Twisted Metal: Head On

2nd August 2005
reviewer: Rich
rating: 4 out of 5
developed by: Incog Inc.
published by: Sony
rrp: £34.99
formats: PSP

I was reading Games™ a couple of months back and they made a snide remark about Incognito’s past work involving the Twisted Metal series; that was the last issue I read of Games™. People who can’t appreciate immensely rewarding and playable yet seemingly mindless violence have no place in my games collection’s phonebook of friends! I bet their games collections don’t even have a phonebook of friends. How queer!

Anyway, now I’ve weaved the word queer into a review in style, I can continue unperturbed. The Twisted series has always been about hardcore, adrenaline-filled, unadulterated fun. The ultimate game for young boys everywhere – cars with guns and a scary clown. Genius. However, what has held the series in such a good standing with gamers internationally and particularly in the US is the high quality of the products and the classic “instant gratification followed by an immensely hard learning curve” gameplay model. Twisted Metal: Black was the first genuine must-have game for the PlayStation 2; it coupled decent 60fps graphics (even in four-player split screen) with everything that made the PSOne games so successful. Later an online-only version appeared on PS2 with limited online features and a cut down price – this is perhaps the only weak link as far as I’m concerned. Now, does Head-On continue the link-weakening behaviour of TMB: Online or is it time to galvanise?

Well the first thing that struck me was the game’s presentation. Whilst of a very high quality through out – superbly rendered intro movie, nice menus and glossy everything – it doesn’t retain the dark, Texas Chainsaw Massacre-style “evil grime” feel of Black, and this for me is a real shame. So much of a shame in fact that I toyed with the phrase “fucking shame” – well look, I’ve been and written it anyway… and now that it’s written I stand by it. Anyone who owns Black should boot it up right now and move between the characters in the menu – how much does pressing left and right make you want to press X a few more times until the thing loads, and then unload a bunch of missiles into the back of a creepy-looking ice cream van? The answer, non-believers, is lots. The “neon-lights” edition of the intro, menus and the graphical content as a whole doesn’t sit as well with me as I would have liked. This is probably a by-product of the game's movement to the PSP – perhaps the developers felt that the dark colours wouldn’t have worked so well on the small screen. Maybe they thought this was a pre-SP GBA game?

For all of this rant, the graphics themselves are very good for a handheld – the framerate stays well above 30fps, there are some lovely little particle effects and the draw distance is faultless. This said, the textures and models could both have been more detailed – it looks like an average PS2 game, which of course it isn’t - this is home console stuff on a handheld kids!

These niggles however can be totally glossed over once you’ve played this game in the arena for which it was surely intended: networked multiplayer. I’m not talking about online gaming (which is still very enjoyable) but local wireless games. I’m lucky enough to work in a technical environment with great people who all seem to want to import games – playing 3 of them wirelessly on a lunch break was one of the most enjoyable gaming experiences I’ve encountered on a handheld device. Hunting one another down on-screen whilst threatening to do far worse in person was comedy gold. Each of us appeared to act as a node for attracting onlookers and supporters – the game really showcased what the PSP was all about, and the beauty was that it did it all natively, without any add-on cards or subscriptions or complex set-up. The use of the game in this way was as simple as the premise behind the game. Drive and shoot. The game does this so well – if you are looking at getting a PSP and would like to veer slightly off the out-and-out racing path, then you can do a lot worse than bolting on a machine gun to your vehicle and purchasing TM:HO.