Headhunter – “Metal Gear Arcade”
SEGA is probably one of the best and most influential software designer companies. However, its genesis lies in arcade-style videogames, and because of that, it’s a company that never made a successful transition into modern day videogames; yet nobody can say they didn’t try. When Sega was supporting the Dreamcast (which is probably the most underrated console ever), it tried to develop and publish modern games like “Headhunter” (developed by Amuze), but failed in the end to convince the blind Sony fans.
Much has been said about “Headhunter” being a copy of the famous “Metal Gear Solid”; though the comparison is inevitable, due to the Hollywood-like plot and stealth mechanics of both games, “Headhunter” is a sufficiently different game to be held on his own merits. Actually, if there is a game that resembles “Headhunter” is “Syphon Filter”, and not “Metal Gear Solid”. Why? Because “Metal Gear” has always been a more cerebral game, where every step requires careful consideration. Now, “Headhunter” is more of a shooter with stealth elements, than an actual stealth game, which, when you think about it makes perfect sense, considering Sega’s roots; it’s like an arcade take on “Metal Gear”.
Controls are simple and clean, allowing the player to easily choose between silently killing each of his enemies one by one without alerting them, or to simply blast his way through a level. Everything works pretty well, except for the stealth kill that is pulled off by pressing the shoot button… which means shooting a stray bullet instead of choking your adversary. Apart from that, the game handles action pretty well, with a straightforward level design keeping things direct. To avoid monotony, there are a few action-adventure elements, like “Resident Evil” style puzzles, and even a bike riding mini-game, that allows the player to travel to different missions.
“Headhunter’s” plot, while not exactly breaking the mold, leaves little to desire. In the near future, American society is overwhelmed with crime and corruption (which is kind of like the present); a business man named Christopher Stern designs a solution: create a network of headhunters that track down and kill wanted criminals, offering bounties for their organs. You play as Jack Wade, Stern’s protégé, who is the number one headhunter that for some unknown reason becomes amnesiac after the death of his protector. He then embarks, with the help of Stern’s sexy daughter, on a journey to unveil a plot to take over the world (how original), which unfortunately, means you’ll predict most of the twists, way before they happen. There are two reasons that make the somewhat silly script stick. First, voice acting: the actors that play the parts are right on, even if Jack Wade sounds too much like a Clint Eastwood rip-off, which adds a much needed degree of credibility to the fairly obtuse narrative. And two, the tone: instead of going for the ol’ classic Hollywood realism that plagues so many videogames, “Headhunter” doesn’t take itself too seriously, adding intelligent humor whenever possible. Moreover, the script is filled with satire and irony, ending up creating this aura of criticism to certain aspects of USA’s politics and its surrounding media circus. It’s not by any means a shallow plot, and the fact that it is reminiscent of Paul Verhoeven’s classic movies, like “Robocop” and “Starship Troopers” only helps.
The surrounding package is not very exciting: there’s little if any interesting work on the art department (everything looks realistic and “normal”), and sound design is okay; on the upside, there are some james bondesque orchestrations that are really catchy. It’s not a remarkable game in any way, but it manages to achieve what can be expected of a sega classic: well executed straightforward entertainment.