Twisted Metal: Head-On Update

Incog Inc.'s baby is back and badder than ever on the PSP.

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SAN FRANCISCO--We got some serious quality time with Twisted Metal: Head-On, the upcoming Incog Inc.-developed Twisted Metal game that brings wicked car combat to the PSP. The last time we got to try our hand at Twisted Metal was at Sony's CES press event, although there was only a limited version of the game on hand. However, at this evening's event, we were able to try out a near-final version, which let us get a peek at all the different modes as well as the impressive cinematics that will tell the game's twisted story.

You'll find two main game modes in Twisted Metal: Head-On: single and multiplayer, each with its own unique variations. The single-player game will feature three variants: story, challenge, and endurance. Story is just what you'd expect--a narrative-driven series of challenges that you'll see in order to learn of each character's unique ending. Challenge and endurance are both performance-oriented challenges that will require you to reach or beat preset scores. You'll find 10 initially selectable characters to use in the game when you first fire it up. The roster of characters includes some familiar faces, some of which haven't been seen in the series in years. You'll find perennial Twisted Metal poster boy Sweet Tooth, along with Roadkill, Shadow, Mr. Grimm, Thumper, Spectre, Twister, Outlaw, Grasshopper, and Warthog all on hand for some car-crunching action. The eclectic roster's inclusion of classic characters from the series is due to the game's chronological position in the TM universe's timeline. The folks at Incog view the game as the spiritual successor to Twisted Metal 2, arguably the most beloved entry in the series for many fans, and they have approached it as their chance to follow up on those early games.

The game's cast of characters will also figure into the multiplayer modes, which will support up to eight players in Wi-Fi matches. The game will not only support the traditional PSP ad hoc multiplayer modes, but also the PSP's infrastructure mode, which will let you play over the Internet. While we weren't able to try that mode out, we did try the local multiplayer modes, which purred along just fine. The performance was smooth and the game was extremely playable. The control was solid in its default mode, but it can also be tweaked to your liking with several different presets.

The visuals in the game have been polished up quite a bit since we last saw it, and they have been improved in both quality and performance. The car models and environments have been tightened up and are complemented by some impressive special effects, reflecting the veritable arsenal that will be flung around during the course of a match. We were also pleased to see a fair amount of the environment deform as we crashed into it or mistimed our shots. The game's cinematics are a nicely done treat that mix prerendered segments with real-time sequences to tell its story. The opening cinematic is a slick cel-shaded segment that sets up the action you'll be engaging in soon enough. When you start a new game you'll also get a chance to appreciate the polished look of the real-time engine as it renders your antagonist and those around him in slick detail that's enhanced by colored lighting. The only problematic issue with the version of the game we had was its twitchy camera, which was slow to follow the action at times.

As far as the audio goes, you'll hear a comfortable assortment of sounds that capture the flavor of classic Twisted Metal. This is to say that you can expect to hear all kinds of explosions and weapon fire, and it's extremely satisfying. Along the same lines, expect to hear snappy chatter out of the racers at key moments.

Based on what we played, Twisted Metal: Head-On may well be the best follow-up to Twisted Metal 2 to hit this late in the game. There's a good assortment of modes, control is accessible, and the Internet mode is pretty slick. We're always happy to see a Twisted Metal game, and this one is looking like a worthy entry in the series. Twisted Metal: Head-On is slated to ship this March alongside the PSP. Look for more on the game in the coming weeks.

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