor and campiness of prior games. However, I do respect the developers for trying something different, it’s just that I don’t like the direction they took. Basically, I love the gameplay and dislike everything else about it. With that said, this is a fantastic vehicular combat game, one of the best. And for that reason alone, I would recommend this to any fans of the vehicular combat genre or the Twisted Metal series. If you enjoy the horror genre, psychological thrillers, dark and moody shit, and that type of stuff, then you may really get kick out of this. To me, gameplay is the most important thing in a game and that’s one area where Twisted Metal: Black really excels. The AI is still, what I’ll call “stuck in the 90’s”, and sadly, it has never improved, even in future titles. When talking about the Twisted Metal games from this generation, I personally prefer Twisted Metal: Head-On since it’s more of a direct sequel to 2 and I ended up playing that a lot more. Twisted Metal: Black was interesting to revisit. It aged in some respects but still holds up surprisingly well. I don’t really want to revisit it again but if you love the vehicular combat genre and haven’t played this, definitely check it out.

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