When I first got wind of the title and had a look at the screenshots, I thought that Headhunter is another Metal Gear Solid clone. Both games feature the need for stealth and strategy to tackle enemies, but that’s where the similarities end. While the MGS series has been acknowledged as the closest you’ll get in playing an interactive movie, Headhunter takes a different approach with its straight-to-the-point storytelling and no-nonsense gameplay.
In Headhunter, you play as Jack Wade, who wakes up in a laboratory, with no memory of what happened to him. You then escape from the lab, and end up in a hospital. There you’re given the gist of the plot - you’re the top headhunter (bounty hunter) in the Anti-Crime Network (ACN), an elite force of privatised law enforcers. The setting is the near future, where huge corporations run the nations, and everything needs money. Organs are the most precious commodity here, as criminals are not executed but processed for transplant.
Headhunter’s gameplay focuses on the right combination of stealth and high-flying action. Much like MGS, in Headhunter you can peak from walls, sneak up on enemies and snap their necks and use the environment to your advantage. Proper planning and good usage of your surroundings is often the key to surviving enemy encounters. For example, you can shoot an oil barrel and the corresponding explosion would burn the enemies near it to a cinder.
You’re also introduced to a good assortment of weapons and items, ranging from your trusted Smith & Easton’s Stimulator Automatic, Scorpion Neurostunner, Missile Launchers and Resonator Grenades. Each weapon has their own use, and you’ll have to use them in order to advance through the levels. An interesting item here is the decoy shells, which you throw to distract guards, much like "the knock" in MGS. If that’s not enough, you also get a Proximity Mine, which comes in handy in later levels.
With all those powerful weapons, you must think that the game would be a walk in the park. Not quite, as you need to upgrade you headhunter license in order to get upgrades on your weaponary and items, administered at LEILA. This is a nice move on the part of developers Amuze, as these test would prepare you for the later levels. Licenses range from C to AAA, each being more challenging than the previous. Tests feature one riding level, where you ride your motorcycle through checkpoints, one stealth level, one action level and the last being the combination of all skills that have been tested.
In Headhunter, you also get your own communicating device called the Casio VM, which is essentially the same as MGS’ codec. The VM functions as a video phone, where you’ll get info from the various characters, and also stores them in a database for easy access.
One major difference between the Headhunter and MGS, is that in Headhunter, you can ride a motorcycle. This may be an afterthought by the developers, but the resulting levels are quite exciting. You bike not only functions to transport you from point A to B, but also to pick up skill points required to take the next license test. But it could have been more enjoyable if they eliminate the loading time between sections of the city, which is extremely annoying in the diffuse the bomb stage.
Boss encounters also just as exciting in Headhunter, with the villians grand entrance, and with their own personalities. If you just adopt the gung-ho approach and go all guns blazing, you’ll take a heavy pummeling and find that the bosses are just impossible. But if you take the time to strategise, and most importantly analyse their patterns and the environment, they can be defeated. This is where the game score high marks in my book.
The core problem with Headhunter, as with most 3D action games is the camera placement. Most of the time, the camera stays behind, and later on more to a more cinematic position in front of you. This might not be a huge deal, but the problem occurs when you enter the Weapon mode to draw your gun. In this mode, the camera switches to an impossible angle, making you want to just throw the controller away. Although you can tap a button to reposition the camera, I can’t help but feel frustrated by Amuze’s approach here.
But that aside, let’s talk about the sound in Headhunter. The voiceovers by the characters are nicely done, feeling more natural and at times just plain funny. Check out the banter between Jack and a boss Ramirez later on and you’ll see what I’m talking about. All cutscenes feature subtitles, which is a nice touch for those who don’t want to miss the details. But what impresses me most is the background music, which is done by Noicebox, features a spirited orchestrated score, which is most suitable in high-action stages like the riding stages and boss encounters. Kudos.
Graphically speaking, the graphics are decent. The indoor areas look much impressive than their outdoor counterpart, with some nice textures and quite detailed objects. The attention to details on the environment is quite good, leaving the levels looking "just right". The characters also look good, with a decent amount of polygons spent on their models. Movements are smooth, but not just quite up to the standards set by Metal Gear Solid.
Headhunter uses news broadcasts by live actors to advance the plot, and in between stages. These broadcasts are hilarious, and very professionally done. Even the loading screen consists of advertisement for organ transplants and a sports drink called X-Must. A very original style by Amuze.
Well, generally the game is fun to play, even though it takes just 10-12 hours to finish. You can play the game again and again, but there’s not change to the plot or enemies at all, aside for an increasing difficulty level. The game also doesn’t take advantage of PS2’s DVD format, signaled by the absence of any Extra features to reward gamers.
Overall Headhunter is a great diversion. If you’re tired of MGS’s more philosophically-inclined dialogue and narration, and just want a smooth non-stop action, then you might want to try this game. Inspite of its obvious technical flaws, Headhunter brings something fresh to the genre.
Former owner and editor in chief of Darkstation.com