Memory Stick Duo/640KB
Online Multiplayer: Wi-Fi Compatible(Ad Hoc/Infrastructure)
Rating: Teen-Violence/Drug Reference
When Sony first announced they were going to challenged Nintendo in the handheld market with their PSP I had a strong feeling it was going to be a buyer. Not only is it sexy to look at but it happens to have very impressive horsepower under the hood. The PSP is comparable with its big brother, the PS2, and it is portable to boot. Sony has also made sure they have some very good looking, and more than a handful of, launch titles for release. One of the first games I tried on the new system was Twisted Metal: Head-On (TM:HO) which is developed by Incognito Entertainment. I hadn't played any of the other TM games except for the very first one on the PSone. While I liked that first game I found that the later ones just didn't do it for me. Fast forward to the present date and I have to say that I am very happy and surprised with how this one of the most popular vehicular combat franchises turned out on Sony's new and exciting portable.
In a word Twisted Metal: Head-On looks damn good. After powering up the PSP this game leads you into a cool opening cinema done in an anime cel-shaded style. I thought to myself "this machine kicks some major poly's". Developer Incognito has done a good job with the PSP hardware. TM:HO is, of course, a first generation game, but it is quite impressive and gets the mind thinking at what the bar is at now and how it will be raised for future titles. The graphics itself remind you of early PS2 graphics, which for a portable title isn't that bad at all. Almost everything in the game blows up and the explosions are very nice indeed. This is further complemented by some great lighting, car damage, and smoke and particle effects. The cars and other types of vehicles found in the game actually begin to spark and smoke as you beat them up. This made me laugh out loud more than once as I was astounded by the sheer amount destruction on screen at times. Environments are huge and detailed, and most of the larger ones contain teleporters that can put you back into the thick of things should you feel the need to use them. I did find some of the texture mapping and shading were a bit bland though. Don't get me wrong, they look just fine but at times they just felt flat and seemed to have no life to them. The frame rate remained pretty consistent for most of the environments, but in traffic heavy conditions the frame rate dropped noticeably for short times. There was also some pop up and clipping during the game too, but it really made no dent in the overall fun factor. TM:HO graphically is not on par with current PS2 visuals, but that won't stop anyone from saying, "I can't believe I'm playing this game on a handheld!
In the sound department, put on those PSP headphones and prepare to be shaken by the pounding sounds thumping on your eardrums. Musically you hear mostly hard rock and it fits quite nicely into the theme of TM:HO. Throughout the game the music tends shift back and forth from this hard rock to some funky techno styled music. I really liked the sound as it was clear and great sounding stereo. The soundtrack itself is pretty much what you would expect from this type of title. Something which surprised me was the level of the voice acting, it is quite top notch. Although at times it could be a little cheesy it lends itself to the title perfectly. For those who are wondering, the voices can be cleanly heard from both the PSP's small speakers and the headphones alike, but like the music the voice work sounds better over the headphones.
The sound effects in TM:HO are of great quality as well. Sometimes you'll hear vehicles coming from behind you then all of a sudden they cut in front and scream right across your path. It almost seems like an enveloping effect but this is only evident through the headphones, as the PSP's speakers could not create such a deep sound field. The in-game explosions sound fantastic as well and they too have an uncanny depth to them. An example of this depth of sound is the homing missiles available in the game. I fired off some of these missiles and had to peel off in the opposite direction to pursue another opponent. Well, to my surprise, and enjoyment, I heard them detonate in the distance even when I missed the target. Overall I was surprised at the sound production quality level of TM:HO. Incognito has done it right and I can only hope that other PSP games continue to sound this good.
Twisted Metal maybe noted for its multiplayer but the single-player experience of TM:HO is very rewarding too. The standard battles aren't too difficult but boss fights can be quite a challenge. They're a huge step up from the regular enemies, each of which has a life meter similar to yours. Bosses, however, may have several hit points that must be struck before their energy shields can be drained. It took me more than a couple of tries to take down the first boss. The location of the boss' weak points is particularly challenging, forcing players to use a little more thought than they would expect from a vehicular combat game. Let me give you an example of what I am talking about. One of the bosses, which will remain nameless to avoid spoilers, has weak points all over its body, from top to bottom. The challenge is to target the various points. After thinking about which weapon would be the best to use I chose Napalm. Once the hot spots were hit I noticed one final target, the roof of the boss's vehicle. It's not the easiest weapon to use but Napalm was the best bet at hitting that roof as well. I found it funny that I had to actually think of how to kill the boss rather then just do it.
With 15 different cars to choose from (some of which must be unlocked) the game has plenty of variety, not to mention character. Each car is in a class by itself, with a style that represents the personality of the ever-so-slightly insane driver. You'll see everything from the very familiar heavily loaded out ice-cream truck to that easily recognizable guy standing with his monster truck with his wheels attached to his arms and legs. Weapons are similarly varied, with everything from machine guns and napalm to special weapons such as a freeze gun. You'll start with a basic set and upgrade as the game moves along. You'll be pretty much covered in the weapon area but it takes time and effort to get the really great ones.
Playing with the digital control feels responsive, especially with liberal use of the emergency brake. This is in stark contrast with the analog control which is a much different story and is a major disappointment for me when thinking about this game. Sure the analog provides a better interface assuming you are willing to put up with the learning curve, but what a learning curve it is. I spent quite a few hours cursing the overly sensitive control option. This level of sensitivity results in a car or vehicle that tends to drift from side to side with the slightest movement. It can be, and is quite frustrating when you are first learning the control scheme of the game. However, should you decide to bear with it you will eventually learn how to deal with each situation. I found myself using the D-pad to play over the analog stick just because of the rather abrupt over steer. I will recommend that anyone who picks up TM:HO try both control options to see which you prefer, then master it
The story mode provides a reason for each character to enter the tournament, and is reasonably detailed, but where this game shines is in the multiplayer arena. It supports both the ad-hoc Wi-Fi and Internet play, via infrastructure mode. It is also worth noting that the multiplayer lobby is fairly straightforward and easy to navigate. Online play is something new to the handheld era and Sony has succeeded in making it a pretty easy task, when the servers are up and running.
I really enjoyed Twisted Metal: Head-On for the PSP. It gave me some great hours of gaming portable style and really highlighted what an impressive handheld machine Sony has produced. There's not too much to say on the negative front other than the loading times are a bit long and some minor clipping and pop-up issues on occasion. As well I also really disliked the analog control as the sensitivity was a little to much for me. Overall I really thought that developers Incognito Entertainment did an outstanding job for a launch title on a brand new portable system. The portability of this title increases the fun factor up a few notches, not to mention the online aspect of the game. A worthy title for the PSP it deserves some playtime from fans of the Twisted Metal series and newbies alike.
Twisted Metal: Head-OnESRB: