Remembering…Twisted Metal: Black
Despite the inherent attraction of vehicular combat, the car-combat genre is rather slim compared to others. Although there were others, Twisted Metal was always the king of the junk heap when it came to car-on-car violence and the series is poised for a reboot next year much to the delight of fans. However, little over a decade ago on the PlayStation 2 Sony released a dark reboot that stood apart from the previous entries—Twisted Metal: Black.
After Twisted Metal 2, the series was handed off to 989 Studios who developed Twisted Metal III and Twisted Metal 4. Both titles are universally agreed-upon as abortions that tarnished a once-great series. It was time to start from scratch, and after a hiatus the series returned with a darker edge to match the taste of maturing gamers. Gone was the comic book feel of the first two games and not a hint of goofiness from the 989 Studios era remained.
Black contained the basic structure: there’s a brutal demolition derby orchestrated by the enigmatic Calypso. He promises the winner their heart’s true desire, but as the old saying goes “be careful what you wish for”. This year’s contestants are made up of inmates from the Blackfield mental institutions—psychotic, disturbed individuals who would gladly skin their fellow man alive if it meant quieting their mental anguish for one moment.
Fan favorites like Mr. Grimm and Sweetooth returned and a slew of new drivers were introduced, most of whom were driven by an insatiable lust for vengeance. Their back stories dealt with grim themes such as abuse, distorted body-images, murder, cannibalism, mistakes that cost them everything, and random tragedies that shattered their lives forever. Make no mistake, Twisted Metal was back and it was pissed-off.
Black‘s mean streak extends to every facet of the design. Levels are sprawling arenas with an insane amount of destructible objects, some of which drastically change the environment such as a runaway ferris wheel and a crashing plane. Every day settings like freeways, suburbs, and cities have been turned into dark and foreboding arenas where the contestants battle to the death, even on top of a series of skyscrapers despite. In a particularly brutal touch, fleeing pedestrians can be run over and motorists can be blown up in a variety of ways.
The game was an early showcase for the PS2’s graphical prowess. It impressed gamers with its attention to deal and its crisp frame rate. Every car was intricately-detailed from the hulking trucks to fast sportscars. More importantly, they looked like they were ready for war. Players could watch as individual compartments on each car opened up to reveal a homing missile or machine gun. Every driver was equipped with their own unique special attack, some more bizarre than others such as Sweetooth’s trademark ice cream truck turning into a grinning mecha towering over everyone else as it launched a dozen missiles.
Cars took on visible damage as fights wore on, looking more like a battered sardine can than a functioning vehicle. Seconds after they become nothing more than flaming wreckage their driver emerges as a fiery, screaming pedestrian that can be run over to add insult to injure (as well as a little bit of health). Battles became gruesome free-for-alls where eight contestants raced around levels, blowing each other up with whatever armaments they could scrounge up. The difficulty curve is pretty brutal, so don’t expect to win a match before using every dirty trick in the book as well as using up health drops and recharge stations.
Twisted Metal: Black is a no-frills gaming experience. There is no objective other than survival at the destruction of your opponent’s vehicle. It’s fast, it’s mean-spirited to the bone, and one of the most thrilling experiences the PlayStation 2 has to offer. While the new Twisted Metal looks to continue the franchise’s legacy of brutal, vehicular carnage it seems to embrace the comic book vibe of the earlier games rather than Black’s razor-sharp edge. Twisted Metal: Black is by far the darkest game in the series with nary anything approximating a happy ending in sight, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.