Twisted Metal: Head-On: Extra Twisted Edition Review
When it comes to intense vehicular combat, there's Twisted Metal, and then about a dozen posers. In other words, if you want the best possible action experience featuring crazy vehicles equipped with ridiculously insane weapons, you know where to turn. It came as fantastic news to all TM fans when we learned a new installment would soon arrive on the PlayStation 3. But rather than wait around for that, why not try out Twisted Metal: Head-On: Extra Twisted Edition for the PS2? It boasts a port of the PSP's Head-On along with a bunch of extras, including three "lost" levels from 2001's Twisted Metal: Black, the "Twisted Metal: The Dark Past" documentary, and even a few new characters! Priced at the very appealing price of only $20, this is a no-brainer purchase for any fans of the series, and a definite "consider" for anybody else. And remember, the sad days of 989 Studios ruining the third and fourth entries in the series are long gone...Jaffe and Co. came back for Black and haven't relinquished the reigns. Thankfully.
If you recall Black, you'll probably be familiar with the visuals in Head-On: Extra Twisted Edition. The Lost Levels are essentially the same, and Head-On's are also similar, although there are more unfortunate inconsistencies. Vehicles will routinely encounter major clipping issues, and it's simply not as technically refined as we would've expected. On the other hand, both Head-On and the Lost Levels are in no way disappointing; the good ol' Twisted Metal panache is back, even though the three Lost Levels are still a touch too dark. Head-On implements other visual aspects as well, such as traffic on the roads and more destructible pieces of the environment, so that's a major plus. The level design is excellent - as always - although we have to admit, the smaller size of the battlegrounds had its advantages and disadvantages. If you're a "glass half-full" kinda guy, you'll appreciate the smaller levels, simply because it ramps up the hectic nature of the combat. If you're more of a pessimist, you might miss the larger, more open levels from Black. But no matter how you look at it, the design for both the characters and levels remains top-notch, despite the somewhat unimpressive graphics.
The sound in Head-On is significantly better than the Lost Levels, primarily because the soundtrack is far superior. Eat Sleep Play institutes a variety of rock and techno tracks in the PSP port, which adds a great deal to the battle experience. The music in Lost Levels, while not poor in quality, pales in comparison, as it often sounds muted and uninspired. The sound effects in both Head-On and Lost Levels are just fine, though, and you won't have many complaints when it comes to the brief voice acting. The balance between effects and tracks is questionable at times, but for the most part, we loved the music in Head-On and never once had a significant complaint concerning the effects. However, we find sometimes ourselves pining for the days of Twisted Metal 2, just because each and every weapon back then had a very distinct sound upon release. Here, many of the weapons and impact explosions sound the same, but at least the Special weapons are very different. The sound in Twisted Metal: Head-On: Extra Twisted Edition shines most in Head-On, but remains solid throughout both the main and bonus gameplay modes.
This port isn't just a port, as you already know. In addition to the enhanced version of Head-On, you will get the three new Lost Levels from Twisted Metal: Black, the aforementioned documentary, and a variety of gameplay modes. We get the always-entertaining split-screen co-op mode, and both Challenge and Endurance modes are appreciated options to the standard Story campaign. Several of the new characters are great, especially 12-Pak, which is a headless horseman type dude that zips around in a heavily modified stock car. Overall, you're looking at solid control the whole way ‘round, especially because we get to choose between three different control schemes (we prefer Hit ‘n Run), and we get a chance to revel in an action experience that delivers the fun in spades. The difficulty modes offer even more options - if you're a veteran of the series, Medium will prove to be easier than expected, but challenging near the end - and the diversity of the levels add to the excitement factor. This is one package that won't disappoint avid Twisted Metal followers, and while it may seem a bit outdated to those who have already leapt into the new generation, it's still a worthy investment for most gamers.
Let's start with those Lost Levels. After a brief introduction involving a surrealistic relaying of a tragic story involving the game's developers, we get to select from a familiar set of characters. Black's main guns are back, including the likes of Warthog, Mr. Slam, Outlaw, Mr. Grimm, Spectre, Twister, Roadkill, Grasshopper, Sweettooth, etc. They're all awaiting your experimentation, although they're basically the same vehicles you played with in Black. The Lost Levels in question are Suburban Terror, Stadium Slaughter, and Carnival of Darkness, which is by far the most intriguing of the three. The first two are fairly basic and even somewhat boring - the worst examples of level design in this package, actually - but that freaky Carnival helps to make up for any prior lacking. If you complete all three, you will unlock more of the initial story regarding those doomed developers, and even more if you can manage to beat the levels on Hard. Those who remember Black with a certain degree of fondness might want to start with the Lost Levels, because of two main reasons: 1. it'll get you reacquainted with the gameplay, and 2. things get better when you switch to bulk of the mini-compilation; Head-On.
One can tell immediately that Head-On, despite being a ramped-up version of a PSP game, is more advanced and accomplished than the Lost Levels. Remember, Black was one of the very first PS2 titles, and the industry has come a long ways. As soon as you start the first level, fans of 2001's installment will instantly notice all kinds of additions and upgrades: other vehicles are driving around the stages, there are more destructible objects and more weapons, and the soundtrack really kicks ass. The graphics are slightly less refined than the Lost Levels (it may be from an old PS2 game's architecture, but it's still slightly better than a PSP game), but they're brighter and more colorful. The cut-scenes are cel-shaded, too, which may seem to be a tad bizarre given the dark and even satanic premise behind the game, but they still add a dash of artistic flair. The only problem we really had with the gameplay is the same problem we had with Black: the "impact factor" just isn't there. Nailing a foe with a power missile or blast of Napalm isn't anywhere near as satisfactory as it should be, and the death of an opponent (when the vehicle explodes) is just kinda ho-hum. Believe it or not, this effect was far better back on the PS1 with Twisted Metal 2.
But hey, the control is tighter than ever, the level design gets better as you play, and there's some great innovation in Head-On. You can unlock a wide variety of new characters by progressing through the Story mode (for example, you can play as Cousin Eddy and one of the ATVs after that boss battle), and with the added weaponry, Head-On is oodles of fun throughout. If you paid full pop for the PSP version, we're sorry to inform you that this is actually the best version of Head-On, just because of the standard gamepad control. Utilizing special abilities like the freeze and invisibility is much easier than it ever was with the PSP's control scheme, and quickly cycling through your inventory and firing a selected weapon is easy as pie. Furthermore, the strangely high difficulty found in Black is no longer evident; the game is both accessible and appropriately challenging during later stages. Best of all, experimenting with the different characters comprises a major portion of the fun. You don't play the same way with any two vehicles, although the main survival theme typically remains fixed on the "hit and run" theory.
The only major downfall of the game revolves around the lack of multiplayer options. There's no online play, and the PSP version had the benefit of ad hoc play. This means Extra Twisted Edition for the PS2 seems more geared toward the single player, and while an online mode would've been great, the Story, Endurance and Challenge modes are excellent. Some may argue the experience is over a bit too quickly, but this is where the aforementioned character experimentation comes in, and the two-player co-op is typically a great option. The first two Lost Levels definitely aren't up to snuff, there really isn't any semblance of a story to go along with them, and there's some balance issues with the sound, but that's about where our complaints end. All in all, Twisted Metal: Head-On: Extra Twisted Edition is well worth the $20 price of admission, even if you're not a big-time fan of the series. If you actually compare other budget-priced titles to this one, it becomes even more obvious- this is one game that, while not the masterful title we expect Twisted Metal PS3 to be, definitely deserves to be part of your library.
P.S. Are we the only ones who caught the "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" reference with Cousin Eddy's RV?
3/3/2008 Ben Dutka