The musical introduction to "Twisted Metal: Black" gives you a hint that the game doesn't feature cartoon characters chasing each other with Acme firecrackers clutched in their mitts.
The strains of "Paint It Black," the Rolling Stones' classic theme song for the depressed, set the mood for one of the darkest, most unsettling videogames ever made.
It's a brilliantly diabolical production, with a cast of playable characters that will set your teeth on edge and curdle your blood.
This latest in the series which features wild, heavily armed vehicles driven by maniacs entered in a winner-take-all contest is the best - and the strangest - yet. Designed by Incog Inc. for the PlayStation 2, "TW:B" takes you to the heart of darkness and lets you play along.
Click on Movies in the main menu and you are transported to the Blackfield Asylum. One by one, the cast appears, each locked in a solitary cell, to tell their sad tales. They briefly relate the horrors that led to their incarceration, and the horrors they plan for their tormenters once they win the battle to the death.
You hear their stories in pieces, as you defeat bosses during the game. Each movie is worth the price of admission, and will probably give you nightmares for weeks.
There's Billy Ray Stillwell, a simple farmer until something horrible involving an old biplane happened to him and his childhood-sweetheart bride. There's Mr. Grimm, still reliving the horrors of the Vietnam War. And there's a bizarre character known only as John Doe, who can't remember who he is and hopes the tattoos covering his body will lead him to his identity.
These and several other grotesque and tortured souls live in solitary confinement until Calypso, the mystery figure from previous games, comes to recruit them for his racing death match. He promises they can have their heart's desire, which in most cases can't be repeated in polite company, if they win his competition.
The game is rated for the 17-and-older crowd, with good reason. When one of the competing vehicles is destroyed, for instance, the driver runs in circles, flames leaping from his or her body. In many areas, pedestrians can be run down by competitors (including you, if you have a mean streak) and their bodies sent flying.
The characters are monstrous: a woman in a bloody wedding dress, a man whose head is a skull, a woman wearing a creepy doll's face.
The game remains true to earlier versions. Each driver's vehicle comes with a puny machine gun, with improved weapons like missiles, mines and gasoline cans picked up in the arena.
The object is to destroy the others before they destroy you. The challenge is high and practice is the key to success.
Sony appears to be taking a risk with the level of destruction and gore, given that videogame violence is a hot topic around the country. "Twisted Metal: Black" is a dark and unsettling experience, and responsible adults will not let children get their hands on it.
Graphics get an enthusiastic A. The somber atmosphere, the eerie venues and the horrific destruction are beautifully rendered in dark tones, leavened only by brilliant flashes of color as explosions rip through the battlefield.
Control is also an A. It takes only a short while before you are driving and blasting like you were born behind the wheel of your chosen deathmobile.
Sound is a B. Tunes and weapons effects keep with the moody atmosphere, and you'll probably be too busy staying alive to listen.
"Twisted Metal: Black" gets an A. It's not for the faint of heart or the young, but a lot of consenting adults will love it.
"Twisted Metal: Black" is rated M, for ages 17 and older.
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