Hello all! Last week’s game was a kind of superhero “Diablo-like.” It was pretty rad.
This week, my odd fascination with one-shot B-Games continues with a look at the mostly good, if a bit clunky, Headhunter.
Beard! Sunglasses! Acclaim! Essentially an early 2000’s cliche collection.
Headhunter was an action title released first for the Sega Dreamcast in 2001 in Europe, before making it here in America for the PS2 in 2002. You play as Jack Wade, a gruff-voiced, beard-and-sunglasses dude with amnesia.
So...yeah. The plot starts off as a collection of tropes, but it eventually grows into something kind of decent, involving governemnt conspiracies, underwater prisons where inmates fight to the death so their organs can be harvested for the rich, and poisoned energy drinks. Also, you get a Casio watch that can be used to video chat! Which is only slightly cooler than my classic Casio calculator watch. It’s all a fairly okay plot; it’s mainly inspired by action movies, particularly sci-fi action flicks of the 80’s and 90’s. So it might keep you invested in the game all the way till the end.
I say “might” because, were you to pick up Headhunter today, you’d find a game that doesn’t quite play as well as you remember. Headhunter is a pretty standard game by today’s standards, but back in the day, it was pretty cool. It’s a third person shooter with a cover system, something you didn’t see every day in 2002, but you see it all the time now. I mean, third person shooters without cover systems are kind of odd nowadays.
Suddenly, Jack’s beard encounters a new challenger.
Traditional guns don’t exist in Headhunter’s world. Instead, you fire bullets that incapacitate enemies with electric shocks. This means you have to shoot enemies a few times, using lock-on, which gets a bit dull after a while. Headhunter otherwise does nothing to stand out, especially today; it’s stiff and formulaic, even straight-up ripping off Metal Gear Solid’s radar.
There’s also motorcycle segments; you ride a motorcycle to get to various missions and the LEILA center where you engage in VR missions (see Metal Gear Solid, again) to upgrade your license, which gives you access to better weapons. I remember when I played this game for the first time, back in high school, and thinking how cool it was to drive the motorcycle around.
Nowadays, I see these sequences as tedious; you don’t really do anything on the bike besides drive to your destination. Then you get off and play through the aforementioned stale shooting action.
So why bother revisiting Headhunter? I dunno; I just pick these at random. But in spite of the painfully generic nature of the game, I still like it. For one, the music is so freaking good:
It’s kinda funny, and a bit sad, that this epic piece of music is trapped in this clunky game, BUT! Music can help elevate whatever you’re doing in a game to near-epic proportions. That song plays when you’re riding your motorcycle, and when it’s playing, you forget about the clunky cycle riding and “meh” gameplay. Nah, instead, you feel every bit the badass you’re supposed to be. At least for a little while. It’s one of my favorite songs from the PS2 era; sad that it’s kind of overlooked. And it contributes to the whole movie feel of the game; you can just imagine that song blaring in the theater as the end credits start.
The other thing I like about Headhunter is its sense of place. It may not be the best story out there; it’s generic and tropey, but Headhunter fully commits to that story. There’s a ton of world-building, and you’re never asked to guess at what’s happening. The live-action news reports are a very cool touch as well; they’re served with a hunk of cheese and ham, and they remind me of similar news segments from movies like RoboCop, with their comical sincerity.
It’s a mediocre, clunky, generic game, but Headhunter has heart. You can tell as you play; it’s when you can see the difference between “cash-in” and “genuine developer effort.” Headhunter falls in the latter category, even as it’s now mostly a relic of gaming’s past. I mean, I love it, so whatever.
Next week-Lots of anime-to-game conversions are lacking. I have one in my collection that stands head and shoulders above the rest. “Plug In-Lock On”—the quote on the back of the box. Happy Guessing!
Game of the Week is a weekly series on TAY, about revisiting random games and seeing how they stack up. Have they withstood the test of time, or should they be dismissed to a box in the basement? You can contact the writer, Brian White, via Twitter @TheWhyOfBri or through email at WingZero351ATgmailDOTcom.