Title: Twisted Metal: Black
Developer: Incog Inc. Entertainment
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment of America
Date Published: 6/20/2001
Platforms: Sony Playstation 2
ESRB Rating: Mature

They say the mind bends and twists in order to deal with the horrors of life. Sometimes the mind bends so much it snaps in two.

A richly macabre vehicular combat arena game for the Playstation2 published by Sony Computer Entertainment America in 2001. The fifth game in the series (sixth if you include the offshoot Small Brawl), Twisted Metal: Black marks the triumphant return of Twisted Metal 1 and 2 developers SingleTrac under the moniker Incog Inc. Entertainment.

In 1998 GT Interactive purchased SingleTrac and the Twisted Metal license fell into the awkward hands of 989 Studios. Primarily known for their sports games and not much else, 989 Studios seemed ill-equipped to tackle a game franchise of such uncommon wit and purpose. They stumbled through Twisted Metal 3 and 4 without much critical or popular success; in just three years a reformed Incog Inc. took the helm once again to revitalize their precious, if nearly ruined, game concept.

That concept is simple: contest mastermind Calypso releases or somehow involves fifteen mental patients from Blackfield Asylum and promises to grant whomever wins one wish. Each contestant has a unique vehicle capable of executing deadly attacks and special abilities specific to the character. There are twenty arenas of varying size and difficulty. All you have to do to win is kill everyone. Why everyone seems to return from death throughout eight levels of gameplay is a mystery, but there are many illogical quirks in this game that are actually explained in conclusion (see below).

This game story concept and other familiar elements remain wonderfully intact from previous incarnations -- including the sharp, ironic "be careful what you wish for" motif usually featured in each of the characters' endings. Drawn from previous games are some characters (Calypso, Sweet Tooth, Mr. Grimm) and vehicle concepts (like Outlaw, Shadow, Spectre, Axel, Warthog, Minion) though most of them have been either evolved or completely redrawn. While each character has a solid story just bizarre enough to draw the player closer toward the midway and ending cinematic sequences, we begin to see a slight emphasis on the character of clown-faced serial killer Sweet Tooth in his innocuous ice cream truck that transforms into a veritable mechwarrior on wheels. He certainly has the most rewarding ending.

This title is groundbreaking for so many reasons. Nearly every element of each combat arena is interactive: you shoot down planes, take advantage of inclement weather to harm your opponents, bust through churches and grocery stores, knock down ferris wheels, shoot out bridges and sides of buildings, and disrupt the lives of hundreds of other drivers on the roads during any given highway bloodfest. Another subtle and immersive feature is the dynamic musical score that literally changes according to the mood of play: in an intense melee, it orchestrally grinds and wails; far away from the fray it purrs in quiet anticipation.

Single player gameplay includes the eight-arena story mode (six arenas featuring your fellow contestants and two arenas featuring mid- and end-bosses Minion and Warhawk), challenge mode (you vs. eight computer AI-controlled opponents), and endurance mode (you vs. as many computer AI-controlled opponents as you can handle, one after another). Multiplayer gameplay includes a two-player cooperative story mode, a two-player "Last Man Standing" mode (each player faces off with an identical list of characters and fight to the finish), and a two- to four-player deathmatch (any more than two participants requires the Playstation Multitap). Twisted Metal: Black is now also available for online play in the US, as the online edition is available free of charge with the purchase of the PS2 Network Adaptor.

Playable characters (and vehicles) are:

Billy Ray Stillwell (Junkyard Dog)
Preacher (Brimstone)
Agent Stone (Outlaw)
Mr. Grimm
John Doe (Roadkill)
Frank McCutcheon (Crazy 8)
Bloody Mary (Spectre)
Dollface (Darkside)
Raven (Shadow)
Sweet Tooth
Charlie Kane and Son (Yellow Jacket)
Cage (Warthog)
Black (Manslaughter)

The last five characters must be "discovered" throughout the course of story mode. They are secret characters, although you will certainly see enough of them during the arena combat. Also, certain arenas are locked down until discovered in hidden locations throughout story mode. The cinematics for each character remain locked until viewed at least once. Yes, it is hard. And yes, there is a cheat code.

The inclusion of Minion is somewhat of a mystery, but unlocking him as a character reveals the cryptic path toward the truth about the illogical and disparate nature of in-game reality. If you feel up to completing the previous 14 characters' story modes and deciphering code, you can feel that blistering warmth of enlightenment. Or, if you're like me, you could look it up on the Internet.

Also see: Twisted Metal

This write-up complies with the E2 FAQ: Video Games standards.

sources: twisted metal black instruction manual, neoseeker.com, and gamefaqs.com

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