Twisted Metal: Head-On

Although I fully expected the PSP launch library to include titles from successful franchises, I have been somewhat surprised at the franchises they’ve chosen. Clearly, this has become the day of RPG, FPS, and sports as far as popular games go. I know there’s a PSP Grand Theft Auto in the works and there was a Tony Hawk game for the new handheld, but certainly the choice has been made to launch the console with a relative glut of games from franchises that aren’t nearly as popular. Ape Escape, Wipeout, and Ridge Racer are not nearly as pervasive franchises as they once were, and I would have expected Sony to take advantage of current trends instead of delving into their history for game ideas. That seems like much more of a Nintendo move.

First appearing on the original PlayStation, Twisted Metal has always existed in its own space. An odd amalgam of driving game, third-person shooter, and fighting game, it took the concepts presented in the battle modes of the classic Super Nintendo title Mario Kart and expanded them in a way Nintendo couldn’t even imagine. The first Twisted Metal games were equal parts sunshine and mayhem. While colorful, they possessed a morbid sense of humor and were addictive gameplay experiences. Although the early PS2 entry in the franchise, Twisted Metal: Black, tweaked the art direction to be much grimmer, it is to the original Twisted Metal aesthetic that the newest entry in the franchise subscribes.

The point of Head-On is simply to destroy other drivers and vehicles in a sort of weapon fueled demolition derby. Power-ups and weapons are scattered throughout the arena, and play is both destructive and frenetic. The one-player story mode is amusing, if a little short. (It doesn’t take much time to take any given character through their particular story.) Although this is certainly fun, especially to established fans of the franchise, the real treat here is taking the game online.

Twisted Metal is one of the first PSP games that allows true play over the Internet. It’s only been in this generation that consoles have allowed for online play, and Microsoft has led the charge as far as elegant design and ease of use. It’s pleasantly surprising then to find that Sony has implemented online play so well in their handheld. As Wi-Fi hotspots become more ubiquitous, online handheld play is sure to take off. Twisted Metal: Head-On is simply a proof of concept.

As previously mentioned, the Twisted Metal franchise has a long history. However, game mechanics have not changed much throughout the series. The most annoying holdover from previous Twisted Metal games are the energy moves like the freeze ray and the shield. Although these moves greatly increase the strategy of play, the use of the D-Pad to enter the moves seems rather antiquated. Clearly it’s a holdover from the classic fighting game days of yore, and in the context of making what is essentially a car fighting game, it made sense up front. But personally, I find such a control scheme a little archaic in the context of the third-person adventures I’ve become much more accustomed to in the last few years.

This one is a worthy installment to the series, and a fun game in its own right. Although it’s surprising to me that it would be one of the first titles available for the PSP, it’s certainly a fine launch title. Further, it serves as an introduction to what is sure to be one of the bigger selling points for the PSP as time goes on, namely online play.

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