Twisted Metal: Head On ReviewJason Venter
The first title I ever picked up for my original PlayStation was Twisted Metal. I played it often. Several years later, I bought a PlayStation 2. That was the same day in 2001 that Twisted Metal: Black arrived on the system, so it served nicely as my first purchase. Seven years later, the PlayStation 2 is in its twilight years. For people like me, now is the perfect time for another installment in the long-running series. It's a perfect time for Twisted Metal: Head On – Extra Twisted Edition.
Originally a PSP release, Twisted Metal: Head On comes finally to the PlayStation 2 with some surprising bonus materials. Even though the bulk of the content has been available for awhile now in portable form, it has been tweaked and then supplemented by some real treats for people who fondly remember Twisted Metal: Black and even the PlayStation originals. The end result is a curious mixture of old and new.
You might not have known it, but Sony had planned to release a direct sequel to Twisted Metal: Black. Unfortunately, six of the main team members hopped a flight back from a celebrity event they attended and never quite made it home. The project was canceled after their deaths, even though several stages had been completed. Those arenas, though not inner-connected as was initially planned, are finally playable. None of them seem particularly polished, but they definitely have the dark vibe and claustrophobic nature about them for which Twisted Metal: Black was known. It's neat to see what might have been, even in unfinished form.
Along those same lines, there's a mode available from the “Bonus Material” menu called “Sweet Tour.” This is extra content that was originally planned to be included in Twisted Metal: Black. Players assume control of Sweet Tooth, the fire-haired clown that has served as the franchise mascot for most of its duration. You'll guide him through a distinctly grim asylum, mostly climbing ladders and wandering dark hallways. That mode was rightfully axed, but now you get to wander through the environments and see why the team (thankfully) realized what an absolute disaster on-foot missions would have been. Along the way, you can find floating clown heads that give you glimpses at concept artwork along with brief snippets of trivia.
Of course, you can get most of that same trivia without the agony of “Sweet Tour” mode just by watching a special documentary that's included on the disc. Within, David Jaffe and Scott Campbell, along with others responsible for the best entries in the series, talk nostalgically about the history of the franchise. They even cover interesting topics like how they feel about Twisted Metal 3 and Twisted Metal 4, as well as what Jaffe and his psychiatrist think of Sweet Tooth. There's some interesting insight into the whole process, including some neat bits about the reaction within Sony Japan (and some hilarious suggestions that group made on how the first game might be improved).
Additional bonus content is also available, but a lot of it has to be unlocked. Fortunately, there's a final option available right from the start: “Twisted Metal 1- The Lost Ending Movies.” It's just what the title implies. Jaffe fancied himself a director, so he got together actors and filmed endings for each character in the original game. It's amusing to watch the content, which closely mirrors the text you might remember reading through at one time. There's a definite 80s vibe. Calypso is ghoulish and farcical at the same time. An assortment of 'hot' girls surround him, as do gunmen. For fans of the original game, this content is an absolute treat that is ruined just a little bit because the film quality is so wretched. Wavy lines pass through it sometimes and the audio cuts in and out at random. Still, it's fantastic that Sony included enough to give everyone a glimpse into more of what might have been.
With all of that being the case, there is of course the main game. About that, it's hard to know what to say. Most people by know are familiar with the way the Twisted Metal franchise works, but if you aren't it's perhaps best to use the description Jaffe so aptly provided in his documentary: “a fighting game in cars.” Much like the battle mode in Super Mario Kart and its successors, you'll drive around arenas picking up weapons and blasting the snot out of your rivals. That's... all there is to it. Of course, that's all the game really needs.
Twisted Metal: Head-On features numerous stages you must pass through on the way to a showdown with a giant boss vehicle. Some of them feel rather generic, with dull architecture, but there are some really interesting stages like a race track (complete with circling cars) and crowded Tokyo streets. Paris and Greece also make appearances, if you're in the mood for something a little bit more exotic. Definitely, the variety overall feels more significant than it did in Twisted Metal: Black where everything was dark and foreboding. The worlds feel more alive, too. At the same time, that other game had a distinctive personality as a result of its oppressive tone. The same can't be said here.
Before you ever reach the various stages, you'll choose from any of 10 characters initially available (more are unlocked as you progress, as are weapons and additional bonus content). Each driver has his or her own deficiencies and strengths. For example, the Grasshopper vehicle driven by Krista Sparks is extremely quick and can turn on a dime, but its armor is absurdly inadequate and the special weapon tends almost to be self-destructive since it moves you within handy range of an opponent who can then cut through you with almost no difficulty if you didn't kill him off with that first advance. In contrast, something like the Warthog is relatively slow and its controls are unresponsive, yet its armor rating is spectacular and it really hits hard with its weapons.
The vehicular variety definitely gives the game much of its replay value, just as it has since the very first game in the franchise. Clearing everything with Sweet Tooth's lumbering ice cream truck can be fun a few times, but then you'll be anxious to see what the other characters bring to the table—both in terms of special attacks and the strategies you'll have to adopt to overcome their inherent weaknesses. As always, it's fun to work through the campaign multiple times, and there are five selectable difficulty levels included to ease you into the experience if this is your introduction to the series.
In the end, Twisted Metal: Head-On – Extra Twisted Edition is a nice option for PlayStation 2 owners who want a quick introduction to the series, or for those who have been away for awhile and would like to return to familiar ground. At times it feels more valuable as a retrospective than as a new game, but it's also priced quite fairly and some of the bonus content simply shouldn't be missed. As a long-time fan of the series, I certainly enjoyed playing it and couldn't help but find myself pumped for a PlayStation 3 sequel. From the discussion in the included documentary, that might never happen. For now, people like me will have to content ourselves with Twisted Metal: Head On. It's not all bad, though. After all, we could do much worse...
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.