One of the trickiest aspects of online play is coming up with engaging, creative gameplay that captures your audience’s attention. Every gamer who ventures online has gotten used to the standard Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, or other variants of competition typically offered, forcing some outstanding aspect or quirk of design to stand out of the crowd. Even harder, the single player and online components often seem to be designed separately from each other. This usually results in a strong offline experience and minimal online play or anemic storyline and amazing multiplayer battles.
Rather than get mired in these problems, the designers of Twisted Metal:Black decided upon a different approach to their now-classic PS2 game. They chose to focus solely on shoring up the single player storyline and the 2-4 multiplayer mode, and managed to produce a dark, psychologically disturbing game that was, for lack of a better phrase, pretty damn cool. For those of you needing a refresher of the plotline, a mysterious man named Calisto liberates a group of mental hospital inmates for the purpose of competing within a demolition tournament. Whoever wins the entire tournament is guaranteed to receive their innermost desire, no questions asked. Considering these are psych patients, these wishes are pretty twisted, to say the least. Similarly, so are their individual stories as to why they’ve been placed within the hospital. The levels that these contestants competed on were large and packed with obstacles, hidden dangers, and weapons, as well as fast-paced action. One look at the game in action and you could tell that this title was tailor-made for online play.
TMB:Online reflects this innate quality of the original title, holding onto the darkness and frenetic action while augmenting the initial concept for the game. It’s very easy to get the sense that this is Twisted Metal 1.5. Upon launching and joining either an Internet or LAN game, you’ll have access to all of the characters from TMB, including the boss characters, so you can take Manslaughter or Warthog onto the battlefield quickly. You’ll find that every level from the single player game are there as well, so you can choose your favorite level for an arena if you choose to host a match.
Doing so is a very easy process, providing you with four different types of games to pick from. Manhunt establishes one player as the prey and the other players as the hunters. Evading, damaging or killing hunters add to the prey’s score. If the hunters damage or kill the prey, they get points, although the person striking the final blow becomes the target himself or herself for the next round. Collector provides players with one objective, to retrieve every object found throughout an arena. Last Man Standing gives each player a set number of lives, which, when exhausted, removes that player from the game until the next round. And, of course, there’s the universally known Deathmatch mode, alive and well in its destructive glory.
Aside from the usual preferences, such as time, score, or kills to determine the winner of a match, players hosting games can place new modifications on each game. For example, they can limit the game to a single weapon of their choosing, thereby increasing the challenge of each player. You try taking out heavily armored cars with only machine guns and see how well you do, especially if you’re driving with Axel or Mr. Grimm. Similarly, you can force each player to enter the game with the same vehicle. Want sixteen Sweet Tooths, each transforming into rocket-firing robots at the same time? This is the mod for you. Hosts can even remove HUD information, meaning cars will be hidden on your radar screen, if it even shows up, and your health bar can be hidden, forcing you to watch how much damage you take. But by far, the most interesting mod has to be the power relic mod, which throws unique augmentations to vehicles out in the midst of battle. Health regeneration, cloaked vehicles, even damage reflection are possible with these items, although only one relic can be held by a car at any time.
Graphically, TMB Online is exactly like the offline game, without the cinematic screens or FMV’s that permeate the title. This isn’t a bad thing, considering how gritty and dark the original game was, which went a long way towards establishing the psychological feel of the title. TMB Online’s biggest virtue is that it takes the basics of the original and throws the focus primarily back towards the action of online play, so you won’t have to deal with long load screens, just quick action. Each level is faithfully recreated from the game, and there is no perceptible slowdown during a match, even with a ton of people firing off their weapons at the same time. Aurally, you’re not going to detect a difference between the offline and online version, as each sound effect has been ported over.
Control is just as tight as the original, allowing you to stop and turn on dimes if need be to get the best positioning on players. Considering that the original was a perfect balance of maneuverability and speed, this really turns TMB Online into an awesome title. There are only two downsides. The first is that there aren’t many people online, probably a by-product of players not really knowing how to get their hands on this exceptional game. This, unfortunately, does the game a disservice, because there aren’t too many players online, although that should change as more people get the network adapter. The other downside is that you’ll sometimes find yourself kicked out of games, primarily because of the small community and an individual host’s connection. However, if you look past this, you’ll find a solid online game, even if it isn’t connected with a full title. If you get the online adapter, you need to find a way to get your hands on this game.