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Twisted Metal: Head-On

Bent out of shape.

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

Apparently if I finish the single-player of Twisted Metal with the skeleton-man-on-a-bike, I'll discover his real reasons for entering the tournament.

I don't even have a punchline. I just want to make it stop. I feel like I'm in one of the Americans' secret prisons having my resolve sapped by O'Brien wannabes.

You fire machineguns and collect weapon power-ups and then drive around in circles trying to shoot people more than they shoot you.

You can also use a range of special moves, activated through different button combinations, which allow you to do things like fire homing freeze attacks and avoid taking damage for a few seconds. Each of these uses up your gradually recharging energy bar.

You can also upgrade your armour, turbo and so on by looting the twisted metal of dispatched enemOH GOD I'LL TELL YOU ANYTHING YOU WANT! MAKE IT STOP! PLEASE LET ME GO! I DID IT! IS THAT WHAT YOU WANT TO HEAR?! EAT MY CHILDREN! ANYTHING!

In fairness there's nothing drastically wrong with the actual premise. Why shouldn't vehicular deathmatch work? Super Mario Kart's battle mode is one of the best multiplayer games ever. Sure, you'll never emulate the twitch kills of Quake or the strategic gunnery of Battlefield, but with a decent handling model, a varied arsenal of exciting weapons, claustrophobic level design and a bit of personality, you can definitely achieve something!


Being able to pick up and clobber enemies like this is the most entertaining thing in the game.

Twisted Metal: Head-On doesn't have a decent handling model. Most vehicles move too fast, even more so with boost engaged, and stopping is another issue entirely, but the twitchy steering is the worst. It's very hard to control without just charging into everything, and being able to turn around on the spot and jump isn't an answer to that - particularly as neither is a particularly fluid or instinctive action.

Analog control is absolutely awful - for some reason, accelerate and reverse are mapped to up and down on an ANALOG STICK. This is daft because, as everyone knows, you can't help going a little up or a little down when you're trying to whip an analog stick from side to side, and since Twisted Metal boosts on a double acceleration-tap and stops dead when both accelerate and reverse are engaged, manoeuvring is even more difficult and randomised.

It's less of a problem on the d-pad, but you still end up driving into things you don't intend because it's quite twitchy and you can't stop, etc. Steering is rather closer to TRON's light bikes than the steadiness of the average racing game. Thanks to the general speed, turning circle and sliding abilities, Mario Kart's levels managed to be tight and yet manoeuvrable at the same time. Twisted Metal's are large and yet you crash into things at the same time.

The weapons, meanwhile, are various but largely similar. Missiles home in (some more than others) and come in various quantities, you can drop remote-detonation mines, and there are a couple of other fizzing projectiles. Plus you've got the special move attacks, which are pretty similar to the weapon attacks - freezing enemies is about the most distinct.

That and swarm missile kills.

The problem isn't so much the weapons though as the use of health bars. Mario Kart battle works best because it's three strikes and you're out. In Twisted Metal, people just go for health packs, and a well-aimed strike rarely takes anyone out. So there's no green-shell-hit style satisfaction - the closest you come to it is when you wipe out a tough enemy or a boss by queuing up homing swarm missiles (think Unreal Tournament's rockets) and directing them the right way within the time frame they're available to fire. You can argue that FPS games do just fine with health bars. But then you have much greater control of your character in FPS games. This is square peg-round hole stuff.

The sense of risk is less, and the sense of gain too. When defending yourself, you'll use the invisibility and invincibility special moves where necessary until your lapping the outside of the arena nets you a health pack - and unless you're really obvious in how you go about it, you'll probably evade most attacks. Attacking is just the opposite - Hoover stuff up and pound away. Eventually people die.

Levels are often quite expansive and multi-faceted, but you're moving and twitching so fast you still bash things or fall off. And the game is largely personality-free. The story mode's central idea - that some guy is offering to grant someone's wish if they can blow everybody else up - is quite interesting, but the characters are not. Mainly because you're just looking at the outside of a car all the time. Look at Mario Kart, again - I have friends who won't play as Peach because she's a cheating bitch with an annoying voice. Catchphrases and power-up predilections are well known. I've played Twisted Metal: Head-On for hours and hours, and I couldn't tell you anything distinctive about the skeleton-man-on-a-bike that I don't cover in his description. I haven't even bothered to remember his name. That wasn't conscious - I just didn't care.

Zooming past people without denting their health much, then losing them completely, is far more representative.

Being able to go online and fight people is obviously a boon, and a darn sight more use than most of the multiplayer options we see in PSP games, but for all the reasons above I simply didn't enjoy doing so.

What I'd like to convey here is this: good vehicular action games are possible. Even the PSP can do it. Fired Up!, largely ignored by all and sundry, is so moreish that you'll finish it before it's really started. Again, it gets the health system wrong, and it's hardly perfect in a lot of other senses, but its objective-based and collectable-driven approach is far more rewarding, its range of weapons and skills far more empowering, and there's a far greater sense of control.

I'm keenly aware that Twisted Metal has "an audience", and I'm not belittling the people who like it. Heck, I remember a time I found it enjoyable belting around loosing off missiles. But it's such a disposable form of entertainment.

I mean, under prolonged examination, you might extract traces of depth and ingenuity from Twisted Metal's combat and moves systems. But realistically you shouldn't have to transport the whole thing to Siberia and buzz around on ice skates to conduct the interrogation, should you? Particularly when you already know better answers.

5 / 10

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