Revisiting 1996's Twisted Metal 2

Celebrating 25 years of characters and stories from a car combat classic

Revisiting 1996's Twisted Metal 2
Source: Wallpaper Cave.

Captain Rogers is 105 years old. His face gaunt and ghoulish, his body shrivelled and decrepit. In a desperate bid to reverse the ravages of time, the skeletal soldier straps into his battle-worn Humvee and enters a dangerous tournament known as Twisted Metal.

Held annually by a powerful, mysterious jerk and blimp enthusiast named Calypso, the contest pits a roster of eccentric drivers, each in their own unique vehicle, against each other in a battle to the death. The victor earns an audience with the devilish Calypso himself, who promises to grant any wish their heart desires.

After defeating his final opponent, Captain Rogers arrives on a city rooftop. In front of him stands Calypso, looking proudly at the devastation unleashed by his tournament on the streets below. “Please, Calypso…”, the wilting warrior begs. “Give me the body of a twenty year old”.

Source: IFRAGART on DeviantArt.

With a crack of lightning and a sadistic smile, Calypso uses his powers and Captain Rogers is transformed. His feeble frame no longer a withered husk, but a youthful, muscular body in a loincloth. The very picture of vitality. But as the rejuvenated Rogers raises his hands to his face, he realises something is very wrong.

Doubled over and holding his sides, a cackling Calypso cannot contain himself. “Congratulations!” he crows. “You now have the body of a twenty year old. Maybe next year you’ll win Twisted Metal again, and ask for the head of someone the same age.”

The all-powerful Calypso. Source: YouTube.

Comparatively speaking, Captain Rogers gets off easy. Much like a classic fighting game, playing through the campaign with each of the fourteen playable characters unlocks a unique ending cinematic, presented as a sort of voice-acted motion comic that still looks great today. Naturally, Calypso’s demented, Monkey’s Paw style of wish fulfilment runs throughout.

IndyCar driver Amanda Watts is obsessed with going fast and asks Calypso for the power to drive at the speed of light. Her wish granted, Amanda zooms away, travelling back through time. Suddenly out of fuel, Amanda is forced to stop. Within moments, she is unceremoniously squished to death by a dinosaur.

Dimwitted duo Mike and Stu ask for the ability to fly so they can “see down women’s shirts”. With a crack of lightning, Calypso proclaims their wish granted. Mike and Stu immediately jump from the rooftop and as their bodies lay splattered on the street below, Calypso clutches two plane tickets, relieved they’re refundable.

The cast of Twisted Metal 2 by artist Lee Wilson. Source: Red Bubble.

Design of the cast largely draws on classic archetypes — a creepy clown, the narcissistic actor, an unhinged homeless guy. The immediate sense of familiarity this offers proves a solid foundation upon which characters are built. In fact, aside from the aforementioned ending cutscene, characters are comprised of just a few key components.

The first of these is the character’s chosen ride. There’s a nice variety on offer here and they’re well matched with their respective drivers. Bruce Cochrane from the streets of L.A. bounces in a pink lowrider Impala. Simon, the disgruntled architect, clenches foes in the jaws of the menacing construction vehicle he calls Mr. Slam.

Vehicles also have their own signature special weapon, complete with a sound effect that adds to its unique identity. The patrol car Outlaw 2, fittingly, has a taser accompanied by a police siren. Sweet Tooth the clown fires napalm cones from a battered ice-cream truck as his demented laugh haunts the battleground.

Finally, there’s the ‘car info’ section of the character selection screen. It features a brief message from the character, hinting at whatever warped wish has driven them to seek audience with Calypso, as well as a character portrait. The art here, by the talented Lee Wilson, looks particularly sharp and is filled with personality. The use of vibrant colours with bold shading makes each character pop while retaining the overall dark, creepy edge essential to Twisted Metal 2’s vibe.

Separately, each of these parts work well but the magic lies in how clearly they paint a picture when combined. Mortimer the mortician is a great example. His portrait depicts an old man, well dressed. Back hunched and fingers tensed. The accompanying message hints that he was hired by the vengeful dead. His vehicle is a classic ’50s hearse in velvety purple and black, named ‘Shadow’. Its license plate, of course, reads ‘KREMAYTU’. The special weapon is a literal shadow that emerges from the hearse, glides across the ground and detonates on command. An ominous organ sounds as the weapon is fired, the icing on the creepy cake.

Outlaw 2 takes on Axel in Paris. Source: GamingBolt.

Twisted Metal 2 obviously revels in a dark sense of humour but approaches storytelling and characterisation with the broad strokes accessibility of a Saturday morning cartoon. The kind that might secretly be meant for adults, but is presented with a touch light enough that kids may also find wicked delight in its twisted world.

The whole presentation has a scrappy, trashy appeal. Its Wacky Races meets Mortal Kombat, through the lens of an American garage band. There’s a kind of adolescent glee to it all, as though decisions were made purely based on whether something was fun, looked cool and felt badass.

Music further enhances that mood, with tracks incorporating sounds of revving engines and emergency sirens with chunky guitars and wailing riffs. In the Paris level, a fun metal cover of Frère Jacques plays over the mayhem.

With the last Twisted Metal game released in 2012 and no other real competitors in the arena, the vehicular combat genre now feels as desolate as Calypso’s Los Angeles. Until a new contender arrives, or Sony decides to revive this dormant franchise, there’s still fun to be had in revisiting the classics.


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