Member the games you used to play? We member. The basement at the Hardcore Gamer office has a section known as the Crust Room, with an old grey couch and a big old CRT TV. All the classic systems are down there collecting dust, so in an effort to improve the cleanliness of our work space, we dust off these old consoles every so often and put an old game through its paces, just to make sure everything stays in working order. We even have a beige computer with a floppy disk drive.
Racing cars and shooting guns have always been popular game activities so it only makes sense that the two be combined. Twisted Metal 2 isn’t the first game to attach high-powered guns to cars, which should be obvious since it is a sequel after all, but it’s one of the best executions of such an idea. The original Twisted Metal showcased how combining mayhem with twisted characters can be a wonderful idea for a game, but it was really Twisted Metal 2 where the franchise hit its stride which can be argued that none of the subsequent titles were able to top.
Set in the “future” Twisted Metal 2 takes place on Christmas Eve 2006. Exactly one year earlier Calypso basically destroyed Los Angeles in his Twisted Metal tournament, a demolition derby that included guns and killing. Not satisfied with simply destroying one of the biggest cities in the United States, Calypso decided that the whole world should be the stage for his twisted tournament. It’s fitting Calypso has declared himself ruler of the Earth, which is a title that simply isn’t befitting to someone who took over part of California, even if it is where E3 takes place and thus would make its destruction a terrible thing for gamers to have to experience.
The stages in Twisted Metal 2 span the world, and while there are some omissions from someone wishing to either conquer or destroy the world (not really sure what Calypso’s main motivation is), there’s enough variety to make the game interesting and make Calypso’s presence felt throughout most of the world, skipping Africa and Australia. The game begins appropriately enough in the remnants of Los Angeles, still in ruins from Calypso’s first tournament. In addition to the remains of Los Angeles the battle will travel to Moscow, Paris, Amazonia, New York City, Antarctica, Holland and Hong Kong. The different locations add enough visual variety to help keep the game from getting too tedious, but there are environmental factors in each level. Destroying the Eifel Tower in Paris and Statue of Liberty in New York are naturally things that cater to the destructive features of the tournament, while using the ice strategically in Antarctica serves as a fun means to dispose of rival drivers. Also, because this is in the advanced future of 2006, teleporters make it easy to travel quickly to out-of-reach areas on the map.
The environments do make Twisted Metal 2 interesting, but their contributions are secondary to the cast of characters. For an arena vehicular combat game these characters won’t have the same level of depth one would find in an RPG, but their visual designs and brief biographies make them memorable. Capt. Rogers drives the tank Warthog, and at 105 years old he is believed to be the only surviving World War I veteran. Axel (‘90s games had a thing about naming characters Axel) has his arms affixed inside two massive tractor wheels. Mr. Grimm rides on a motorcycle named after himself and has a grim obsession. Mortimer takes his work vehicle, a hearse called Shadow, into the tournament after outfitting with guns. Simon Whittlebone drives his construction vehicle Mr. Slam into the arena, to name just a few of the fourteen contestants in the tournament.
Why would anyone participate in such a contest seems like a mystery, but Calypso has the power to grant wishes and will do so as a prize for whoever wins the tournament. Unfortunately for the contestants, Calypso is kind of a human Monkey’s Paw and any wish he grants he twists in some way to make it detrimental for its recipient. Captain Jamie Rogers, driver of the Outlaw 2 for example, entered the tournament to be reunited with her brother who was sent into outer space by Calypso during the first Twisted Metal tournament. Bruce Cochrane in his Thumper car wants to expand his control beyond the neighborhood. Mike and Stu, the drivers of Hammerhead, want the ability to fly. I won’t spell out the endings of each character, but one can speculate with some accuracy how Calypso corrupts these wishes and turns them into a careful what you wish you type of scenario.
Twisted Metal 2 can be played solo or with another player. Player vs. player death matches return from the first game which can be fun but the real enjoyment comes from playing through the campaign in the new co-op mode. The downside to completing the game co-operatively is the pay off of the ending is missing, and even though the ride getting there is fun, it it’s anticlimactic especially since it would be years after the release before players could just hop onto YouTube and watch whatever game ending they didn’t unlock, and even longer before someone could watch streamers play the games for them. The gameplay itself is rather simple, and this is still considered by many to be the pinnacle of the Twisted Metal series though Twisted Metal Black was a valiant effort at taking that title. Each driver’s playstyle is as different as their visual design. Some are quick and nimble, some are powerful but sluggish and many variants of different handling, power and speed are found in the roster, and learning and mastering each character’s playstyle is part of the fun. Each character has the standard attack plus and individual special attack. To add to the carnage there are various special weapons power ups scattered around the track, making this similar to the battle mode in Mario Kart, but with much more violence and destruction than turtle shells and banana peels.
Twisted Metal 2 is one of the most-celebrated classics from the original PlayStation. 24 years after its release it shows its age and is a reminder of how rough early 3D graphics were at the time but regardless of these factors it’s still a fun game. There was a Windows PC version that wasn’t as well received that looked rather different from the PlayStation version. I have some vague memory of it being a PSOne Classic that was available on PSN for modern consoles, but either it got yanked or it was a false memory since nothing could be found on the store while writing this article. The pick-up-and-play accessibility makes it so even the uninitiated can clear a couple levels early on, though learning all the tricks and building up the skills to beat the game will take a bit more effort. Twisted Metal 2 isn’t the first game that centered around cars shooting at each other, but is arguably the best execution of the concept and remains worth playing even almost a quarter century after its release .
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