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Twisted Metal: Head-On

Review posted August 2005 by Tony Peak

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Developer: Incognito
Release Date: March, 2005
ESRB Rating: "T" for Teen
Genre: Driving-Combat
Price: $39.99

Twisted Metal first hit the PS1 back in '96, but my personal favorite was definitely Twisted Metal 2 which followed that same year. The Twisted Metal series became a hit with a formula that was both fun and addictive: deathmatching with weapon equipped vehicles across various arenas, completely without any of the standard racing elements. While the series fell into a slump with Twisted Metal 3 and 4, it made a great comeback in June of 2001 with Twisted Metal: Black for the PS2. The series has now made the leap to Sony's new handheld, complete with online play, and makes a pretty strong showing all around.

Gameplay

Like so many of the PSP's launch lineup titles, Twisted Metal is the evolution of past gameplay mechanics fine tuned for handheld gaming. Head-On consists of 14 vehicles across 12 arenas, and if you're new to the series, you spend your time collecting weapon pickups with which to blow your opponents to the scrap yard. Each vehicle has its own special move that recharges overtime, and along with several weapon pickups like napalm and homing rockets, one can pull off a series of special attacks using street fight like direction combos. For example, up, down, up will launch a freezing attack, while right, right, down, down will deploy a temporary shield. These take energy from a bar, which will refill over time.

The physics in Head-On are light and airy, good enough to give a sense of speed and control, but mostly focused on moving fast and flying high. Many of your attacks will send the opponents flying, which can be half the fun sometimes. The tracks themselves are well designed with hidden stashes of ammo, bonus areas, tons of destroyable objects, and an impressive amount of extra NPCs (Non-Playable-Characters) running around. NPCs such as traffic on city streets and race cars flying around the race track really help the tracks feel more complete, and your vehicles feel all the more powerful.

One of the real draws to this game is certainly the online multiplayer, something welcomed to both the series and the PSP. Although the series attempted online play with the freebie Twisted Metal: Black Online bundled with the PS2 network adapter, the PSP pulls it off right out of the box. I was able to set up my account and log in right over the PSP, and up and running in my first game pretty much right off the bat. While starting a new game was a bit of a hassle due to the dwindling player base, once I got a good game going things were perfectly smooth and played great.

Graphics

I must admit, Head-On feels a little dated. The graphics certainly aren't bad, there's plenty of polys, the arenas are large and well designed, and the attack effects are easy to see even on the PSP. That said however, certain buildings, the way the cars get tossed around sometimes, and the overall feel of the game is somewhat older than the best of the PSP lineup. The graphics are very good, but I really don't get the feeling they've got quite as much shine as they could. The intro and ending sequences will depend on taste, and while rather corny acting prevails, they do feel like a nice throwback to the days of Twisted Metal 2.

Sound

Honestly, I have even less to say about the sound than I do the graphics. Twisted Metal's strengths lie mainly in its gameplay. The music is good enough but completely forgettable, I'd be hard pressed to name a single track. The sounds are good, and make good use of the stereo to locate the enemy, though sound effects aren't exactly revolutionary in the sound department. The voice acting is just plain b-movie.

Conclusion

There are so many vehicle based titles in the PSP's launch lineup that Twisted Metal: Head-On is a bit of a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it's old school deathmatching fun. On the other, if you're ok with racing elements then you're probably better off with Wipeout Pure for now. While Twisted Metal: Head-On hits much of the same sweet spot as Twisted Metal 2, gaming as a whole has moved on a bit since then and I rather feel like the bar has been raised. The most evolutionary thing Head-On brings is of course it's multiplayer, but it's hard to say how long the player base will hold out.

Once I got games going the online play was smooth and as good as I had hoped. It's something I desperately hope to see in future PSP titles over the standard ad-hoc. That said, finding an open room with a good connection and willing set of players this long after launch was already getting troublesome. In a few months, it's hard to say.

If you've never played the series and it's still fresh to you, or if you're ready for some old school vehicular action, Twisted Metal: Head-On may well be a great choice. It's not a visual or audio masterpiece, but the gameplay is solid and very easy to play. The single player story mode lasts a good long while each play through, and unlocking hidden cars and seeing each characters story and ending really makes it worth playing with every character. It's not the best Twisted Metal to date, but it's still a solid showing for this old fan favorite series.

Playing Hints and Tips

- To really compete, you should master the special moves. Although there are several, you'll be using three most of all:

Freeze Missile: up, down, up
This will freeze your enemy in place for a few seconds, allowing you to get some good hits in on him or use a close range special. It'll even home in on them a little bit.

Shield: right, right, down, down

Roughly 5 seconds of protection from all types of attacks. It's one of the few defensive moves in the game, so use it well! A well timed shield can make a huge difference, especially when retreating.

Rear-fire: left, right, down, (fire)

You'll be using this one quite often. This will fire your attack backwards, great for surprise hits and pursuing enemies. The best part about it is that it takes absolutely no energy to use!

- When battling the final boss, a head-on struggle is nearly impossible. Your best bet is to jet around the outside of the city as fast as your boost will carry you, firing off missiles and homing missiles using the rear-fire attack whenever it starts to get near. You can tell by watching your radar. When the dots line up, fire away. Watch for point values to ensure you hit, and save the health pickups for when you need them.

 

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Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):

Graphics

The graphics, while not being absolutely outstanding, are very good overall. From flame throwers to homing rockets, it all works very well on the PSP. The physics have a nice airy arcade feel to them and even online, things are very smooth. Little touches like the race cars zooming through the track and the amount of destructible objects help show the attention to detail.

Sound

The voice acting during the endings may be pretty sub par, but there's nothing altogether bad about Twist Metal's soundtrack. The problem is simply that it's completely forgettable, and while certainly passable, just manages to get by.

Fun Meter

If you're a fan of the old Twisted Metal formula, Head-On delivers. It doesn't have the most depth around, but it delivers quite solidly on the fun. Each car controls uniquely enough and the specials help make them all worth driving. The levels are well designed and they're just plain fun, as is playing online.

Addictivity

The single player story is both lengthy enough to be enjoyable, and short enough to be played on a handheld. The abundance of extras, secrets, and story endings will be sure to have you replaying through several times. The real boon to addictivity here is the easy to use online play, and if I was sure of its staying power, I'd rate it even higher. With no extras coming out so far however, I look for fans who have been playing since launch to slowly migrate away.

Total Score= 3.875 Dragons, 77.5%



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