Pulled from the rubble of the Dreamcast collapse, Headhunter puts you in the role of Jack Wade, Headhunter. Imagine a place where gang warfare and crime have led to repression under a near-fascist regime. A place where those who oppose the law are not only used as guinea pigs for an experimental mind-chip project, but subject to gutting for organ donation as well. The organs are transplanted into the bodies of law-abiding citizens in need. Sounds like a good idea huh? To combat crime, an elite force of privatized law enforcers dubbed the Anti Crime Network has begun policing the streets. Acting like bounty hunters of old, these ACN "Headhunters" track down vermin on the city's "Most Wanted" list and are then rewarded for their efforts. Things take a turn for the worse when the millionaire founder of the ACN is found murdered at his desk, and its up to you, Jack Slate, to figure out what went wrong. There's only one problem though - you have no idea what happened, or worse yet, who you are... You have awoken for what seems to be an experiment gone badly with no recollection of any events in your life, and now it seems that you have become a target as well. Your Headhunter licenses have been revoked and you'll have to reacquire all of them in order to start putting the pieces of your life back together. Equipment, access levels, case information, you guessed it - gone. All you have to aid you initially are a wristwatch communicator and a few people who say that they are your allies. And with that, the adventure begins...
The graphics in Headhunter are far from spectacular, but they really don't seem to do the game any injustice. The game is actually quite good looking. The game's frame rate is pretty steady with no noticeable skips or slowdowns, and the characters movements are rather fluid. Cinema scenes in Headhunter occur in game as well as in pre-rendered movies. Replicating a futuristic CNN set, the pre-rendered movies come in the form of a "live" ABCBS television news broadcast are a great comedic break from the action. Rather than watching a door open during load times between areas, you are greeted by a photo advertisement for a future product or organization. The ads are corny lines like, "The accident took my legs... But Biotech gave them back!" with a picture of a guy driving a car with a big smile on his face that just makes you want to laugh. Environments are filled with objects like crates, barrels, motorcycles, and items are easily detected. Each inventory item or actionable item is surrounded by a group of red triangles when approached, so if you're stuck, it's a good idea to look for those arrows as you have probably missed an item or switch somewhere. The graphics in Headhunter seem to suffer from average texture use and colors that appear to be quite bland. The game also houses noticeable pixel "jaggies", and could use some anti-aliasing to clear that up. Repetitive enemy character designs make the game a bit drab as well, and you'll find yourself wondering if you are ever going to destroy the factory that is making all of these clones come after you... Overall, the graphical nuances in Headhunter are able to go by relatively unnoticed, so they don't really take too much away from the game.
Metal Gear and Resident Evil fans will feel right at home with the gameplay of Headhunter. The general action of the game is extremely similar to MGS with the addition of humor. Also, you'll notice that the enemy detection system has been cloned right out of MGS, save the "?" and "!" bubbles that appear over enemy's heads in that series. Enemies appear as green triangles on the map pointing in the direction that they are facing. Should an enemy detect your presence without visual confirmation, the triangle turns yellow and they go into "warning mode". Once you are spotted, the map turns red and the enemy locators disappear, leaving you to your own stealth and combat skills to end the alert. Jack Slate also moves in stealth ala Solid Snake, rolling behind crates, quietly breaking necks, and throwing bullets to distract enemies. In fact, you'll have to master all of these moves in the VR Training missions in order to advance in the game. With the exception of those that involve racing your motorcycle, the VR missions are played in the same blue wire-frame environments with green wire-frame enemy characters to dispose of. While playing Headhunter, you'll also find that acquiring items is very similar to the system in the Resident Evil series. When you pick up an item, a picture of it is displayed before you, then that item is sent to your inventory, providing you don't have too many already. As in the RE series, inventory can also be manipulated, or inspected, to solve puzzles. Puzzles in Headhunter are moderately challenging, and a lot of fun. Some require a keen memory, some require punching in codes against a clock, and some require driving skills. There is even one mission where you start out racing to different locations on your bike, disposing of enemies, and then diffusing a bomb and moving onto the next location against a timer that leads to destruction if you fail. Missions like this are what really make you excited about playing this game.
Speaking of bikes, the motorcycle is not a huge part of the game, but weaving through traffic at high speeds can get pretty intense and it does a great job of adding to the fun of playing Headhunter. Yes, you do get to scream around the city on a bullet of a motorcycle, but you're really limited as to what you can do. Because of the linear setup of Headhunter, you'll rarely find more than one destination option present at a given time, and there really isn't much to do on the bike but go to those destinations if you have already qualified for your next license upgrade. To obtain a license upgrade you must head to the Law Enforcement Intelligence and License Approval (LEILA) unit and complete a series of VR missions, but in order to access LEILA you must first earn enough points by speeding around the city on your bike, avoiding accidents that take away from your point total. Headhunter licenses come in the form of C, B, A, and AAA, and they are used to access classified documents and to advance through gates to comb other parts of the city for information.
Controls in Headhunter are pretty solid with maybe the one flaw being a lack of camera control. You control Jack Slate with the left analog stick, but the camera does a poor job of following him from behind, causing you to have to constantly draw your weapon in order to center the camera. It would've been nice to have the right analog used to manipulate the camera to prevent from getting attacked or discovered because you didn't see your enemy walking next to you. Other than that, the controls in Headhunter are pretty responsive and follow the basic MGS format. Jack Slate can run, roll, duck/crouch, draw and fire a weapon, push and pull objects and access a "quick inventory" to switch between weapons and items. You are also able to have Jack press up against a wall and peep around the corner to see what enemies may be lying in the next corridor. While pressing against a wall, Jack can also pop out and shoot enemies, switching targets or aiming manually with the use of another button.
The VR missions are the main contribution to replay value in Headhunter, but they are nothing that really provokes you to want to play them over and over. Sure, playing the missions to set all the records might be attractive, but that can be accomplished throughout the course of the game, so there isn't much to draw you back into playing them all over again. The only other real contribution to replay value is the mysterious locker in the LEILA office with the asterisk printed on it. The only way to access this locker is by completing certain objectives throughout the game, so you'll have to be on your toes.
Sound itself plays a supporting role in Headhunter, and most fans of the action genre will find it suits the game well. Sound effects like the explosion of barrels and gunshots from different weapons are crisp and the voice acting is right on as well. Music does a great job of setting the tone of the game, and changes for every change in the game environment. The main score is one of those Rambo-like, "one man against all odds mission" musical scores. When you are detected and gunshots are exchanged, the music will get frantic. During cutscenes it gives off an exciting vibe that coincides with Jack Slate speeding away on his motorcycle or escaping an explosion.
Fans awaiting the next installment in the Metal Gear series will find that Headhunter does a great job of filling the void. Although linear in storyline, Headhunter manages to deliver a rather enjoyable experience. There are plenty of plot twists and dry humor throughout the game to keep you interested and entertained, and racing the motorcycle, although limited, adds to the fun of playing as well. Puzzles are original and clever, and the game stays away from having you perform mundane tasks that sometimes seem to plague action/adventure titles. The controls are solid, graphics aren't offensive, and the music blends in well. Despite its few flaws, Headhunter makes a great addition to any game library and is sure to be enjoyed be fans of the genre.
6/20/2002 Steve Berry