After a 6 ½ year absence, Twisted Metal has finally returned to the PS2, and as a fan of the series since I first saw screens of TM 1 in the middle of ‘95, I’m happy to see it back. Returning with an “Extra Twisted” version of Head On (the previously PSP-only entry in the series), and bringing with it an incredible amount of bonus content, including a documentary on the history of the series, the original TM 1 ending movies, a third-person Sweet Tour mode where you gather facts about the series, an extra level in Head On that wasn’t in the original version, and four levels set for the TM: Black sequel that was cancelled. The sheer volume of content on the disc is so great that the actual Head On game seems almost superfluous by comparison.
However, it is theoretically the main attraction, and as a new entry in the series, it’s good, although I wouldn’t put up above my favorite TM games - Black and TM 2. It looks and feels like what Twisted Metal III probably would have been like with the original developers at the helm, as it continues the sparsely-animated, bright visual style of that game’s endings, has a vivid color palette, has destructible levels (usually) set in the real world, and features TM II‘s characters along with some new ones.
For the most part, Head On’s levels continue the tradition of the original series nicely, featuring a wide variety of kinds of levels (from wide-open ones to very claustrophobic ones) with lot of hidden passages, tight corridors for intense battles, and a constantly expanding battlefield since so many levels have parts in them that can be destroyed, leading to all new parts of the level to wage war in.
Level design has always been a strong point in the series, and that tradition is continued with Head On. My personal highlights for the new levels include battling foes in the stands of a race, then moving onto the track and not only destroying your enemies, but also the F1 racing cars that whiz by and either get blown to bits by gunfire or destroyed by running into the larger TM vehicles in the Monaco stage. Killing Twister in the middle of the car’s tornado special move that sends foes into the air in a violent whirlwind by shooting down at the car as its health was low, destroying it, was another fine moment.
Being slammed through a set of windows in the stadium by Mr. Slamm’s special was another highlight, as was being hit with that same special as I attempted to warp to a different part of the level to find health, only to die due to the damage. Twisted Metal is all about having fun, and whether you’re on the giving or receiving end of punishment, you’re pretty much guaranteed to have a blast watching the carnage unfold.
Long-time fans of the series will be happy to see revamped versions of TM 2’s LA and Paris stages here, while new fans just checking the series out for the first time will be able to experience the joy of seeing the destruction of the in-game Eiffel Tower, leading to new ramps being created, and giving you the ability to then battle on the rooftops of Paris.
Much like how the level design stays true to the series’ formula, the same also applies to the gameplay, which is largely unchanged since II. You still have a wide variety of basic weapons that can be found on the battlefield, from homing missiles to environmental hazard activators that make use of the level-specific perils. The lesser-known but still dangerous special moves done via fighting game-esque d-pad commands add a lot more depth to the gameplay, and here, the level design works quite well at exploiting some of them (especially the freeze attack).
Using that one attack, you can freeze a rival, then turbo-charge your vehicle into them, either knocking their health down quite a bit, or hopefully knocking them off of a high place doing massive damage, and leaving them wide open to more attacks. While I‘m glad to see the usual things being done well, it’s also true that nothing has really been added to the gameplay since II, leaving Head On to feel like a game that does things well, but would’ve benefited from some additions to the gameplay.
Since the d-pad command attacks can be so damaging, it is vital that the controls work well enough so that they can not only be done quickly, but also dodged quickly if you’re able to see them coming. Fortunately, Head On’s controls work very well. The d-pad attacks register easily on the PS2’s slightly awkward d-pad, while not being so easy to execute that they end up being abused - an in-game gauge that limits the amount of times those attacks can be done helps a bit, too. The driving controls usually provide just the right amount of responsiveness - allowing you to attack and move exactly when you’d expect no matter which vehicle you choose.
Head On for the PS2 looks pretty much identical to the ’05 PSP version, and even then it wasn’t a graphical feast for the eyes. Jagged textures are everywhere and there’s a bland look to roads and most driving surfaces, but slowdown isn’t a problem (which would cripple a fast-paced game like this), and cars and environments feature a lot of details (like rust on the cars, progressive damage to the cars, and rivets being visible on structures) that at least attempt to make the in-game world look realistic. Fortunately for Head On, the excellent level design and gameplay help make up for the sub-par visuals.
That holds true for the music as well, which is also just good enough to get by. The soundtrack’s full of rock and techno that doesn’t really stand out in any way, and unlike Black’s memorable, moody soundtrack, this one is largely forgotten once you turn the game off. Luckily, the sound effects help Head On more than the music hurts it - car crashes sound incredibly violent, and the sound of cars blowing up (complete with the driver screaming in agony as that happens) makes the action seem more devastating than it looks.
The on-disc extras are quite enjoyable, especially the documentary that looks back at the history of Twisted Metal. It’s full of information about just how the series came to be, what nearly killed it in the beginning, the challenges of developing the first game, the original team’s thoughts on the 989-created TM games, and what challenges Black had.
The only problems I had with it were the lack of any kind of pause feature, meaning that if you had to stop the documentary for any reason, you had to start it over from the beginning, and the horribly pixilated game footage hurt as well. It seems like they tried to cram way too much onto the disc, but fortunately everything else on the documentary (including the one-frame shots revealing the series’ PS3 future) looks good.
The “lost levels” Twisted Metal: Harbor City (the planned, but scrapped sequel to Black) are interesting - 4 are featured, and one of them, the Carnival of Darkness, is one of my favorite levels in series history thanks to its roller coaster and stone skull areas. The Sweet Tour area, where you take Sweet Tooth (in a third-person perspective) through a couple of mostly linear levels to unlock concept art and reveal series facts is interesting, partly because of how unfinished it is, and also because it does show that the concept could work if done well. It’s also got some quick references to War of the Monsters and Downhill Domination (two other games made by the Black developers after that game came out) that I found interesting.
The live-action never-before-seen (other than on Youtube) endings for the original Twisted Metal are a complete disaster, but enjoyable to watch once just to see how unbelievably cheesy they are. Thank goodness they were scrapped, because they would’ve completely changed the tone of the first game, and the series as a whole, had they been included.
Unfortunately, the art book isn’t featured in my Canadian review copy, despite being listed as an extra on the box. As a result, I can’t offer up my thoughts on it, or the downloadable soundtrack, which is unlocked via a code in the back of that art book. Apparently, these things were made U.S.-exclusive at the last minute, without the development team knowing. Given that Head On’s “extra twisted” extras were basically thrown in as gifts for the long-time fans of the series, this is a disappointment, but one that the official TM blog is trying to rectify.
Overall, I’d say that Twisted Metal: Head On - Extra Twisted Edition is a great buy for both long-time and new fans to the series. The hardcores will get a lot out of the extras, while new ones can learn about its history and gain a lot of knowledge about the series. The main Head On game is fine - it’s not the greatest entry in the series, but it’s worth playing if only to see what some TM 2 levels would be like on the PS2. Its replay value is hurt slightly compared to the PSP version as it lacks online play, so if that’s important to you, you might want to just stick with that version. For everyone else, there’s a lot of well-crafted and enjoyable content here for a mere $20.