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Twisted Metal Black | review | game | Lollipop
Twisted Metal Black
(SCEA for the PS2)
by Eric Johnson
The deliciously dark and morbid fifth installment in the Twisted Metal series of ultra-violent vehicular combat games pits you against a bakers dozen of criminally-insane fugitives fighting to win an amoral competition no matter who gets in the way. It's remarkably dark, the characters are grotesque, unrepentant, and universally reprehensible with action and video sequences so violent and hectic as to alienate a substantial portion of its potential audience. A staggering array of vehicles equipped with rocket launchers, machine guns, mines, and flamethrowers are dropped into a confined area with the dystopian ideal of annihilating all opponents. There are no allies, no objectives other than survival, and untold numbers of innocent bystanders will be killed in the process. This is a gruesome makeover for the series and a welcome relief from the excessively kitsch-oriented games which dominated the genre in the past few years. This apocalyptic, anti-futuristic, post-industrialized nightmare is overseen by a mysterious, scarred individual named Calypso who has promised each of these poor souls their greatest desire in exchange for victory in his contest. Logically, who would fight harder for the object of their most unhealthy fixations than the criminally insane? For most, the primary motive is revenge, others seek answers or cures, but they are all quite willing to kill for their prize.
The visceral experience of playing Twisted Metal Black is frenzied and addictive enough to keep you playing long after your eyes start to hurt. Hostilities commence with your car already armed with a few missiles and machine guns. These confrontations take place in vast battlefields rendered with a delightful touch of realism that makes them especially fun to navigate. Several are laid out with sections of highway complete with innocent commuters and pedestrians. There's also suburban sprawl, industrial wasteland, a downtown shopping district, and the obligatory junkyard, each filled with fully destructible objects. There is plenty of room for the speedy to navigate and there are lots of crannies for the big and slow to lie in ambush. Other weapons lay scattered throughout the levels and include a variety of guided missiles, exploding oil drums, ricocheting explosives, and laser-guided smart bombs. Weapons are visually stunning but require some skill to operate efficiently. Lethal attacks are not easily pulled off, so most assaults wear down opponents rather than annihilating them. Many of these areas also have hidden passages with weapon stashes and other hidden characters. Special attacks, unique to each player, are randomly generated, and they balance the deficiencies of particularly slow or delicate characters. The most visually impressive attack involves a kamikaze religious fanatic with explosives strapped to his body.
Those acquainted with vehicular combat games will quickly notice that they have played this game a dozen times before – controls and all elements of game play are identical to previous releases. But the perfection with which these conventions have been rendered must be recognized as it makes all predecessors obsolete.
The graphics are unreal, unholy, and fascinating. The environments are peppered with graffiti, trash, and the wreckage of pop culture. The vehicles are spectacularly detailed and well-designed and include an evil ice cream truck, a holy roller El Camino, and a station wagon welded onto a tank chassis. Driving around feels spectacular. There's an especially convincing feel to the pavement as it slips beneath you. The dirty dystopian lived-in look of Twisted Metal Black is a testament to the PS2's ability to cram a shitload of visual information into your field of vision without using hardware-sacrificing tricks like limited visibility to generate a convincing environment.
The music is a real treat, too. You know you're in for something special when the guitar intro from the Rolling Stones classic "Paint it Black" greets you on the options screen, the song in its entirety accompanies the game's closing credits. The remaining music is a chaotic black metal-esque mixture of heavy metal, synthesizers, techno, and chanting opera choruses. This unpleasant tapestry of uninviting elements creates an over-stimulating nightmare world without a speck of cuteness amongst the shattered glass and flaming wreckage.
Twisted Metal Black is good enough to pick through garbage bins, collecting empty soda cans for the refund money to purchase it. Within the confines of the chaos it creates, it's an almost perfect game. But there are some imperfections that one should be aware of before hauling twenty Glad bags full of aluminum down to the local software retailer. Many of the character stories are anti-climactic, some are downright weak, and they are nowhere near as interconnected as the opening sequences lead you to believe. They're generally twists on old school EC comics (Tales from the Crypt) horror tales and as grim and disturbing as the stories may be, only a few of them (specifically the disfigured boxer and guy with amnesia) are really great. Most of them simply lack the punch of their introductions. Furthermore, as this is a perfected version of a primary selection from the PlayStation cannon, keep in mind that it is a refined version of a classic, not an entirely new model. Veterans and newcomers will need to check this game out. It's highly recommended and so grossly addictive that many times I wondered why I was still playing so long after my eyes had started to ache.