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Platform

Playstation 2

 

Genre

Action

 

Publisher

Acclaim

 

Developer

Amuze

 

ESRB

M (Mature)

 

Released

Q2 2002

 

- Nice stealth elements

- Smooth combat controls

- Careful room designs

 

 

- Atrocious driving controls

- Bad, cliché ridden story line

- Shabby soundtrack

- Frustrating menu system

 

 

Review: Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (Playstation 2)

Review: Splinter Cell (XBox)

 

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Headhunter

Score: 6.5 / 10

 

Headhunter is one of those games that you feel like you’ve played before even when you admire its innovation. A game that feels so new and old at the same time by mixing its own spirit with so many things you’ve seen before. The risk of this concoction is slipping too far into the latter category. While Headhunter does well to borrow from games like Metal Gear Solid 2 (MGS2) and the sort of comically futuristic world found in movies like Robocop, it falls short with it’s blandly typical story and constant cliché rip-offs that cheapen the experience.

 

headhunter-1.jpg (67334 bytes)          headhunter-2.jpg (61202 bytes)

 

You’re Jack Wade, the bounty hunter personification of the unconstrained law enforcement type who plays by his own rules. Driving the stake even deeper into the beaten dead horse of cliché, Wade has just awakened from a coma and is on a mission to rediscover his identity.  Jack’s the bearded, silent, shades wearing type who speaks in puzzles of sly remarks and aphorisms in a pretentious (and annoying) smoky hero voice. The game is framed by witty commercials and news sequences reporting the corruption and goings-on in this futuristic world where law enforcement is privatized and organs are the hottest commodities. To avoid damaging organs, law enforcers use ENP (Electronic Neural Projectile) weapons that incapacitate instead of maim.

 

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The story, cut-scenes and voice acting ultimately benefit from the wit of the setting but succumb to the snare of crappy clichés and illogical happenings (i.e. Jack infiltrates a terrorist seized mall to pull a friend from a 6 foot deep elevator shaft then leaves her to find her own way out).  Character interactions are not believable or entertaining – and never take advantage of the futuristic backdrop.

 

Despite the fact that Jack walks like he just finished up a lengthy and intrusive 

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visit with his proctologist, the character animation is smooth and clean, especially during cut scenes. The scenery of the game is unevenly detailed though – most rooms inside of buildings are meticulously detailed down to bullet holes, bloody walls and scattered papers but outside environments are completely 32-bit. More importantly, most of the backgrounds, even indoors, are boring and slightly repetitious. It’s not often that you are impressed by the visuals as much as the attention to detail. The overall solidity of the environments varies greatly (especially indoors/outdoors) but the futuristic atmosphere is seemingly lost in the dull level design.

 

By the time you start to get sick of the “loading” screens between rooms and levels, you’ll get the hang of the controls. The motorbike controls are some of the sloppiest vehicle controls this side of Creation but while on foot, it’s easy to get Jack to hide, strafe, crouch, aim, shoot and use all of his stealth abilities. This is all helped along by in-game training sequences that are required for Jack to upgrade his bounty hunter license. For each upgrade, you have to complete a series of (frustrating) virtual reality missions that teach you skills for your upcoming assignments.

 

headhunter-3.jpg (52927 bytes)          headhunter-4.jpg (48879 bytes)

 

The in-game interface is yet another story. Efficient as it is, it has so many windows and sections that it becomes overwhelming and feels disorganized half of the time. It takes much longer to grasp than the active controls. There is a second-rate “quick select” button that is helpful but again, slightly more complex than it need be.

 

The opening scene allows you to understand the basic combat game play and is a good preview of what’s to come. Yet, during the missions, you find yourself spending way too much time conducting tedious, Resident Evil style item searches and plaque/key/crest/doohickey puzzles that become annoying and absurd (why are there grenades and proximity mines on the break room table at the mall?). Stealth is fun but backtracking is exasperating. Boss battles are also a little unrealistic with the sort of redundant patterns that should have been abandoned back in the 8-bit era. The pacing is fluent even though you sometimes get hitched on confusing puzzle designs. Overall, it’s sometimes a task to stay interested but rewarding with large levels and enjoyable combat.

 

The music unfortunately does little to help the game. Sound effects like gunshots and thunder are adequate but the soundtrack is too dramatic in the wrong places. It comes off as a weird mixing of hip-hop, techno and (believe it or not) classical that would have been better left out.

 

Ultimately I wish some more work would have been done is certain areas. Shortcomings in the game play and the story never make up for each other. I’d have to disagree with many of the comparisons to MGS2. It was obviously influenced to some degree by it but along with many other things as well. When you throw so many influences into the same pot you usually either pay homage to them all or serve up a noxious stew floating with bits and pieces. This isn’t a noxious stew, but it has lots of bits. If you don’t mind picking through it you’re bound to find some tasty morsels.

 

- Doug Flowe

(July 28, 2002)

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