Headlander from Double Fine Productions (founded by Tim Schafer designer of Psychonauts, Grim Fandango and many more) and published by Adult Swim, is a 2.5D action/adventure platformer available now on PS4 and Steam. Join me, DrJK, as I take a closer look.
How about a 2.5D (3d models but a 2d perspective), action adventure platformer, where you control a rocket propelled disembodied head through a space station full of laser wielding robots (containing the transferred minds of long dead humans) in an attempt to overthrow a tyrannical AI called ‘Methuselah’? Sound good? Well it is.
Pilot a rocket powered disembodied head
In Headlander, you take control of a cryogenically frozen head, which has awoken in a futuristic dystopia. All of human kind has been uploaded into a network of robots and their biological bodies cast aside. So, not having any idea of who you are or what you are doing, you set off to make sense of all of this.
You move about using some sort of rocket propelled space helmet. Your helmet, for some reason, is also fitted with an industrial strength vacuum cleaner. Your first priority is to get a new body, which you do by commandeering one from a nearby robot. This is achieved by either shooting off their head or sucking it off using your vacuum. Don’t worry their ‘soul’ is simply uploaded into a new robot somewhere else. You can then land your head (oh, that’s why it’s called Headlander) on the vacant body and take possession. Shortly after you encounter the mysterious Earl who prompts you to rebel against the current government and uncover the true conspiracy set out by the evil Methusala . . . woooooh! To be fair, all the robots seem to be having a great time and don’t seem particularly oppressed . . . oh well, we’ll liberate them anyway (or kill them trying).
Slick 70’s sci-fi style 2.5D graphics
The graphics for the game are pretty slick and take the style of a 70’s sci-fi show. Anyone familiar with the other titles from Double Fine will see similarities in the style of the characters (which is no bad thing). The mix of 2d gameplay with 3d environments works really well and leads to some very well executed moments, which look and feel really nice. The cut-scenes are humorous and really help to push the narrative along without being tiresome. All this is at the top end of what you would expect from an indie developer, especially at the current price point.
The controls are intuitive and easy to master. Flying your little head around is great fun and the movement of the robot characters is very fluid and sleek. The animation of the characters is slick and very well suited to the style of the game. The particle systems for the lasers and explosions work well and the sound is great too. Combined with the ‘tongue-in-cheek’ humor, all these things add up to create a very well thought out and enjoyable environment in which to explore.
Smooth intuitive controls
The gameplay starts simplistically enough; knock a robots head off and use its body to fight other robots that inhibit your progress. It then subtley becomes more complex as you progress. For example, you will have to find robots with certain security clearance to pass through certain areas. You will then need to equip your rocket head with shields and other power ups to progress further. These incremental steps in complexity are so small that they are barely noticeable. At some point you will find yourself doing all kinds of clever stuff without even realising it. For me, the learning curve for this game is spot on. I never felt a task was either too easy or too difficult.
The enemies are varied and there are lots of different types of puzzles to keep you scratching your head. None of these pose too much of a challenge and you should progress steadily through out the game without hitting a ‘skill wall’ or a seemingly unsolvable puzzle. The balance of difficulty, at least for me, is just about right. It’s worth mentioning that at the end of the game you can go back to just explore the world and finish off all those little side quests. In a game that has some very picturesque environments, this is a pretty good feature.
Ok, we’ve said what’s good about Headlander, so what’s bad about it? Well, not much. Gamers who are familiar with the developers previous work may be expecting a bit more humor and possibly a more character driven narrative?
Headlander; at this price its difficult to fault
You know what? At this price point, its difficult to find a better action adventure platformer, which combines great graphics, gameplay and a novel story with a reto-style sci-fi look and classic 2D shooting action. I really enjoyed Headlander, good work!