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Twisted Metal Black

Developer: Incognito | Publisher: SCEA
Players: 1 to 4 Player Game | Release Date: 06/18/01 | Genre: Action

When the PSX first arrived on the scene, one of the first games I got was Twisted Metal, and it was a blast. But further installments of the game didn't have much to add to the original concept. The whole car combat genre just didn't seem to have a lot of lasting appeal. Add to the fact that Twisted Metal 3 and 4 were made by 989 Studios (how do they stay in business boys and girls) and it seemed that car combat would be dead forever. Consequently, we have waited nearly a year for a car combat game on the PS2 and fittingly, the game is Twisted Metal Black.

As far as the core gameplay goes, things really haven't changed a lot in Twisted Metal Black. The controls are the same and most of the weapons are the same, but somehow this game seems nothing like its predecessors. This game is filled with destructible environments, loads of secrets, and extremely tough enemy AI. The levels are amazing, and the game oozes atmosphere. Let's just focus on the levels for a minute.

Right from the get-go, you realize that you are in for something special as you tear around the game's first level: Zorko Brothers' Scrap Yard. The level features real-time changes in weather and time of day, multi-level terrain filled with jumps and destructible obstacles. There is a giant plane circling the battlefield (which can be shot down to access a hidden area where a new vehicle can be unlocked), the broken fuselage of another plane hangs over the battlefield, along with a big jolly green dude. The level looks amazing and is tremendous fun. But the masterpiece of this game has to be the Asylum Prison Ship level. It is absolutely incredible.

You start in a small room with two enemies and you have to slug it out until the room opens up to reveal that you are onboard a giant ship. The site of the monstrous waves splashing over the bow of the ship is awesome. As you tear around the deck of the ship, you see a drawbridge opening ahead as you approach the asylum. The ship finally docks at the asylum and you are able to drive into the nuthouse, on top of it, and around all the surrounding terrain. If you destroy a control booth on either side of the draw bridge, the bridge will lower and you can drive across it. There is also a cool blimp floating around the island that can be used in one of the game's "environmental" attacks. Control is very tight and there are three different schemes that can be used, ensuring there is at least one method that will suit just about everyone.

My only complaint with the control would be when it comes to executing some of the energy attacks. You need to tap sequences into the D-pad to execute them, and with the fast pace of Twisted Metal Black's gameplay, I found I rarely used them. The only one you are likely to use consistently is the "rear fire" code, which allows you to fire your currently selected weapon backwards. You can also drop mines, but the enemy AI is generally pretty good so they have to be following pretty close to get them to drive over them. The gameplay, as I mentioned, is intense. The enemies are very smart, much more accurate with their weapons than you are likely to be, and they all seem to want to kill you more than each other. You cannot hide on a level and wait for the computer opponents to take each other out. It simply will not happen. They are all gunning for you. Is this fair? Probably not, but it makes for some fine gaming.

The accuracy of the enemy' shots can be frustrating (you will have a hard time hitting Mr. Grimm without a guided weapon, but if you are Mr. Grimm, the computer will be able to pick you off with surprising accuracy --unless you are an extremely skilled driver). And that is part of this games appeal. There are multiple difficulty settings, but character selection adds even more difficulty. All the characters in the game are not balanced. Oh sure, Mr. Grimm has speed and handling to make-up for his low armor rating, and a nasty special attack. But I will take Junkyard dog over Grimm any day. The advantage of speed is good for outrunning attacks, but not for tight turning. And Grimm's special attack may be powerful, but it is not guided so it requires precision. Junkyard dog on the other hand has an explosive ball that he launches into the air and can damage multiple targets, just like a gas can.

Special attacks are fun, but selecting a character on this basis is not necessarily wise, because you can't rely on just special attacks to take out enemies. Graphically, Twisted Metal Black is fantastic. It is all about atmosphere. This game is dark, and it never lets so much as a ray of sunshine through. The single player movies do not feature any happy endings, unless you want to see people die. But that is what makes this title so appealing (and also why it received a Mature rating). My favorite graphical touch is when you blow up an enemy and the driver runs from his car in flames (and you can then mow him down if you are feeling particularly homicidal). Particle effects and flames are well done and the light sourcing form the cars headlights at night is fantastic. In the same vein, sound is exceptionally well done. When there are no enemies near, the music switches to a creepy, pulsing track that is reminiscent of a Nine Inch Nails song. But as enemies approach, the soundtrack seamlessly switches to a faster more intense pace.

The sounds of all the weapons are great, and the screams of the enemies as you destroy them provide a substantial degree of satisfaction. Due to the sheer number of characters in Twisted Metal Black, replay value is very high. It will take quite awhile to get through the story mode with each character, and the multiplayer mode adds additional dimensions to the title.

With plans for an online version of the game this fall, Twisted Metal Black is sure to provide you with a number of hours of gameplay. The only thing that could ruin this title's lasting appeal is the use of cheat codes. I caution anyone out there that owns this game, use of the cheat codes makes the game extremely easy (as cheat codes oft do). Remember, there are only 8 levels in the story mode. If you cheat, it isn't going take long to get through the game. The satisfaction you feel after surviving the Drive-In movie level with Mr. Grimm on the hard setting after 10 consecutive tries is something you need to experience. Those who do not cheat, you have my respect, those that do--you have no skills.

By Jonathan Halwani - 08/01/01
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Screenshots for Twisted Metal Black

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