The second Twisted Metal
game earned the series classic status, so it's perfectly fitting that Twisted Metal: Head-On
looks to its roots for inspiration. For both better and worse, this handheld adaptation of the origin of vehicular combat apes its now distant precursor in more ways than one.
The Twisted Metal formula is very much present in Head-On, and it's hardly changed at all. So while some faults of the older games can still be pointed out—there's too much reliance on auto-tracking weapons—Head-On retains all of the addictive qualities that Twisted Metal 2 made famous.
The single player modes of Twisted Metal: Head-On are nearly identical to those of Twisted Metals past, centering on the straight-forward story mode that drops players into a series of different arenas to battle it out in a free-for-all melee. This mission-to-mission game progression works very well on the handheld format, making Head-On very pick-up-and-play friendly. But that's not to say the story mode is entirely shallow. New to Head-On is an interesting upgrade system that rewards aggressive killing with collectible upgrades. The upgrades can increase the power of special attacks, boost the height of jumps, and even improve armor, and their effect is permanent until the driver dies. So even though the game allows two deaths per level, there's enough reason to stay alive to keep things constantly intense.
It doesn't take more than a half hour or so to run through the brief story mode, but there's plenty of lasting appeal in the form of unlockables and secrets. Each of the more than thirteen twisted characters has an unlockable ending cinematic. On top of that, there are multiple secret characters to unlock, both by completing the story mode normally and by finding secrets buried within the levels. In the midst of vehicular combat, there are secret teleporters that initiate mini-game challenges. Completing these challenges will unlock added extras for single and multiplayer games.
As with previous games in the series, Twisted Metal: Head-On prominently features a decidedly twisted sort of humor. Head-On borrows its visual styling from Twisted Metal 2, using lightly animated, colorful drawings to deliver the series' now legendary character endings. The endings in Head-On may not match the awesome absurdity of Twisted Metal 2, but the styling is very much here, invoking a nostalgia that even Twisted Metal: Black couldn't achieve.
But as already mentioned, Head-On borrows from Twisted Metal 2 in more ways than one. The physics model used for the vehicles in Head-On strikes a canny resemblance to the game's now aged forefather, with exaggerated jumps and reactions to collisions. The driving of Head-On should then be familiar to long-time fans of the series, but can't shake the feel of being somewhat outdated. Fortunately, the only time the game's vintage physics are ever really a problem is on the rare occasion that vehicles get stuck in building walls after a particularly nasty smash.
These arcadey physics lend themselves especially well to what's always made Twsited Metal a fan favorite: multiplayer. Taking to the harsh streets of Los Angeles and Tokyo with a pack of buddies has never been better, as Head-On supports up to six players in one of eight multiplayer modes, plus a two-player co-op mode with multiple difficulty levels. Even the basic death match mode is made new and exciting with a number of adjustable options. Carried over from Twisted Metal: Black Online are options for collectible relics, power-ups scattered throughout the massive environments that grant special powers like double damage and increased armor. The surprisingly versatile multiplayer mode adds plenty of variety to the action, ensuring frantic play long after the single player story mode has been fully conquered.
A somewhat disappointing aspect of Head-On is the visual quality. Twisted Metal: Black may have taken the atmosphere of the series in an entirely new direction, but it also succeeded in setting a new standard for artistic achievement. Head-On doesn't come close to matching the quality of Black, with flat models and textures made even less attractive by the lackluster lighting. And even though Head-On shares the styling of Twisted Metal 2, it's still not as visually memorable. However, not all is bleak in this department; Twisted Metal: Head-On runs at a surprisingly smooth frame rate, and with no noticeable slowdown even in the chaos of flying missiles and crashing environments. Given the amount of interaction allowed with the environments, that's pretty impressive.
All of the levels (more than ten total) feature plenty of destructibility, with explodable walls and structures that reveal new areas to trash. A few classic battle arenas, like Twisted Metal 2's Paris stage, make a return with familiar portions along with some new design: Teleport to the top of the Eiffel Tower to blow up the monument as before, and a newly designed set of rooftops is ready to explore. This level of interactivity infuses the gameplay with even more depth and replayability that carries over to both the single and multiplayer modes.
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