TWISTED METAL: BLACK for PlayStation 2, $70. Rating: NNN
GRAPHICS: Excellent, even by PS2 standards.
ADDICTIVENESS: Disturbingly high.
ANTI-SOCIAL FACTOR: Fight your friends, not the computer.
PROXIMITY TO THE REAL THING: A bit too close right now.
There is no distraction from reality quite like a video game.
Books and films can engage you in serious thought, and television allows you to vegetate in front of a flashing screen for hours on end, but where else can you exercise the home-run-hitting, stick-handling or ultra-violent alter-ego lurking inside you?
Unfortunately, in addition to things like stepping on a plane and working in tall buildings, the fallout from September 11 has forced us to rethink what distracts us.
A few months ago, a game like the insanely violent, delightfully addictive Twisted Metal: Black would have seemed like a prime way to blow a couple of hours. In a kind of Mad-Max-to-the-extreme world, lunatics from an asylum are hired to take over cars that have rocket launchers, flaming cannon balls and flame-throwers attached to them. Everyone goes into an arena and the winner is the last gladiator standing, or driving.
The carnage is awesome in the truest sense of the word. Cars slide off embankments into frozen lakes and people run burning from flaming vehicles. While there is some strategy involved -- destroy a certain number of opponents so that other worlds, cars and weapons will open up -- the main goal here seems to be to shoot everything in your path and think about what you're doing later, if time permits.
In light of what's happened in the real world though, should this pass as entertainment? It seems a bit cheap to be running people down in your souped-up ice cream truck a few weeks after September 11, and it's hard to recommend a game where one of the major thrills is shooting down a passing jetliner with heat-seeking missiles.
Sensitivity and real life have never stopped video game designers from pushing all the buttons at once, though. Will this event change that? It seems unlikely.
Twisted Metal: Black is loads of fun to play, but now might not be the right time.