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Twisted Metal: Black
Review By:  Matt Douglas
Developer:   Incog Inc.
Publisher:   Sony
# of Players:   1-4 (multitap)
Genre:   Vehicular Combat
ESRB:   Mature
Date Posted:   8-28-01

Over the past couple years, the "car combat" genre has become much more popular than it has ever been, with more and more games coming out every year in this genre. Even big-name licenses such as Star Wars have been given the car combat treatment. This genre was made big by a company called SingleTrac, who were responsible for creating the Twisted Metal franchise. With the good original Twisted Metal and the excellent TM2, car combat became very popular, with similar franchises such as the Vigilante 8 series trying to capture the same amount of fun SingleTrac was able to create. Unfortunately, the TM series started to fall into mediocrity when 989 Studios produced the poor Twisted Metal 3 and the horrible TM4, after SingleTrac was bought by GT Interactive. Many of the original SingleTrac team has gotten back together, and formed Incognito, who have now taken control of the Twisted Metal franchise. Their first game, Twisted Metal: Black (which will be referred to as TM:B), has revived the stale car combat scene with dark story lines for each character, excellent graphics, and extremely addictive gameplay.

In TM:B, you get several modes of play, some better than others. For solo play, you can play in Story mode, or play the Challenge or Endurance games. For those with friends, you can play Deathmatch (two to four players), or you can play the Story mode cooperatively with a friend. Rounding out the modes of play is the two player Last Man Standing game. TM:B excels at delivering both a fun Single Player experience and a chaotic, fast-paced Multi- Player as well.

Unlike many games, TM:B's one player could be considered just as fun as the Multi-Player portion of the game. The game has the standard Challenge mode (pick a car and pick your opponents, then try to eliminate them all), and an Endurance mode (face an endless amount of enemies and see how many you can eliminate using one vehicle), but the Story mode is where the game is really fun. Each character in the game has their own story line, which avoids seeing the same cut-scenes over and over if you play more than once. One character tried to find out his identity (hence the name John Doe), while another participant tries to seek revenge on the person who scarred his face and made him look rather gruesome. The only connection between ALL the combatants: Calypso is running a tournament, in which he promises each character something if they come out victorious. All the story lines are very dark, and filled with some unsettling images, which is the main reason this game receives a Mature rating. Note to parents: this is not for the little children! When you play Story, you also sometimes have the option of which stage you would like to play next. For example, after completing one level, you may be able to decide whether to play the Downtown level or Highway Loop level next. 

While some levels are standard in all games, it does add a little more variety to the experience, though some more of it would be nice. Of course, none of this would be fun without the game being challenging, right? Well, I'm here to tell you this game does not in any way slack off in the AI department. Even on Easy, some gamers may find the game challenging to complete. The boss levels are also fun, and are a nice break from just destroying cars with no real strategy at all. For example, the mid-boss has a force field, and so you have to destroy the panels on his car before you can actually damage him. Unfortunately, other than these boss levels, the other six (of eight) levels are the same, just in different locations. More variety in the levels would have made a great game even greater, though with the high difficulty, I'm not complaining that much. Finally, throughout the levels are black cubes, which if you can access them, unlock the multi-player levels. The cubes are hard to find and are a nice little distraction from the constant warfare. Overall, the pros easily outweigh the cons in one player.

Multi-Player is a blast as well, which is a MUST for a car combat game to be given a high score. TM:B ran smoothly for me, and while the backgrounds were less detailed and there were no more pedestrians (more on that later), the graphics still looked great. Last Man Standing, a mode in which two players fight with an identical list of vehicles and try to eliminate all of the other's cars, isn't really that fun, but Co-Op and Deathmatch are loads of fun. Co-Op is the Story mode, but in two player, and while you don't see any cutscenes because you are playing with two different vehicles, the bosses become harder, which makes the mode just as fun. Deathmatch, especially in a four-player free-for-all, is probably the best part of this game. Once you unlock all the levels, you can pick out your favorite and go at it with your friends, whether you're on teams or all on your own. My only big complaint with the multi-player aspect of the game is that some of the larger and more interactive levels, such as Downtown, had to be scaled down for multi-player, which was a big letdown for me. There isn't that much stuff to interact with in multi-player because of that, which eliminates some inventive ways of damaging your opponents. Besides that, I can't find much to complain about as to what Incognito offers you, as these modes can keep you entertained for months.

Taking advantage of the PS2's graphical power over the original Playstation's, TM:B looks fantastic. The cars show damage as they are fired at throughout the levels, and the arenas, specifically when playing solo, look great. The frame rate runs smoothly at all times, and I have never run into any slowdown. Combined with the graphical detail in the game, it makes for some great eye candy. The car explosions look great as well, with the drivers fleeing away from the car, engulfed in flames. You can decide to run them, and other pedestrians over, if you feel like it, although there's no blood splattered on the ground, ala Carmageddon. Some levels, especially the Downtown and Suburbs levels, have interactive elements in the levels as well, such as a water tower you can shoot down to collapse onto the streets in the Suburbs. While I personally would have liked more interactive elements in the levels, I'll take what I can get. Some of these items are a sight to behold, such as the Ferris Wheel in the Suburbs level (I'll let you check that out on your own). Aside from the lower detail level in Multi- Player, there's nothing to complain about here.

The game's sound isn't much, but you can't expect much in a car- combat game like this. The voice acting in the cutscenes is good, and the game's theme ("Paint It Black" by The Rolling Stones, played during the credits) is great, and the weapon sounds are right on, but the music during the game doesn't have much variety and gets old very quickly. To add to that, when you destroy someone, you hear the same pain-filled scream every time, never changing. While I understand sound shouldn't have been on the top of the priority list, it's little things like these that separate the "amazing" games from the "very good" games.

TM:B's control is a mixed bag, because while the controls are responsive most of the time, the combo system for the energy weapons can become a pain in the ass. The button layout is fine, with the machine gun and projectiles being handled with the shoulder buttons, and acceleration and braking being handled with either the analog sticks, D-Pad or analog buttons. The downside to the controls is that its extremely hard to pull off combos with the analog sticks, and it can be too easy to pull them off with the D- Pad. More often than not, I accidentally fire a freeze missile or activate a shield when I'm just trying to maneuver my car around, which takes away energy I may want to use later in the game. It goes without saying, that can become a major pain when you use the energy weapons (the combos) frequently in the game.

Despite its downfalls, Twisted Metal: Black is an action-packed game that will keep you entertained for a while to come, especially if you have a Multitap and friends to play with. The game may have some issues that needed to be dealt with in the control and in the difficulty levels, and more interactivity in the levels would have been nice, but that doesn't stop TM:B from becoming the best car combat game out for any console, period. If you're interested in car combat at all, and are old enough to handle the dark cutscenes, I recommend you pick up this game at your local retailer.

HIGHS:

  • Great game engine, with useful energy weapons and interactive environments.
  • Awesome graphics.
  • Individual character story lines.
  • Classic Twisted metal gameplay that goes back to the series' roots.
  • Challenging AI on all difficulty levels.

LOWS:

  • Combo system doesn't work well with the analog sticks, and is too easy to use with the D-Pad.
  • Levels scaled down in multi-player, with less interactivity.
  • Not much interactivity in many levels.
  • AI tends to gang up on you in Story mode.

FINAL VERDICT:

The game is not perfect by any means, and can definitely be improved upon. Still, this is THE car combat game, and Incognito has put Twisted Metal back where it belongs, at the top of the car combat scene.

Overall Score: 8.7

Additional Media:

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