Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A few thoughts on Twisted Metal Black

                So I was working on an Arkham City review and I was playing through the game again, just in my mental review mode in order to get in the right mindset to sort out all my thoughts about the game. I got a couple hours into it and I started getting a bit bored (not that Arkham City is a boring game, this is just my third play through). I started looking through my collection for something else to play and in a hot, disgusting, frenzy of anticipation for the new Twisted Metal that’s coming out I decided to plug in Twisted Metal Black for a little bit, just to hear those nostalgia bells ring. This isn’t a full review because it would be dumb to review a game that’s 10-11 years old, but rather a few thoughts that I had while I was playing the game that I figure I’d share with you, my adoring and attractive reader, just for fun.

NOTE: I’m not going into as many specifics on the game as I would for a normal review because as I said, this isn’t a review. Just a couple short, dumb thoughts I had. If you’re interested in what Twisted Metal is then you should probably go look it up or play the game.
picture courtesy of: http://es.twikimetal.wikia.com/wiki/Categor%C3%ADa:Twisted_metal_Black

                Twisted Metal and I have a long and steamy past together. I’ve been playing TM2/3 since I was a youngling in early grade school. I would go to my bud’s house and we would sneak into his brother’s room while he was at school to get our TM on. It was quite the fun time. Then, one Christmas, I received Twisted Metal 4 as a gift from my parents and I was so excited because I actually had a TM game of my own I could play whenever (BTW I realize TM3 and 4 are considered the worst in the series but I was a kid who didn’t know any better and I still think they’re fun to play). My birthday rolled around and I got Twisted Metal: Small Brawl as a gift which was pretty fuckin’ cool as well. All throughout my childhood I adored these games. There was just something about them that clicked with me. Whether it was the gameplay or the characters or just the fact that blowing stuff up is pretty fun, there’s a real resonance I feel coming from these games, and I thoroughly enjoyed them then and now. Looking back, I think it was those early Twisted Metal games that got me deep into games to begin with.

When the PS2 hit the stores and Black was released, despite my tremendous excitement, I couldn’t get it. My Dad wouldn’t let my buy the freaking game. He saw the ‘M’ rating on the box and said he didn’t want me to play it. I was crushed, but my sadness was remedied over the years with a sea of Jak and Daxter, Metal Arms, and Sly Cooper games. Despite my love for the series I had forgotten about Twisted Metal up until the PSP came out. I received a PSP for my birthday one year and along with it I got one game; Twisted Metal: Head On. Just like that all my memories came back to me, I was blind no longer to my love of the series, I played for quite some time and enjoyed it quite a bit, until the PS3 came out and I got caught up playing Resistance and Uncharted and all that fun stuff. That’s how it went for a while. Twisted Metal once again fell by the wayside for a new console’s worth of great games, until about two years ago at Sony’s press conference at E3. I remember it clearly, it was the last announcement, and they started playing that trailer. You know, the one with the two New Yorker guys talking about car combat. The one says to the other “you name we one car combat game that kicked ass on PS1, kicked ass on PS2 and kicked even more ass on PS3” and I had no idea what they were talking about until I heard the soft ice-cream truck music playing in the background. INSTANT FREAKOUT. I couldn’t believe it. A new Twisted Metal! Oh Mah Gawd! How sick is that?!?! Then a real live Sweet tooth pulls up on stage in an ice-cream truck and David Jaffe gets out of the back. ANOTHER INSTANT FREAKOUT. Wow! That’s so cool! Look at Sweet tooth, he’s so Badass!!! It was ecstasy incarnate.

The next day I went to my local game stop and I bought a copy of TM Black that they miraculously still had. Up yours Dad! I’m a man now, I can buy whatever game I want, and besides, I didn’t feel right calling myself a fan having never played what is considered the best in the series. I’ve been playing it on and off ever since. I don’t know man, I think the characters are the coolest they’ve ever been but I couldn’t get past the first level. Literally, I couldn’t beat it. It was really, really hard. So, I did what any other sensible person would do and I went on Youtube to look up all the character’s cutscenes and with that I lost all desire to play the game. I got too frustrated, and with no story elements to keep me engaged I just had no drive to play.

However, I’ve been playing it now over the past couple of days and I’m really having a much better time with the game. I powered through the first level, I’ve found a character that works for me, I’m playing smart and I’m not getting so frustrated. I think when I first got it I had just expected to instantly have a good time just from the nostalgia of it alone. This wasn’t the case after all; in fact, it wasn’t until I shifted my expectations of Black from living up to my childhood memories, to having a fun new gaming experience that I’ve started to have a fun time with it. With that in mind I’d like to note a few observations about Black that I’ve made since I’ve started playing it again.

1. TMB has aged very well

                I mean, this game is going on eleven years old. In gaming years that’s pretty old, but TMB still holds up in the gameplay department. The controls still feel tight, the gunplay is responsive, and it just feels good overall. I was playing the Shadow of the Colossus HD remake and I kept missing jumps and forgetting to grab on to ledges because I kept thinking it would play like Uncharted where I could just keep mashing the X button. In that instance I noticed the age in the gameplay whereas in Twisted Metal I didn’t. I think this is because there really hasn’t been anything like Twisted Metal since Twisted Metal. There’s nothing else to compare it to and there’s no other franchise making their own improvements on the car combat genre. It just goes to show that Twisted Metal can still offer a unique and fun experience despite the overall age of the franchise.

2. About TMB aging well…

                …That only applies to the gameplay. The visuals look pretty bad. The cars look alright, but the levels seem to consist of big open spaces with flat, dull textures on them and the cutscenes are noticeably old as well. Now I realize that this is a very early PS2 game and the graphical fidelity just wasn’t available, but even so, certain games like Jak and Daxter, Crash Bandicoot, God of War, and Sly Cooper still manage to look pretty good despite their age. They may not look super good, but their worlds and environments still feel as alive and detailed as they felt several years ago. I just don’t get that with TMB and I’m not trying to be critical of it either, I’m just saying the graphics don’t really hold up. That’s not to say that the style of the game doesn’t hold up because it totally does. I’m struggling to think of any other games that achieve such a dark and messed up tone as this one does; and the writing, my god the writing is so good. It adds such life into the characters. Few games even come close to the level of characterization that is achieved by this game. Now if only the cutscenes looked a little nicer.

3. TMB is really hard…

                …and it kind of has to be. The game essentially asks the player to replay the main campaign 10 times without any of the gameplay elements changing. On my first run at the game I noted that there really wasn’t any difficulty progression to be seen. It just goes from hard to a little harder; however, after playing through the campaign a couple times now I realize that if the game started off easy and got harder as it went on then I would essentially be blowing through these stupid easy sections ten times over the course of the game which would get pretty dumb and boring. When it’s consistently challenging then it’s consistently fun to play because you’re consistently overcoming worthwhile obstacles which results in a skill/confidence boost for the player. However, it’s kind of bullshit how the AI will completely ignore each other and gang up on the player, but whatever.

4. The music

                Wow, ok, the music in this game is so freaking cool. Some of it just sounds like a long compilation of disturbing sounds set to a rhythm. It really sets the mood and escalates the excitement. I didn’t notice at first but when there are no cars around you a different set of music plays that’s much softer and more ambient, but when some other dudes come on screen you start hearing the real track play and it gets the blood a-flowin’. I’m not really a music kind of guy so I can’t really say anything intelligent about the music but what I can say is that whoever Jaffe gets to do the music in his games is doing a fantastic job because the soundtrack in both TMB and the first God of War are absolutely amazing.

                And that’s about all I have to say about TMB. When the new Twisted Metal comes out I’ll most likely do a full review of that. Right now it looks amazing and it’s my most anticipated game for 2012. Please, if you’ve read through this and anything I’ve said makes you the slightest bit interested in Twisted Metal, do go ahead and look it up. If you’re anything like me you’ll probably dig it.