|System: PSP||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Six by Nine / Bugbear||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Empire Interactive||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: March 11, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-4||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Teen||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Cole Smith
Flat Out: Head On is a decent little racer, as far as handheld racing games go. It's not at the head of the racing pack, but you can't go wrong spending a few hours with it, which is why I would recommend it as a rental. It lacks depth. It's not that it's not a fun game, but the challenges are presented in short bursts, almost in a mini-game format. The racing can be unintentionally difficult thanks to the cheating A.I. and loose control system. As an arcade racer, Head On mixes up the gameplay to keep us from getting bored with it too quickly.
The concept of Head On is one of "interaction" with your surroundings. That means that crashing is all part of the game. The environments are touted as destructible, but that can also mean your car will be destructed as some of the scenery refuses to budge. Considering that the controls are somewhat loose, a lot of these interactions with the environment are unintentional. Fortunately you can get your vehicle back up and running instantly with the push of the triangle button, but you can lose precious time spinning around while anxiously waiting to come to a complete stop.
A certain feel has to be developed to control the vehicles in this game. While total control, or at least the feeling that you're in total control, is not entirely possible, you can make the best of it by using the nub which is more responsive than the directional buttons. It's very easy to spin out of control, which can be attributed to the various onscreen obstacles and devious A.I., but much of the fault lies with the physics/mechanics of the game. The inertia shifts quickly and un-naturally, sometimes with even the slightest turn, pushing the car in the direction of the turn as though it were weightless.
Comparisons to Burnout are not without justification, but Head On is more closely tied to its FlatOut franchise, a little too closely tied for my liking. It's the same old FlatOut racing premise. It borrows elements from Burnout, and to some extent feels like an inferior knockoff. Anyone prepared to dispute that statement should just check out the ugly background graphics. Nuff said?
To its credit, Head On isn't just about racing. You can still vie for the gold cup in the FlatOut, a tournament-style racing mode, but in the Carnage mode, you don't always have to be first at the finish line. Various objectives are issued for the races that will add some spice to the gameplay, such as destroying as much as the environment as possible or taking out as many opponents as you can. Inflicting damage and causing crashes will add some juice to your boost meter. The vehicles lack an overall general sense of speed, so you'll come to rely on the boost meter to help you make tracks. But that increased speed comes at the expense of anticipating obstacles on the track. As I mentioned, a simple turn can have you careening out of control should you twitch to avoid hitting an object on the track. It's a crapshoot, since hitting the object can also cause you to lose control, but at other times it will have no effect on your car at all. The unpredictable, arbitrary gameplay mechanics makes this just about as much a game of chance as it does a game of skill. While I do admire the fact that the physics aren't totally forgiving, that perfect balance between sim and arcade is in a continuous state of flux.