The last man of the genre stands and he stands tall
The developer who brought the speed, action, chaos, and excitement of car combat to light has returned with a full-fledged reinvigoration of the series. Twisted Metal has opted to drench itself in the light of darkness; the series has always remained violent and this one definitely does that but Black is focused on a dark tone. The stories of many returning and new characters spin lots of yarns about revenge loaded with violence, blood, insecurity, personal problems, torture, and macabre undertones. These tales of revenge and redemption never seem to run out ideas and while having every character portray the same 'right my wrongs' aspirations, they still twist well and every story can be enjoyed. The new characters like No-Face and Brimstone shine well along veterans like Sweet Tooth, Mr. Grimm, and Roadkill. This adds some well needed variety as stories have beginnings, middles, and ends, making for much longer stories as well.
If you remember Twisted Metal 2, Black's gameplay is much closer than you'd think; even with 5 years between and a new console, the game behaves with remarkable similarities. The series already had it down to a tee a while ago; controls are sharp for some vehicles including motorcycles and sport cars, while bulkier, larger vehicles have slower, more sluggish controls. You'll always be competing against others to become the lone survivor and you will use a multitude of weapons that you can lob, home, ricochet, lay down, or energy attacks that can give you a tactical edge. Every driver has their own vehicle with its own unique special weapon along with ratings for speed, armor, and driving control. In all honesty, Twisted Metal is grounded in quite simple gameplay fundamentals that are effectively balanced; so, what does the game do to push forward? It gives you more options and scales up the design:
There's a weapon called ENV; it's basically a switch that causes something, somewhere in a level to act as a weapon. It could be a turret, lightning strike, or something else; this environmental interaction is one of many other things that can become a weapon in the battleground as other hazards also bring plentiful destruction that don't require switches. Napalm has been given a more tactical design as a gas can where you can lob and detonate it at any time; you can also turn it into a remote explosive. Special weapons might also have alternative attacks; Axel has his shockwave blast but can also use his tires to drive over vehicles like a monster truck and there are quite a few others. Last of all are the skill based weapons, these are 3 variants on weapons that employ a skill. One has you getting every missile to hit for a damage bonus and another is a drop strike that awards you for waiting till the missiles come down rather than ordering the drop yourself. The last will fire more missiles the longer you stay locked onto your target but defaults if you lose track. The weapons bring the biggest innovations to the game, which are more alterations or expanded ideas; but the game does try to be innovative where it can.
Most environments in Twisted Metal are big and multi-leveled, save for the odd small and simple level meant for 'nowhere to hide' skirmishes. Black keeps this up with hidden areas that can only be reached by destroying something big, searching carefully, or pulling a well timed jump which will reward you with weapon stock piles or even unlockable characters. There are even 3 circumstances where you can choose which level you partake in like the highway or the suburbs; no concessions, each level has a high craft and it's a very nice surprise. It should be noted though that as I got closer to the finale, the last 2 battlegrounds felt not as well conceived. There were prison ships, rogue Ferris wheels, and planes getting shot down; the last 2 levels don't have anything that speaks to that level of beautiful destruction. Last of all is a new mode called endurance where you fight and keep on fighting till the AI finally takes you down one-by-one style, it's a decent distraction even if it's a simple variation.
Twisted Metal: Black is painted in a dirtied, sick, unhealthy atmosphere of darkness that the environments pull off nicely. Everywhere this game goes, I get the same I wouldn't wanna be around here feeling and it's punctuated with the storyline's emphasis on still images of something for a mature mind intertwined with disturbing visual effects and rare but wowing render animations. The rest of the game keeps up a nice polygon count, texturing, and animations. Animations deserve a particular nod because weapons will pop in and out of your vehicle everywhere they can and that in particular caught my attention. The acting is way above average; they portray their character as if they are them and the music keeps up with grand orchestral composure for sweeping moments while also, always retaining the feeling of imminent danger. The sound effects usually feel like they pack a punch; but my favorite effect still is a missile trailing up from behind you. You've got yourself a plentifully sized game; most Twisted Metal games take 15 – 18 hours, this one breaks into the 20s. Best of all, the game is still designed well enough to stay fun even after the multiple number of run-throughs needed to fully finish the game.
Black is a fantastic game for you to buy even if you did feel like crying after playing 989 studios' games. Does it do everything the best? Well, not quite everything, though that's a close match (thinks of Twisted Metal 2); but it's the best overall package. If there's any real criticism, it's just that Black does most of the same really, really well while ringing a bunch of bells and whistles. I'm a reviewer of fact but for the time, I won't come down so hard if only because there's so few of this genre around and this is the only one that keeps on pushing forward to become the best it can.
9.5/ 10 SUPERB (PS2)
+Violent, chaotic, enthralling action
+The innovations it does make all benefit the game
+Jaw dropping, brutally effective stories
+Strong controls and well balanced design