Title  : Headhunter
Platforms  : Sony PlayStation 2
Publisher  : Acclaim
ESRB Rating  : Mature
Game Rating  : 7.8
Review by  : Ken Gagne

Jack Wade, a confident if scruffy hunk of meat with partial amnesia, is a Headhunter: an elite bounty hunter in a futuristic world of privatized law enforcement. Recovering from whatever placed him in a coma, Jack must reclaim his Headhunter title and his own memories while fending off threats from his unknown past. 

Headhunter, a PlayStation 2 game developed by Sega and published by Acclaim, is said to be similar to Metal Gear Solid, but is more akin to WinBack (which is itself similar to MGS) and Resident Evil. This amalgam contains elements both satisfying and not, resulting in a game only slightly above average. 

Players control Jack as he progresses through the Headhunter ladder and storyline. Each bounty he captures brings him not only closer to the crime syndicate boss, but also more information about Jack's past. 

Before proving himself in the field, Jack must earn Headhunter licenses. The right to take these tests is earned by accruing skill points, which happens simply by driving Jack's motorcycle at high speeds without collisions. Apparently, Headhunter considers finding an empty stretch of road and roaring up and down it a few times a definition of "skill". Recovering from a collision without first coming to a complete halt is an exercise in futility, as Wade's controls become so whacked that attempting to peel out will result in further collisions and loss of skill points. 

Things get better when Jack isn't zipping between locales, as his non-motorcycle controls don't suffer from many headaches. Jack runs at a decent clip, unless he's holding a gun. He can switch weapons, crouch, and roll with ease. The sneaky maneuver of standing against a wall and swinging around a corner to surprise a goon doesn't work so well in this game, though — due in part to the total lack of camera control. As Jack maneuvers through the tight corridors of sleazy warehouses and abandoned gas stations, the camera doesn't maintain a lock on his back, making it difficult to look over his shoulder at the thugs he faces. 

If the camera doesn't kill him, the bosses surely will in a series of tough but fair encounters. In this sense, Headhunter is indeed like Metal Gear Solid. Jack's bounties pack impressive firepower — a refreshing contrast to the pushovers they keep for bodyguards — but follow attack patterns that can be cracked, with practice and patience. 

The levels are laden with puzzles to solve, which involve pushing crates, repairing wires, collecting keys, and the like. The progression from one item to the next in order to open the final door resembles Resident Evil. The necessary items and doors can often blend in with the environment, leaving players to wander around until they stumble upon something necessary. 

Between levels, players are treated to a mock news broadcast, providing not only a laugh but better insight into Jack's world as well. These live-action sequences complement the fine voice acting that's part of the in-game cinematics. 

Headhunter possesses a skewed sense of humor, but also skewed gameplay mechanics and challenge. It's best not to think of Headhunter as a Metal Gear contender, but as an offbeat and violent adventure as society's lackey who discovers his duty to overthrow Big Brother.


This article is copyright (c) 2002, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 10-Jun-02