Review: The car-combat genre has now been properly introduced to handheld gamers, no thanks to Nintendo.
Twisted Metal launched along with the original PlayStation in 1995, and now, a decade later, it's only appropriate that gaming's most classic car-combat franchise finds itself leading the launch of PSP. Twisted Metal: Head-On looks and feels a lot like the highly-regarded Twisted Metal 2 with graphics and physics to match. But, even more impressive than successfully capturing the series on the small screen is the fact that the game is fun to play. To put it simply, if you've enjoyed previous Twisted Metal titles and haven't tired of car-combat gameplay, Head-On should be one of the first PSP games in your hands.
Of course, if you're one of the few individuals that haven't experienced Twisted Metal games before, this is the best time to check it out and for me to explain what the franchise is all about. Head-On, like previous games, combines the genres of driving and shooting to form arena combat gameplay. It's sort of like Destruction Derby with high-powered explosives: Many cars enter the contest; one car ends up being the victor. This simple concept has kept the series going through good times (Twisted Metal 2/Twisted Metal: Black) and bad (Twisted Metal III).
Head-On, thankfully, joins Twisted Metal's ?good times? category, mainly due to its level design and exaggerated car physics. These two elements enable frantic and out-of-control car-combat gameplay that you can't get anywhere else. The city of Paris, for example, demonstrates how the stages are interactive. It's possible to teleport to the middle of the Eiffel Tower, drop some dynamite onto the center platform, and watch the explosion split the top into two, creating ramps to adjacent building rooftops. The same level provided me with a surreal view of the physics when I picked up missiles while being pursued by an opponent. As I approached a ramp in the level, I maneuvered my vehicle so that it turned around in midair and I then fired a missile back in my opponent's direction. As if my action film-style move wasn't enough, I avoided a number of incoming missiles headed in my direction. The PSP screen was bursting with action, to say the least.
Although I was able to fool my opponent with a quick turnaround move and avoid a series of missiles in the process, the AI isn't by any means lackluster. Whenever opponents take on a lot of damage, they hover in the direction of health. That's why it's important to finish them off before they reach such a pick-up. I also noticed the AI's strategic dropping of dynamite. In one case, I almost followed an opponent into a pyramid in Egypt where the entrance is extremely narrow. Of course, he dropped dynamite there so that I would fall victim to an explosion if I chose to continue my pursuit. Little examples like this really give you a sense that you're playing a one-of-a-kind video game where matches won't be the same every time.
The single-player story mode doesn't take long to finish. In fact, it lasts a mere 30 minutes the first time through. However, each driver has a different storyline and there are also unlockable extras and mini-game levels to keep players occupied well beyond a half hour. On top of the story mode, the single-player portion also offers challenge and endurance modes. Challenge is akin to an exhibition match in that you choose the opponents and select a stage for a single game. Endurance is a survival mode setup as a one-on-one match. As soon as the opponent is defeated, a new one appears, but your health remains the same throughout.
Twisted Metal games for the console were always best with other human players involved. Head-On is no different on the PSP, and this time around, you don't have to share a split screen with your friends. A total of six players can battle it out in eight different multiplayer modes and with a variety of options on hand. Modes include standard deathmatch, last man, fox hunt, collector, and then team versions of the mentioned modes. All of this is conducted wirelessly over Bluetooth or online through Wi-Fi. Believe it or not, in addition to the network head-to-head and team modes, there's also a two-player co-op story mode. A bonus like that on top of all of the multiplayer modes just adds more reason for PSP owners everywhere to have a game like Head-On in their hands.