Version tested: PlayStation 2
Believe it or not, the longest-running PlayStation-exclusive franchise is not Gran Turismo, Ape Escape or even Hot Shots Golf. It's Twisted Metal. It debuted when the original PlayStation launched in 1995.
For those of you keeping score at home, there were five iterations for the PSone and one for the PS2. Not including the online version supplied to network adaptor purchasers, the series hasn't been seen on consoles since 2001. And even now, Twisted Metal: Head-On: Extra Twisted Edition for the PS2 is not a new game, but a conversion of the PSP title released in 2005.
I've never been a fan of PSP-to-PS2 conversions. I understand why they are done from a financial standpoint - development costs are minimal, and the PS2's installed based is a lot larger than that of the PSP - but that doesn't mean I like them as a gamer. It makes little sense to take a portable game, which has been downgraded graphically and restricted in its control scheme, and put it out on a console which is obviously capable of much better. The only possible advantage to gamers - being able to play your favourite handheld games on a larger television set - recently became a moot point with the new slim model PSP's video output.
That said, TM: HO: ETE - which, yes, does sound like a particularly avant-garde shampoo - is the first PSP-to-PS2 conversion that I would recommend unconditionally to fans of the series. The fast-paced gameplay is better suited to the PS2 than the PSP, and the new PS2 edition adds a host of extras that make it a better package. It also doesn't hurt that the game is being released at a bargain price (USD 19.99 in the States, where it's released this week).
I am aware that we found the PSP game wanting in our 2005 review. The main complaints were poor controls, uninspired weapons and the use of health bars which lessened both the sense of risk and the sense of gain. While I didn't find the controls problematic, and don't see a difference between Twisted Metal and most first-person shooter deathmatches where the use of health and weapons are concerned, I thought the game lacked depth and would have scored it similarly. [Phew - Ed]
So anyway, TM: HO: ETE includes the complete Head-On game, with a graphical upgrade and controls that take advantage of the PS2's dual analogue sticks and four shoulder buttons, two of which the PSP obviously lacks. Twisted Metal fans who don't own a PSP will appreciate the game on this basis alone. The ad hoc multiplayer mode has been removed, but in its place is a split-screen deathmatch or co-op mode. Good enough for me.
Where TM: HO: ETE gets interesting is in the inclusion of "lost" levels from the unreleased Twisted Metal: Black sequel. It seems that Incognito was planning a game in which the battle arenas were interconnected by freeways. Four of those arenas are presented here, albeit without the freeway access. All of them fit the dark style of TM: Black, with environmental weapons, hidden areas, and lots of destructible items - Death Port is a large cargo ship, Suburban Terror is similar to the suburban areas of prior games but with a bowling alley and movie theater, Stadium Slaughter takes place in a monster truck arena and Carnival of Darkness adds thrill rides (but, alas, no Ferris wheel).
As with the Head-On game, all of the lost levels can be played in story, challenge or endurance modes, the latter of which sound more varied than they actually are. The lost levels and Head-On can also be played in multiplayer mode via split-screen, with two vehicles/characters which are new to the series.
Rounding things off is the inclusion of bonus material of varying quality, which is clearly intended for fans. Twisted Metal 1: The Lost Ending Movies is "Exhibit A" in the case against using live-action video in games. Remember those cheesy movies in early PSone games such as Disruptor and Warhawk? David Jaffe wrote and filmed similar ending videos for each of the main characters in the original TM game. Even the grainy footage can't disguise the poor acting, silly dialogue, and low-budget sets/props. It's good for a laugh, if nothing else.
Much better is Twisted Metal: The Dark Past - a 30-minute documentary on the series' history featuring interviews with David Jaffe, Scott Campbell and others. You'll get to see a lot of concept artwork and gameplay movies, and you'll learn what the original creators really thought about 989's Twisted Metal III and 4 (although, interestingly, Incognito's TM: Small Brawl is completely ignored by the documentary).
The last bit of bonus material is called Sweet Tour, which is basically the remnants of a planned on-foot combat/platform portion of the unreleased Twisted Metal: Black sequel. You control Sweet Tooth driver Needles Kane as he runs through the halls of a prison environment. As the combat and platform mechanics have been removed, your only goal is to wander the prison in search of clown head icons. Each one provides players with a Twisted Metal "factoid," often accompanied by images, which is an interesting way to access what would otherwise be a run-of-the-mill art gallery.
Considering how similar the gameplay is to most first-person shooter deathmatches - quickly grab the best weapons, shoot anyone you encounter, find the health before you die, repeat - I'm surprised that Twisted Metal hasn't had much competition over the years. Vigilante 8 was the only promising alternative, but it was abandoned when the developers went on to create True Crime.
David Jaffe and company have clearly moved on, with their post-TM: Black portfolio consisting of the underrated War of the Monsters and Downhill Domination games as well as the God of War franchise and the PS3's Calling All Cars and Warhawk. If they had wanted to release a brand-new Twisted Metal game, certainly they would have done so by now. Either they were burned out on it, or - as TM: HO: ETE illustrates - perhaps they realised that the gameplay is quite limited in its scope. No online battles, no map editor, no leaving vehicles, no missions, no CTF or other modes. The game doesn't even include the M-rated story sequences of TM: Black which, while too dark for my tastes, at least gave the characters some personality.
The bottom line is that TM: HO: ETE provides the same fast-paced action that the series has always been known for, but which has failed to evolve since TM2 in 1996. I appreciated the chance to play the lost levels, but it didn't take long to explore them all - and in 2008 they just didn't have the same "wow" factor that they might have had in 2001. Newcomers who own a PS2 would be better off purchasing Twisted Metal: Black.
6 / 10