Twisted Metal 2 Was the PlayStation King of Vehicular Combat

Twisted Metal 2

There was a short-lived craze in the late 1990s that came to be known as the “vehicular combat” video game. Essentially, these games were battle arenas where vehicles loaded with military-grade weaponry would duke it out until one of them was declared the winner amidst the smouldering wreckage of the others. On paper it maybe sounds a little bit like today’s battle royale games, but that’s not quite how this works in practice. Perhaps a better comparison would be Battle Mode in Mario Kart, only with the violence turned up to 11.

The vehicular combat genre still exists to this day, but it has sort of retreated into the shadows. I think it’s fair to classify it as a niche genre now, while in the 1990s it had hit the mainstream. And when it comes to 1990s vehicular combat, there’s one game that stands above the rest: Twisted Metal 2 for the Sony PlayStation.

Released in the United States on Halloween of 1996 (the same day as Bubsy 3D), Twisted Metal 2 was the story of a to-the-death battle tournament run by a supernatural being known as Calypso. Souped-up cars would hit the streets in the world’s major cities (and Antarctica, for some reason) and blast each other to bits until there was nothing left but smoking heaps of, well, twisted metal.

What was it about this deadly demolition derby that made the game’s characters interested in signing up for it? The wish. Calypso would grant one wish to the winner, no matter how impossible that wish seemed. However, winners had to be careful about how they worded their wish, otherwise Calypso would distort it into some ironic torment. For example, Ken Masters, known as Spectre in Twisted Metal 2‘s tournament, is an actor seeking fame. If he wins the tournament, he asks for Calypso to make it so the whole world knows his face, and Calypso obliges by horrifically stretching Ken’s face over New York City.

Twisted Metal 2 - Ken Masters

This story conceit tilled Twisted Metal 2‘s proverbial soil into fertile grounds for memorable characters, from homicidal maniacs (Sweet Tooth and Mr. Grimm) to tragic figures with nothing to lose (Outlaw 2 and Grasshopper) to narcissists who want to see the whole world bow before them (Spectre and Mr. Slam).

Perhaps most recognizable of all of these characters is Axel, who is imprisoned in a war machine with massive wheels. While there are other video game characters named Axel (like in Streets of Rage, for example), Twisted Metal 2‘s Axel is, quite literally, a human axel.

Twisted Metal Game Manual

Axel’s license plate, for the record, reads: REV 13:10. In the King James Bible, Revelations 13:10 says: “He that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity: he that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints.”

There’s a grimdark absurdity to all of this that makes it… I don’t want to use a word like endearing, because that seems so saccharine. Perhaps enticing will do better here? Twisted Metal 2 is a thrilling playground for psychopaths and car lovers to unite in a sea of gas fumes and burnt rubber. It’s a decadent show of destruction and mayhem that brings giggles to depressed teenagers and fans of heavy metal.

Twisted Metal 2

Well, maybe it hasn’t aged all that well, but I promise you that back in 1996, this was 32 bits of glorious chaos.

David Scott Jaffe is credited as producer and designer for Twisted Metal 2, and it’s maybe not the least bit surprising that he would go on to direct the original God of War (as game director) and God of War II (as creative director). What is more interesting, however, is that Jaffe also worked as a designer on Mickey Mania.

Jaffe moved on to other things after Twisted Metal 2 (such as God of War), but the series would continue for two more PSOne installments, dragging itself out for far too long with each new game feeling more and more watered down. “Like butter scraped over too much bread,” as Bilbo Baggins would say.

Sweet Tooth at E3 2011

Jaffe returned to the series for Twisted Metal Black, which released for PS2 in 2001 and was actually pretty good, as well as the PSP’s Twisted Metal: Head-On in 2005 (which would later be ported to PS2 as Twisted Metal: Head-On Extra Twisted Edition). I’ve not played Head-On, but I did sort of dig the 2012 Twisted Metal reboot. Kind of.

But really, Twisted Metal 2 is the pinnacle of the series. That’s my opinion, surely, but I’m not alone in having it. As far as I can tell, the consensus seems split between TM2 and Black.

In their 93rd issue (dated January, 1997) Ultra Game Players magazine reviewed Twisted Metal 2, awarding it an 8.2 (out of 10). Mike Salmon, the reviewer (who also reviewed Bubsy 3D), said, “Basically, if you didn’t like the first Twisted Metal, then this sequel isn’t going to do anything to change your mind. However, if you did enjoy the first one, TM2 is an even better experience.”

If you want to check out the full review, I’ve posted scans below.

Ultra Game Players - Twisted Metal 2 Review
Ultra Game Players - Twisted Metal 2 Review
Ultra Game Players - Twisted Metal 2 Review
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Helpful person
Helpful person
3 years ago

Typo spit should be split

9 months ago
Reply to  Josh Wirtanen

I actually was wondering “where was this picture taken?”

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