The Ultimate Twisted Metal: Black Review
Some time has passed since Twisted Metal: Black was released. With a new game on its way to Playstation 3 based within the same universe, let's take a quick trip back to see what this game did right, and what it did wrong with this in-depth review.
A Twisted Recap
Twisted Metal: Black was first released June 18, 2001, by the original creators of the first two Twisted Metal games under their new company name Incog. Inc Entertainment. The Game Director, David Jaffe, wanted to go a new direction with Twisted Metal: Black, this time completely focusing on character development and putting less emphasis on the game play. This choice ultimately lead to the game's dark and gritty tone as they pioneered what was the first M (for Mature) Rated game of the series, something that was still new at that time for the console, even releasing before the much more hyped Grand Theft Auto 3.
Even though the developers chose to emphasize the plot, the gameplay is as solid as ever in this addition to the series. Armed vehicles are slower, but sturdier and the faster combatants may speed around, but pay for it with reduced health. It's the same ol' Twisted Metal fans of the series know and love, but with a noticeably grim tone.
The weapons and power-ups used to paint your portrait of carnage includes several old favorites with a dabble of new additions. One of the new items is Gas Can, which are extremely fast moving bombs that fly in a straight line once fired before crashing down to the ground in a huge plume of orange explosions once triggered. The weapons themselves are well implemented and none feel over-powered as each one was balanced with skill in mind.
Another new feature of sorts to the game is the concept of 'jousting.' It is extremely common to see two enemies fire at one another, drive off, only to turn and fire again. What it turns into is a virtual jousting tournament replacing lances with explosives and horses with horsepower. It is a very satisfying experience to go toe-to-toe with an enemy after several of these exchanges and forcing them to drive away limping as you pelt them along their retreat.
Frustrations and Difficulties
One nagging distraction is the AI's constant magnetism to the player, and only the player. It is very common in the later levels of Twisted Metal: Black to run into several opponents fighting each other when they suddenly stop, turn, and single out the player alone. This is a universal complaint among even the most loyal of fans and something David Jaffe himself commented on being a rough spot. The AI not only preferred to engage the player, but they would often freeze them in place--defenselessly--with special attacks. When two or more enemies were fighting you and this happened, you could spend several long seconds before being able to counter-attack, if you were luckily enough to still be alive after their onslaught.
The other negative aspect of the game was both its middle boss, Minion, and final boss, Warhawk. Both are extremely aggravating bosses that require a specific series of events to occur before damage can even be inflicted to them, while they are free to heavily damage you from the beginning. Both of these bosses are difficult to combat, but with some types of vehicles it is made even more difficult. For example, the final boss is constantly in the air. While some vehicles are able to escape and wait until their special is reloaded automatically, other cars' special attacks do not possess an auto-targeting system so they have a much harder fight by comparison.
For most fans of this game, it was the stories from Twisted Metal: Black that really set it apart from the rest. Selling M-rated games at the time was a fairly new idea that game developers were just starting to try out. The people that purchased a Playstation 2 were generally grown-up video gamers that bought a Playstation years before, and because of this, Incog. Inc Entertainment used the stories from Twisted Metal: Black to cater to their older audience.
The story remains mostly the same compared to previous installments. A man named Calypso wants people to jump in cars and shoot at other people doing the same. Whoever is the last contestant standing gets a wish, which Calypso grants. Calypso seems to know a bit of everything about the characters and generally entices them to join his contest for redemption, resolution, or revenge.
Each character has their time to shine individually in the Story Mode through a series of three cut scenes and the inconsequential loading screen text. When the player first chooses a character, a bit of a background history is given to get a feel for what they are going to be playing. After a grueling boss battle with Minion half way though the game, the player is rewarded with a big chunk of storyline which generally states what they want out of this contest. The final movie sequence is somewhat less powerful than their second, but generally ends on a poignant and satisfying conclusion. The stories from Twisted Metal: Black, along with their direction and three dimensional still life-like style, are things fans held onto for some time and are the source of praise even to this day.
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The overall setting of the game is grimy, worn down, and almost post apocalyptic. This fits and is not forced, as the idea of various drivers all using powerful explosives to destroy one another have seemingly taken its toll on the surroundings. The vehicles themselves look stunning and realistic. Dented, scratched, and rusted, every vehicle in the game certainly looks their part as each are weathered, battered and more than often have replaced chunks of scrap metal from whatever happened to be unluckily close at the time, in one case an entire cop car is re-purposed as a bumper.
If Steampunk courted a rusty junkyard, these vehicles could have easily been their spawn.
Another fun addition, is not only the weapons and their impressive explosions, but how each vehicle transforms when you switch weapons. Drums of Gas Cans pop out of trunks, rockets burst out of side panels a la Spy Hunter, and the special moves even manage to top that. Depending on who you are playing, you might hurl an unlucky man with dynamite strapped to his chest onto the hood of your enemies, shoot out of the roof of your car and use a mini-gun to unload on your opponents, or your vehicle might even completely remodel itself into a standing humanoid on wheels, Transformers-style.
The only downside to all of this well integrated setting, is that some complain it is just too depressing or even repetitive. Though the levels are full of destructible content and sprawl out in every direction, the constant presence of grays, pale greens, and brown nears monotony. It fits in with the theme and feeling of the game very well, but after several hours the repeating color palette is noticeable to say the least. Luckily, the cars, weapons and their explosions, and the game's lightning fast frame rate keep this department scoring high.
Sound Effects and Soundtrack
The sound is good and what you'd expect out of a Twisted Metal. Tires squeal, rockets roar, and crashes sound as bone-crunching as they should be. While the effects are spot on, they also do not excel, minus the occasional jingle from a certain ice cream truck. The sound is good, but not something that is going to stand out in your mind a day after you play it.
What does stand out, however, is the soundtrack. At its release it was the best music created in-house by a game developer and it really stood out among the rest of the games available until the same company made God of War four years later. The over-all dark and gruesome tone of the game is shared and amplified with the game's soundtrack. Every tune is fast-paced and moody, blending into the setting and maintaining the action even as you are off collecting power-ups or running in fear while in search of health. With the soundtrack in place, even the slightest effort seems like an epic undertaking, thus making the inevitable battles even more thrilling.
The controls feel fairly precise and based in reality. While hopefully no one accurately knows what firing a rocket off of a car exceeding one hundred miles-per-hour feels like, these vehicles respond quite well. The slower cars avoid feeling clunky, and come off more as being dense and heavy, thankfully not gliding around as if on ice. The speedier cars can boost and turn on a dime, excelling at twitch-based combat and are more hit-and-run in nature.
Combo Codes return again, something that started in Twisted Metal 2 with the developer's idea of a "fighting game in cars." With a few button presses you can either put up a shield to avoid damage, or fire off an icy blast which freezes your opponents in place for several seconds. You can also go invisible, but this always seems to fail when you need it most. These moves are more useful against live combatants as the AI seems to have luck or annoyingly accurate timing to render whatever you use futile. Use the ice blast move and generally forget about the rest unless a few friends come over to play. Also you will often set off some of these attacks randomly as you play, specifically the land mine will fall from your vehicle seemingly without reason.
The only real complaint with the controls is the addition of a button combination specifically for jumping. While I did not expect the cars to take off like a rocket, and I understand these are several ton vehicles, if you can make them fully transform in under three seconds without causing fatal injuries to their driver, can't you at least let them do more than a hop? Coupled with a power-slide the jump button is decent, but other than that is seems like a random addition.
Twisted Metal: Black is a solid game that was an excellent purchase in its time and remains a sound investment today. If you like a good, dark story with the occasional sprinkle of humor and have the ability to battle through some unfair and dangerously cheap AI moments, Twisted Metal: Black is definitely be a game you should pick up. Any fans of previous games in the series will undoubtedly leap at the chance to own this if they do not already.
All screenshots and references from Twisted Metal: Black and Incognito Entertainment.