Aug
18
2016
0

Headlander Review (PS4)

Developer: Double Fine Productions

Publisher: Adult Swim Games

Release Date: July 26th, 2016

Platforms:  PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Microsoft Windows

 

Headlander had the making of another Double Fine classic. Known for their weird, but charming stories and characters, the concept behind Headlander sounds like something only Double Fine could make work. You play as a floating head with the ability to suck off the heads of robotic bodies and control them in a 70’s era-style futuristic setting. It’s very strange, but for the most part Double Fine makes its unique setting work. But while the setting works, there’s a lot in this game that does not.

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The first thing Headlander fails at is being a metroidvania. It looks like one, and it acts like one, but it’s missing what makes people like metroidvanias in the first place. The sense of exploration, hidden rooms, and backtracking to open new areas is just not here. The game’s missions will lead you through the entire map, not leaving many “off the beaten path” routes to take. There are some small tunnels where you can find powerups, but they’re easy enough to find. The game also has locked doors which require specific body types to open, but the body type required is usually presented shortly after you find a door. The linear way the map is designed and the way game leads you through it lacks the cohesive and connected feelings other metroidvania games are known for.

The game’s combat on a PS4 is terribly implemented. The main weapon of choice, your body’s ricocheting laser, is a pain to aim with on a controller. Since you will need to get headshots in the game, both to quickly take out enemies before they damage you and to preserve their bodies for use, the game requires precise aiming. The body you’re in has very little health and most encounters have many bullets ricocheting everywhere; it’s a hectic mess and the slow aiming with an analog stick makes it even worse. The laser combat seems designed for aiming with a mouse, with very little changes made to account for the PS4 controller.

After the first hour or so of the game, I completely started ignoring the laser combat system. Opting instead to just float around in my head form and pop off the heads of the enemies. After I unlocked more abilities, I switched to using the melee roll combat almost exclusively. The worst part about all this is that instead of your new abilities making the combat better and easier to manage, it only gets worse. Later in the game, there are so many enemies on the screen and so many bullets flying around, that it’s almost impossible to line up a single shot. To make things worse, enemies respawn at an almost constant rate: As soon as you kill the enemies behind you so you can take cover and shoot the enemies in front of you, the enemies behind you have already respawned.

After deciding to pretty much ignore the combat, they only thing left for me in the game was the story and the puzzles.

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The puzzles in the game are the only times I can remember getting any enjoyment out of the gameplay. When you’re running around, constantly switching bodies and figuring out what goes where and how to get a certain body type to a certain location, the game actually feels fun. Usually in the puzzle locations, the enemies are fewer and so even the combat improves. Sadly, the game opts to fill itself with its bloated combat instead of these puzzles so they are few and far between.

There are a total of two boss fights in the game, and both are very fun and sadly also very quick and easy. The boss fights are more focused on figuring out puzzles than combat, and these fights are the locations where you can truly appreciate the various mechanics of the game. You’ll be forced to think outside the box and use your various abilities to figure out how to fight the bosses in their different stages. At these points in the game I can see how close we were to getting something great. The mechanics were all there and all they had to do was realize where the real fun in their game was. Not in the mindless and hectic combat, but rather these puzzles and the combat scenarios based on them.

I already said I love the setting of the game, but I wish I could say the same about the story. During the whole narrative you’re waiting for the part where it all clicks and starts making sense, but it never really happens. The story is just as confusing in the end as it is in the beginning. There’s no big revelation, the game just ends. The worst part is all the sequel hinting in the end. I get that they want people to buy the next game if it ever happens, but at least give us a conclusion that makes sense for this game. Although the story never really goes anywhere, it’s filled with lovable characters as you would expect from a Double Fine game. So here’s to Mappy, ROOD, Electrosux, and Earl—great characters that deserved a better game.

Final Verdict:

Headlander is a game filled with flaws, but even with those flaws you can see glimpses of a great game hidden under all the terrible design decisions. But those glimpses are not worth playing through the long eight to nine hours of this game. If you’re itching for a PS4 metroidvania, I recommend the excellent Guacamelee instead.