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Which Console Did You Buy/Receive Over The Holidays?

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Game Profile
PlayStation 2
Incog Inc. Entertainment
GENRE: Driving
PLAYERS:   1-4
June 19, 2001
Twisted Metal

Twisted Metal: Head On: Extra Twisted Edition

Twisted Metal: Head-On

Twisted Metal: Small Brawl

 Written by Adam Woolcott  on July 26, 2001

Full Review: I knew there was a reason I was afraid of clowns.

The original Twisted Metal was one of the first breakout hits for Sony's PlayStation. Mixing in totally unrealistic driving with everyone's favorite ?blow stuff up? theme, TM became a major hit and created the first ?me too? copycat genre of the 32-bit era ? that of car combat. A sequel was even more successful for PS and put the developer, Singletrac on the map.

However, Singletrac was bought by the now-defunct GT Interactive (now part of Infogrames), leaving any Twisted Metal sequels under the reins of another company. Sony owned the TM name, but not the developers. 989 Studios took over the TM name and quickly drove it into the ground ? taking what was good about the first 2 Twisted games and tossing them out the window. It went from sinister to cheesy in a 2-year span.

Enter Incog Inc. Comprised of former Singletrac team members who worked on the first 2 Twisted Metal games, they vowed to bring the series back to the top of its genre and send the game in a totally different direction.

What results is Twisted Metal Black ? easily the best car combat game in a long time, if not ever. Instead of the campy, cheesy feel of the PS versions, the PS2 ?sequel? is incredibly dark and disturbing; maybe not scary, but psychologically demented and horrifying. This definitely isn't a game for the kiddies, but for the rest of us TMB offers a deep, fast, pretty, difficult, and dark experience that won't be matched for quite some time.

Twisted Metal Black is barely a sequel ? it's more like a parallel universe from the PS versions. Most of the characters are the same ? Sweet Tooth, Outlaw, Spectre, Axel, and many of the other original characters, along with a couple of new ones. The difference is, they aren't the same personalities. Instead of the silly stuff, there are serial killers, possessed preachers, and other disturbing ?careers.? Each character's story is in-depth and rather haunting..if anything because of the very realistic feel the stories have ? they sound like situations that might happen in reality (besides the possessed preacher, anyway). If you look at the game as the ?alternate reality? of the old TM games, you'll get the idea of the direction TMB goes.

The main gist of the game is the same ? Calypso is running a tournament where the winner will have whatever they want done, done. Each character has their own motives, and sometimes it involves another character, but not often. But the stories are deep, and revealed slowly, dragging the player into the game to find out what happens next. There are other modes as well, like deathmatches and endurances, as well as a co-op story mode (with no story, actually). The one-player story is for now the deepest mode of play. For now. TMB Online is coming soon.

Of course, getting deep into the game is a chore in itself ? this game is HARD. Not just a little hard, a LOT hard. Even on Easy this is almost torture in its difficulty. Your opponents are loaded up with weapons and sometimes they'll gang up on you and blow your 3 lives per level away in minutes. It's not too bad the first couple levels, but once you get to the mid-boss you'll be screaming in agony over how hard it is. You'll eventually figure the right strategy, but be prepared to die a LOT while learning. The most difficult level by far is the prerequisite TM rooftop level. Not only must you deal with the assault of your opponents, you'll have to tread carefully to not fall off the roofs to your death. Which is easier said than done with the smaller, faster cars. Admittedly it may and will be too hard for some players, so you've been warned.

If you've played other TM games you know how it goes; drive around with your weapons and blow up your opponents until they're all gone. As usual, there are loads of weapons to use ? from homing missiles to fire missiles, along with new weapons like gas cans that explode in the faces of opponents. Plus, each character has their own unique special move ? like Sweet Tooth's barrage of missiles to Brimstone's ?repent? special, where he launches a body that's impaled on a stake at an opponent, and the body screams ?REPENT!? as it attacks. As I said, a little disturbing.

Along with that, pretty much everything is destructible, from houses to buildings to street signs, to even the ferris wheel trick in the suburbs level. You can even run over the pedestrians and send them packing, something not done in the first 4 games. And you can even mash up innocent drivers and their cars as well.

What's nice is there is a way to break up the linearity of the game..after most levels are completed you get a choice of where to go next, picking between one or the other. This keeps some freshness because you don't have to go the same way twice. There's only 6 battlegrounds per story, but about 10 total to choose from. The other two levels are the mid-boss and final boss areas, both extremely hard to defeat.

Also, there are tons of things to unlock, and even better they are hidden. Finding secret characters a lot of times involves blowing the right things up at the right time, creating a domino effect that unlocks the secrets. That in itself is cool because you earn your rewards that way.

As for the rest of the gameplay, it's exactly as you'd remember it from the old TM's ? The cars handle like you'd expect. Heavy cars are harder to turn and slower, but more agile (especially on the rooftops) and strong, and the smaller cars are fast but hard to control around corners and tend to be weaker when it comes to taking damage, though they are harder to hit. The vehicles have realistic damage that affects the performance, that can only be healed through health packs and the little power-up ramps scattered throughout the levels.

If you do want to survive, you'll need strategy. Unlike some of the mindless car combat games, TMB forces you to plan attacks, lie in the weeds, or play stick and move. Just running up to a car and start blasting will get you nowhere fast. Thinking is necessary, as well as finding a hiding place to take a breather. There aren't any time limits, so you'll be able to stop and think and plan. Also, not wasting your special weapons is essential ? an errant waste of them can be costly. It's advisable to hit the big vehicles first, because they'll be easier due to the size of them, leaving you able to pick away at the faster, smaller cars. Believe me, hunting down Mr. Grimm while Sweet Tooth is firing away at you can be a killer. And the fights with the bosses will have you planning it out like you're going to war against a small army. When a game like this makes you plan out your attacks, it's a gem.

And TMB also sports spot-on control ? nothing is too complicated, with each button going for something and not requiring a lot of effort. There's a slight delay when firing weapons, but that's to be expected when reloading them. Getting to know the Twisted Metal Black control scheme is very easy.

However, TMB can get repetitive at times, like most car combat games. After a while, it becomes the same thing again and again, despite the character changes. The main thing that keeps you going is the deep stories and that nagging need to see them all. The multiplayer modes will keep you going for some time, however. But at the very least, the secret hunting and involving stories is enough to last a good couple of months. Just don't expect to play it non-stop after a while.

Adding to the disturbing mix of TMB is some really nice graphics. Of course, it's dark and gloomy, but it looks great. There is an option to adjust the brightness which helps, because it is such a dark game. Now mind you, the graphics won't touch, say, Gran Turismo 3, but for it's genre, where speed is such a major aspect, it's the best seen. The game is fast, with 60 FPS, even during 4 player split screen games. There might be a trickle of slowdown here and there, but 95% of the time it's smooth and speedy.

The gloominess is apparent, with most of the landscapes being run down and half-destroyed. The suburban area, with aging houses and abandoned restaurants, is perhaps the darkest and haunting. Other levels like the junkyard also carry that disturbing tone, and that feel of darkness not seen in a game before. The ambience just adds so much to this game.

The vehicles are detailed nicely and the damage is realistic, as mentioned. The other effects, like lighting for explosions are really well done as well. And the cinemas for telling the stories are excellent to boot. By far TMB is the prettiest car combat game out there.

That's only topped by the excellent sound effects and music. The music is dark and haunting, chilling to a point. It creates that sense of terror like nothing before it and makes the atmosphere even move immersive. Mix in the Rolling Stones track ?Paint it Black? for the end credits and you have a good musical score.

Voice acting is included for the cinemas, and all of them are great (for once). There's no cheesy tone to them and definitely more sinister and realistic. That's yet another reason why this game can be so disturbing ? the voices won't make you laugh because they're so bad, but they'll draw you in because they're so good.

The effects like explosions are nice, but nothing really stands out and is rather pedestrian. They're not bad really - just nothing makes it memorable. That's the only downfall in the sound department.

Bottom Line
Incog Inc has redeemed the Twisted Metal series with Twisted Metal Black, saving it from the downward spiral of the previous 2 TM games. While the overly-insane difficulty drops the score down a notch because it may frustrate some gamers, most will love the incredible challenge. Even if there is some question to the depth, car combat fans will be more than pleased with TMB, and will keep them playing for some time, if only to acquire all the endings and secrets. Twisted Metal Black goes a long way to add some value to Sony's first-party lineup.

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