Version Tested: PS4
Available On: PS4, PC
Developer: Double Fine
Publisher: Adult Swim Games
Official Site: Headlander
Release Date: July 26, 2016
Where to buy: PSN, Steam
Headlander is from the crazy and innovative minds that brought us games like Broken Age, Psychonauts, Massive Chalice and the classic Grim Fandango. When picking up a game from Double Fine, you know you are in for a treat in the story, gameplay, and great voice acting performances. While it won’t appeal to everyone, Headlander is definitely one of Double Fine’s best games in a long time.
Headlander takes place in an alternate future where robots have taken over. Your character wakes up to find that they are without a body. You have no memory of who you are or why you are where you are. The only thing guiding you is the voice of one of the last remaining humans: Earl. It turns out that an AI named Methuselah is running the galaxy and put the minds of humans into robots. While it might sound crazy on paper, the story is fun, engaging and is a total nostalgia trip. It just doesn’t keep you interested till the very end.
Headlander is a fun story, but I found myself at times getting bored. Maybe it was the length or because there was a lot of backtracking. Of course, backtracking is to be expected. Double Fine did take inspiration from classics such as Metroid and Castlevania. That inspiration really shows in the level design and the side-scrolling gameplay.
When it comes to gameplay, Headlander doesn’t disappoint. While playing a floating head in space might seem outlandish; you shouldn’t expect anything less from Double Fine. As a floating head, you have a boost and other abilities you get as your progress. One of my favorite things about the game was popping heads off of robots. Even though you are a floating head, you can still have a body, a robot body. The robot bodies you just popped heads off of, you can take over. This gives some variety to the simple gameplay.
As much as it is fun to just float around popping heads off of robots, using robot bodies does have its benefits. Taking over bodies brings a shooting mechanic to the game. At times, though, I found the shooting a bit clunky. It wasn’t bad per say, it just was that despite aiming in a certain direction, I found my laser blast went somewhere else. That was frustrating, to say the least, especially during chaotic arenas (more on that in a moment). Even more so when the lasers can ricochet off the walls and ceiling.
Besides the shooting mechanic, the damage players receive is also a bit annoying. I’m all for a challenge, but when things are a bit inconsistent it bothers me. In one instance, I was floating in a level using the suction to take off a robots head. It just was that the suction didn’t stick and the robot killed me with one hit. Mind you, I had a fully upgraded health and robots aren’t supposed to attack when you are suctioning their heads off. This doesn’t hurt the overall gameplay, which was varied and fun.
Speaking of varied, the level design was one of the best things about Headlander. Each level came with different challenges, whether it be having to bounce lasers off walls to take down a laser grid or using teleporters to get to the next section. Double Fine even used their wonderful level design for large arenas that were boss fights. One such fight, like the first boss, was a giant chess deathmatch. Your goal? To upload data and eventually make your way to the queen. It was one of the levels that stood out the most. Add the awesome 70s disco-like beat in the soundtrack and Headlander becomes seriously addictive.
The level design being great comes as a double-edged sword if you will. There was a lot of backtracking, as mentioned earlier. This might seem like a great idea for some levels such as the chess match, but others like one involving elevators early on the game make backtracking tiresome.
Another downside was the voice acting. Some might enjoy it, but others might be annoyed hearing the same voice repeat some of the same dialogue over and over again. Particularly in chaotic areas where a checkpoint restart is a sure thing for most. Otherwise, the voice acting is pretty solid.
For those wondering about graphics. Don’t worry. From what I could gather in my playthrough, I didn’t come across any frame rate issues. It was a nice touch on Double Fine’s part to add the film grain to fit with the tone of the game.
Even with the backtracking and minor repetitiveness, Headlander is a fun game. I’m just curious to see what crazy fun game Double Fine has up their sleeves next.
- The tone: sound, graphics
- Fun level design
- Popping robot heads off
- Minor repetitiveness towards end
- Story doesn't keep invested all the way through