A sweeth tooth in your hands.
As an adult with my own car, responsibilities and insurance, the urge to drive recklessly is at an all-time high. Just ask my boss - he barely stopped me from running over an old lady while plowing our way to a press event in San Francisco. It's not that I'm a naturally destructive person, it's the fact that if I screw up, there are consequences.
I need a catharsis...and I just got one in Incognito's newly-twisted experience for the brand new Sony PSP, Twisted Metal: Head-On. Reality's streets are safe once more.
Head-On plays a lot like Twisted Metal 2, which makes sense since Incog is essentially the same team behind that classic as well as the PS2's TM: Black. Most of the cars are the same, the artistic style is similar, and some of the levels, like Los Angeles and Paris, seem lifted straight out of the earlier game.
You cruise around with the D-pad or analog stick, blasting enemies as you go with machine guns, rockets, napalm, dynamite, and buzz-saws. Every vehicle has a signature special attack and all have access to the game's energy attacks. By tapping a certain sequence on the D-pad, your cars can shoot ice-bolts, drop land mines and even become invincible.
I cannot stress enough that this isn't some dumbed-down, wimpy version made to distract you while waiting for your girlfriend to finish shopping - it's really Twisted Metal! You'll fly after people unloading power missiles, score clutch napalm kills and freeze foes for doses of drive-by dynamite. While Twisted Metal's gameplay hasn't changed much in 10 years, it's still pretty darn fun.
Head-On features a fairly standard assortment of single-player modes, including Story, Challenge, and Endurance. In Story mode, you pick one of fifteen vehicles and battle your way through eight stages and three boss fights for a cinematic ending with the diabolical Calypso, who will grant you one wish if you win his tournament. Even though it is called Story mode, there really isn't any story-telling in Head-On. Instead, you get a tongue-in-cheek cut-scene every time you beat the game. These are usually a little macabre and a lot ironic, much like something you would see at the end of a Tales From the Crypt comic.
For instance, let's say your wish is to be adored by the opposite sex. He'd say something like, "Congratulations! Now you will be adored by members of the opposite sex...OF EVERY SPECIES! MUAHAHAHA!" And then you'd get a cut scene of your character being chased by a bunch of girlish pigs or something. We've been making fun of Calypso for years, and it's nice having him back in form.
Still, it's not a very long ride. Assuming you're kind of rusty, the first trip through might take about three hours, while your second should only take about an hour. This time, Story mode's length is extended a bit thanks to a decent amount of unlockable content. By completing mini-games and other challenges, you can gain access to a handful of levels and vehicles.
Challenge mode is a great way to check out the various vehicles and their qualities without having to commit to Story mode. Here you pick a level, up to five opponents and battle until you're either dead or the only one left.
Endurance mode is a let down. The problem is that you start out fighting every single vehicle one-on-one, so you have to wade through a bunch of no-contest battles before arriving at anything as hectic or fun as what can immediately be found in the Challenge and Story modes.
Head-On's most exciting feature is its online functionality, which is actually much deeper than the single-player modes. You can either connect directly with up to five other PSPs in the immediate area or access the internet through a WLAN connection and blast people anywhere in the country. The game types include Deathmatch, Collection, Fox-hunt, and Last Man Standing along with team versions of each. Collection has you racing around after a certain number of relics, Fox Hunt has everybody chasing a designated player, and Last Man Standing is just Deathmatch with limited respawns.
As a game creator, you can modify your match in several different ways. You can limit people to certain weapons or cars, change their huds, limit health drops and play with relic drops. The only downside is that there isn't any filter mechanism. For example, you can force all players to only use Spectre, but you can't make any cars specifically off-limits. Why can't I let people play as only Mr. Slam, Sweet Tooth and Axel? The customization isn't quite there.
Jumping into or setting up an ad-hoc game (where your PSP is communicating directly with the other players') is extremely easy to do, provided your friends also have copies of Head-On. Getting online is also pretty easy and a lot of fun if everybody has a decent ping. We're used to such online play features in our console games, but the fact that I can now blast somebody in Utah while sitting on the toilet is unbelievably cool. For me, at least.
Some balancing issues aren't resolved, though. If you deck yourself out with some suitably strong weapons and freeze an opponent, you can just about annihilate them with a single volley, making the ice-bolt the most influential power in the game. So when you play online, expect to be frozen all the time. The ability to turn this power off or at least tone it down would have been an excellent feature.
It's always a little daunting reviewing launch title games since we're not yet accustomed to the new platform's power, but it's pretty clear that Head-On runs well. The cars and environments all use simple textures and color, so there isn't a lot of ambience or mood, but there isn't much time for any of that, either. You're always moving so fast and firing so many crazy weapons that you're unlikely to notice that Tokyo resembles a bunch of lifeless gray blocks. The framerate in Head-On is fast, smooth, and constant, the weapons leave cool trails, and the explosions are satisfying. It puts its power where it should, though it could certainly use more environmental polish.
Somewhere in the teenage wasteland of my mind, I recall Twisted Metal 2 as having a rad, wailing metal soundtrack. I was hoping to hear those tracks again in Head-On, but they've been replaced by the latest in awful, angsty crap that game companies think gamers crave these days. We don't. At least the sound effects are innocuous.
Twisted Metal: Head-On is a solid launch title for the PSP. It takes the essence of a beloved game, puts it behind an incredible screen, places that in the palm of your hands, and then goes online. Hot damn. However, the single-player component is fairly thin, and if you don't have access to a wireless internet connection, you're missing a significant part of the game. Still, it's truly unlike anything you've ever played before on a handheld, even if it's just like a game you played a decade ago on a console. If you liked it then, you'll love it now.