We can't prove it, but we're pretty sure that the Twisted Metal series has had a lot to do with Sony's successes in video gaming. Specifically, the original car combat classic was one of the first great PlayStation games 10 years ago, and 2001's Twisted Metal: Black was one of the first, best showcases for the PlayStation 2. It's true that the series has had its ups and downs during the past decade, but it's back in top form again for the launch of Sony's latest game system. And while Twisted Metal: Head-On might have been shrunk down to fit onto the sleek new PSP, it has lost none of its charm and none of its bite. A colorful cast of characters, a great presentation, exciting shooting action, and support for wireless multiplayer competition over the Internet combine to make this game one of the safest bets you can place when choosing your first PSP games.
Get ready to burn rubber and lots of other substances in Twisted Metal: Head-On, a shooter starring a loveable cast of gnarly cars.
Twisted Metal: Head-On plays just like the classic games in the series. If you're not familiar with the previous installments, you should know that car combat such as this actually has a lot more in common with first-person shooters than it does with other driving games. So don't let the appearance of all the tricked-out roadsters fool you. The name of the game here is blowing stuff up with extreme prejudice, using a combination of machine guns, missiles, bombs, mines, napalm--you name it. You've got more than 15 different vehicles to choose from (some of which are initially locked away), each with its own unique special attack and distinct characteristics for handling, top speed, armor, and so on--plus its own unique driver, who has his or her own reasons for entering the Twisted Metal tournament that's the context for this game's international deathmatches. As in previous Twisted Metal games, finishing the story mode with each of the different drivers is worthwhile if only to see how each of their stories pans out.
A typical Twisted Metal contest requires you to tear your way around a bumpy environment, running over health and weapon power-ups while keeping an eye on your radar for nearby opponents. You've got nitro boosters and an emergency brake in case you need to make a quick getaway or a sharp 180-degree turn, and the numerous available weapons tend to have homing capabilities or a large blast radius, making them effective against fast-moving targets. The exaggerated environments you'll fight in are based on various real-world locations and pack in plenty of secret nooks and crannies to explore, not to mention access points to some pretty cool little bonus missions. Controls are responsive and pretty easy to get used to. Even the larger vehicles handle nicely and are capable of turning even when they're not moving.
The variety is definitely part of the fun, and it's great to see the series' familiar vehicles back with sharp, new designs. You've got everyone from Mr. Slam, a bulldozer that can pick up and smash opposing vehicles, to Thumper, a fresh pink coupe sporting a flamethrower, and many others. Even the speedier vehicles in Twisted Metal: Head-On can take quite a bit of punishment before exploding, but any of them will light up like a Christmas tree if you concentrate all your firepower on them long enough.
A clean interface and responsive controls let you dive right into the action, which is great when playing against either computer-controlled drivers or other players.
Twisted Metal fans know that the best way to demolish an enemy vehicle is to freeze it in place first. Like most Twisted Metal games, Head-On lets you execute a few fighting-game-style special moves with any of the vehicles, by inputting some fairly simple commands on the PSP's D pad. The most useful are the freeze, which is a homing blast that causes the vehicle on the receiving end to become a sitting duck for a few moments, and the shield, which makes you completely invulnerable for a little bit. These abilities are governed by a recharging energy meter, so you can't use them constantly. But they're still critical to your success, especially against the story mode's boss vehicles, which are much bigger and tougher than all the rest. In fact, these energy moves are probably a bit too influential on the outcome of a typical match. Since every vehicle has access to the same energy moves, and since the freeze and the shield will likely be prevalent in any contest among experienced players, your choice of vehicle can eventually start to feel less relevant than it really ought to. It might have been nice if energy attacks varied between vehicles, but as it stands, they're the great equalizer, and they do help add a layer of depth to the action.