Let's not do the twist again.
As the adjective “twisted” has fallen out of our urban vernacular, it is worth remembering its short tenure in the mouths of American youth. A time there was, yes, when “twisted” was on par with “gnarly” or “radical” or “sick”. Twisted Sister did a pretty kick-ass version of Oh Come All Ye Faithful, and kickflips and ollies were as twisted as a python in a whirligig.
Then came twisty fries, and the word would never recover. Expressions die in the lard-soaked menu items named after them.
But don’t tell that to the folks behind the latest Twisted Metal release. With a title so desperately tangled that it manages say "twisted" twice, Twisted Metal: Head On Extra Twisted Edition (TMHOETE?) has more in common with your ordinary 100-car freeway pileup than just the tragedy of its name.
First, it begins like most accidents: with a dumb move. Porting the PSP game Twisted Metal: Head-On to the PS2 without upgrading it embarrasses the fine handheld game by showing its lack of polish and power in fine detail. It’s like trying to enter freeway traffic from a dead-stop in a Ford Festiva: bad times.
Second, it’s mangled. Like the broken glass, blood, and metal shrubbery of the giant accident that ensues, TMHOETE gains extra twistiness by including several mutilated and unfinished portions of an aborted Twisted Metal sequel for the PS2. These include four levels of the lost sequel (called 'Twisted Metal Lost" in the game) and a pathetic walking tour (called the Sweet Tour) that was intended to be a third-person mini-game in the original.
Third, and let’s stop here, there are fatalities. According to in ominous message in TMHOETE, the sequel to Twisted Metal: Black was discontinued when six of the developers died in a plane crash. Two years later, to the date, a “mysterious letter” arrives at Sony requesting that the four playable levels completed by the designers before their death be released to the public. Allegedly, the letter is signed with the names of the six dead developers.
It smacks of a hoax. Apparently according to the developers, the truth is revealed by finding a secret in the game. I will leave the mystery open here, partly out of respect for the hoax, or the dead, or the maybe dead, but more importantly because morbid curiosity has a limit. That limit is rubber-necking at dreadful accidents. Looking at bodies as you commute on by is one thing, but it’s entirely another to commit hours to playing the tired remains of an unfinished game just to find out if you had been tricked into it or not.
And regardless of any extra twisted-ness, the whole package is flat, even when applied directly to the forehead. The game shows you four levels of "Twisted Metal Lost" in order to show gamers “what might have been”. That’s poor consolation when you’ve just spent money on what is. Plus, both what “might have been” and what you actually get are both measurably worse than the original PS2 game Twisted Metal: Black, which was released nearly four years ago.
Head On offers the same fast-paced car combat that the franchise perfected in Black. The same familiar tools of destruction are back with their special attacks. Junkyard Dog, a wrecking-ball truck, still whams opponents with his, uh, ball. Hammerhead, a monster truck, still runs over people. And Twister, a formula one racer, still causes tornados. See, twister, used as a noun... not so bad.
In terms of the formula, Head On should be a winner. All of the same special attacks (such as the all-powerful freeze attack) are back. And the levels are designed by the same people who made Twisted Metal 1, 2, and Black. The cars still behave like go-carts (you can pivot at a standstill), and there are even the same dark comic storylines with each character.
But Head On is still a step backwards from Black in almost every other way, and this is due entirely to that it was built for a handheld. The graphics are ragged and poor. The music is tinny and repetitive. And the stories are less fleshed-out with just one movie per driver rather than Black’s three per driver. This is not "Twisted Metal Black 2"; this is Twisted Metal: Kind of Greyish With a Light Mist.
And it is as if the computer opponents know it. The A.I. is more cowardly and more exploitable than in iterations past. The final boss, for example, can be coaxed into simply pacing up and down the same street as you safely pepper him from a nearby ledge. It just isn’t challenging the way that one would expect battling a burgerstand turned evil mutant truck would be.
At least there’s Twisted Metal’s returning multiplayer. But with a twist. Now, unlike in the handheld version, you can’t play online. Thanks fer nuthin'.
But we should be thankful for the “Sweet Tour” which is, as best as I can describe, a walking tour through a mock-up insane asylum for the purpose of looking at concept art. It is, like so much of TMHOETE, an idea that was never completed and abandoned probably not because of ill-timed death, but because of well-timed intuition. It sucked.
In “Sweet Tour”, you run around an asylum as franchise mainstay Sweet Tooth. The idea was that the new Twisted Metal would feature sections in which you would be on-foot, solving platforming puzzles and punching out asylum employees.
It doesn’t take a genius to see that this is far afield from what makes Twisted Metal so great, and luckily for us, the Sweet Tour was halted before either the asylum employees or the story was added to it. What's left is a rather generic husk of an empty insane asylum and Sweet Tooth, a fat, hairy, and semi-nude protagonist who can run around in it. And what is a mental patient in an abandoned asylum to do? Collect concept art, of course!
At least the price is nearly right. At $20, TMHOETE could almost be called a bargain. But then again, you could probably pick up Twisted Metal: Black, a far superior game, for three dollars in the bargain bin. I’m just sayin’.
It isn’t quite fair to attack the game on what it admits are the equivalent of deleted scenes and a blooper reel, but then again, it isn’t quite fair to package such bonuses as if they were a new game. Head On promises all sorts of things: "Never before played levels!", "Never released endings!", "An art book!", "Free downloadable soundtrack! ". It promises everything, it seems, except for a new Twisted Metal game or, for that matter, a novel new cure for headaches.