Developer: Incognito Inc.
Release Date: March 24, 2005
Buy 'TWISTED METAL: Head On': PSP
Twisted Metal: Head On is the latest entry in the vehicular combat series and modeled after arguably the best title of the series, Twisted Metal 2. A man named Calypso is in charge of the competition called Twisted Metal, which takes place in locations across the globe, and competitors battle each other in order to win one wish from Calypso.
Ten different characters are available to select from at the beginning of the game, with seven more that can be unlocked along the way. Each has different strengths, weaknesses, and a unique special attack. Some of the characters' cars are better armored than others, some are speedier, some handle better, and some have more powerful special attacks. All of the old favorites are here: Sweet Tooth, Spectre, Mr. Grimm, Grasshopper and others. Players can take their car of choice into battle after selecting one of the three single player modes.
Story mode requires playing through each stage, fighting a few bosses along the way. Once story mode has been completed, there's an ending cinematic detailing the results of the character's wish to Calypso, which is laced with the ironic humor that's intrinsic to the Twisted Metal series. Challenge mode allows the player to pick a stage and up to five computer competitors to fight against. Endurance mode pits the player against one opponent after the other until all energy is lost, challenging players to see how many enemy cars they can destroy before biting the dust themselves.
The presentation of the game is well done, and the manual is printed in full color and details every aspect of the game. There are several control options available, but unfortunately, there isn't a way to set up a custom control scheme. This isn't a huge problem, since there are a fair number of different built-in setups, but it would've been nice to have the option. The ending movies are done in a sort of comic book style, featuring cartoonish drawings. While they aren't too animated, but they are definitely something to look forward to and are a nice reward for completing the game.
TM:HO has some excellently done graphics which highlight the power of Sony's PSP. The draw distance is incredible, with absolutely no pop in at all, and the framerate is rock solid throughout, even with numerous cars and missiles and other effects shooting all over the screen. The car models are fairly simplistic, but they still look nice with reflective effects and lighting featured by the game. Textures are also a bit bland, but with the fast-paced action, it's hard to notice.
Driving and engaging in combat are both very fun and simple affairs. Players can either use either the analog nub or the d-pad to control their car; most will probably gravitate to the d-pad, since it makes it easier to pull off the special "energy attacks," which require a combination of button presses. It's very advisable to memorize these button presses, as it makes defeating enemies much easier. There's quite a bit of strategy involved, depending upon which character and car have been chosen, and it's a whole lot of fun. Putting up a shield when several enemies are bearing down at once can mean the difference between life and death, and the player can cloak to stealthily get behind an enemy who is attempting to catch their breath.
Turbo is available by pressing the accelerate button twice in succession, and there's a "hand brake" button which allows the player to turn quickly as well as pull off a jump when it's pressed twice. As usual, there are a bunch of weapon pickups scattered across each level, and the homing missiles, napalm, remote bombs, and power missiles will be familiar to fans of the franchise. Each one looks spectacular as it leaves smoke trails across the screen and explodes in a nice blast of flame.
The physics of the game work extremely well, even though they aren't very realistic (that's probably why they're so fun!). Players can fly through the air and turn their car around quickly while in mid-jump. Each level sports destructible environments, and there's often an area that can only be reached when part of the level has been demolished. For instance, the Paris level has the Eiffel Tower which can be damaged, sending metal beams across other buildings and allowing the player to drive to previously unreachable areas. It all works together to make the game feel extremely fun and easy to play.
Each level has some nice background music that varies from stage to stage but is typically some hard-driving rock song. Explosions sound perfect, the crunch of metal is represented quite accurately, and collisions between vehicles are satisfying to the ears. Special weapons each sound unique and fit their visual representation quite nicely. Firing weapons sounds like you'd expect missiles, napalm, or machine guns to sound. The best way to experience the auditory aspect of the game is through the headphones, as the PSP's speakers leave a bit to be desired. Either way, the sound is fairly well done, but the generic rock can get a bit grating after a while.
The enemy AI is also very good. Enemy cars race towards health pickups when they are about to be destroyed and launch their weapons backwards if they're being chased. They use the special energy abilities such as freeze and shield to disrupt and thwart every attempt to destroy them. Once annihilated, they leave behind upgrades that can improve the player's car by strengthening the power of the weapons, energy, turbo, and jump height. There are several different difficulty levels to accommodate players of every skill level, so there's always a challenge to be found.
Each level has its own mini-game as well. There are special "teleportation pads" which take the player out of the main game and into a mini-game where pickups can be collected. They range from demolition derbies to races and everything in between. Some of the mini-game teleporters are a bit hard to find, but they're worth seeking out, as they provide yet another fun little diversion from the main story mode.
After completing the story mode a few times however, it becomes apparent that the single player aspect of the game is fairly short and easy. It's fun to get the endings for each character, but it doesn't take all that long to beat the game, which is when the multiplayer mode will start to look really appealing.
Multiplayer can be played via ad-hoc mode, which is basically just local wireless play, or infrastructure mode, which allows players to connect via wireless LAN to play other gamers across the globe. Each one supports all of the available multiplayer options such as Co-operative, Deathmatch, Last Man Standing, and "Fox Hunt." Multiplayer is extremely fun, especially when six players can all get together and duke it out. There seems to be some glitches in the multiplayer servers that need to be worked out, as it was difficult to stay connected to some games, and disconnections seemingly happened at random. However, once a stable game was found, it was quite a bit of fun. There's definitely a bigger challenge when playing multiplayer, and there's no doubt that multiplayer helps grant longevity to an otherwise short game.
Fans of Twisted Metal will be happy to know that the game lost almost nothing in the transition to the handheld platform, since it looks, feels, and plays just like a console iteration of the classic series. There are some areas which could have certainly used a bit of improvement, and it's a bit short overall, but wireless multiplayer more than makes up for the brevity of the single player game. It's a great launch title for Sony's PSP and only hints at the great things to come in the future.