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Preview: 'Twisted Metal Black' is dark fun



Platform: PlayStation 2


(IDG) -- Sony's classic car combat is coming to the PlayStation 2 in a big bad way. The original "Twisted Metal" and "Twisted Metal 2" for the PlayStation were developed by SingleTrac and they earned a huge fan-base for their unique style, tough gameplay, and wild characters. The 3rd and 4th "Twisted Metal" games were made in-house by 989 Studios, and diverged a bit from what "Twisted Metal" fans had come to expect. But now with some of the original SingleTrac team working feverishly on "Twisted Metal Black" for the PS2, the series is trying to recapture some of that early magic, though in a much different way. The PlayStation One "Twisted Metal" games were, well, twisted, but with a slightly goofy edge. "Twisted Metal Black" is dark. It's so dark in fact that the game will most likely garner an M rating from the ESRB, but that doesn't mean it isn't fun.

There are three modes of gameplay for single player games. Story mode lets you play as one character, through that character's entire plotline, complete with rendered movies and stills. Challenge mode lets you take on a number of AI opponents in a quick deathmatch, while Endurance mode has you battle against a continuous stream of opponents to see just how long you can last. Up to four players can have a head to head deathmatch on a split screen, and players can now choose teams so you can gang up on each other. Two players can play through the story in cooperative mode or play a last man standing match with AI opponents.

Many of the favorite characters from previous "Twisted Metal" games are back for more twisted destruction. Perennial favorites like Darkside, Sweet Tooth, Mr. Grimm, Roadkill, and Axel are in the new PS2 game, but they've been given decidedly darker personas and stories. For instance, Mr. Grimm, as it turns out is a cannibal that would put Hannibal Lechter to shame, and Sweet Tooth's head is literally on fire from a curse, giving him a constant pain in the noggin. Five to six bonus characters, complete with their own story will be available to unlock as well. INFOCENTER
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The levels have not been given their final names yet, however, in addition to a number of deathmatch-specific levels, the featured combat levels included a freeway (with moving traffic), a prison, rooftops, and a junkyard. Overall, the size of the levels is impressive, and some open up progressively, giving you access to even more real estate, as you play. There is some clever level design in the game with hidden access to rooftops and other high areas for sniping, and plenty of hidden secrets as well.

In addition to vehicular traffic on some of the levels, there is pedestrian traffic too, and gamers can take out the innocent bystanders by running them over or blasting them into oblivion. "Twisted Metal" veterans might remember being able to bring down the Eiffel Tower in the Paris level of "Twisted Metal 2." In "TM Black," the environments are for the most part very destructible, and you can destroy almost all of the small and medium sized elements like houses, trees, and windows. However, there are some larger elements, like a ferris wheel that will roll through a level after you shoot it off its supports, and airplanes that you can shoot down, that take on a bigger role in "Twisted Metal Black"'s levels.

The graphics in the game are fast and very sharp. The game was running at not-quite 60 frames per second in single player, but by the time the game ships in June, it should hit the 60-FPS speed limit. Four camera distances: close, medium, far, and helicopter give the "TM" driver a good selection of views. In addition, hitting the triangle button gives you a split screen view with the top half acting as a rear-view mirror.

Most of the vehicles also have their own special animations, like gunners that pop up and fire from turrets, when new weapons are loaded or fired. Sweet Tooth's special weapon has his vehicle completely transform into a mech-like vehicle with a devastating multiple rocket attack. Other graphics effects in "Twisted Metal Black" include weather and time transitions, so dusk just might turn to dark and clouds to rain while you play.

The music in the Hands-On build that we played wasn't final yet, and Jaffe hinted that there will be "a very appropriate" piece of music that will make it in. However, he couldn't specify the track just yet.

When the game was still in the early stages of development, "Twisted Metal Black" started out with more realistic sim-like vehicle handling physics. However, "Twisted Metal" fans will be happy to know that arcade physics with quick turns, powerslides, and jumps, are back in the game, and it's possible to launch yourself almost as far as you can see, if you get up enough speed on a jump.

Many of the weapons from previous "Twisted Metal" games are back: standard fire missiles that are semi-homing, homing missiles, and power missiles, are in the mix, but there are some new weapons as well. Gas cans require you to hit fire to launch the can, then hit fire again when you want it to explode: an aiming rectangle follows the airborne can along the ground to make aiming easier. Skill weapons, which give you a damage multiplier for how "skillfully" you use them have also made an appearance. For instance, the longer you keep an enemy in your sights, the bigger the damage you'll do when you hit the fire button to launch your skill missiles. Environmental weapons are also new. When you pick up an Environment Weapon, you can order an AI element, like helicopters flying around a level to attack your enemies. The freeze attack is also back, but now you can try to escape out of your frozen block of ice sooner by mashing on the X button.

Overall, the pre-beta version of "Twisted Metal Black" that we played still had a lot of tweaks that needed to be done, but they're all realtively minor. The game is coming together well, and should shape up into a must-have for PS2 action fans when it ships in June.

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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