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Headhunter (PS2)

Headhunter is an action game that, though original in presentation, borrow its gameplay and look heavily from Syphon Filter, Metal Gear Solid 2, the Nintendo 64 sleeper hit Winback. It's half adventure/puzzle solving and half shooter, but it doesn't manage to balance the two to a degree that's more fun than lifeless.

Headhunter is definitely story driven, and the although the dialogue is lifeless, the plot is actually not that bad. You play as Jack Wade, a sort of professional bounty hunter called a headhunter from the future. A future where government law enforcement programs have been dissolved, and replaced by a private group known as the Anti Crime Network (ACN). Standard weapons have been outlawed from society because of an incredible demand for transplantable organs, and the government's "mandatory organ donation" policy. Headhunters, therefore, carry weapons that cause no physical damage to the body except for brain death, so that a criminal's organs can be send to a hospital for transplant. The story also contains some rather interesting comedic elements. It's especially evident in the over-the-top mock newscasts that are peppered throughout the game, and the organ donation advertisements on the loading screen.

Wade was once the best headhunter in the city, however, you begin the game as he wakes up in a secret laboratory unconsciousness and realized that he could no longer remember anything about himself or his life as a headhunter. Through a set of other characters and situations, Jack begins to learn more about his past. At the same time, he must restart his life as a headhunter by earning a his licenses to practice again.

New missions are given to Wade every time he earns an upgrade to his headhunter license, so beginning the game, your first job is getting Wade's a new class C license for headhunting. Each time you want to raise his license class and get a new mission, you have to first acquire a certain amount of "skill points" from racing Wade's motorcycle at breakneck speeds through the city without crashing. Then, you park at the training center where you are put through a series of tests like the VR mission in Metal Gear Solid. They're simply minigames that test and train you in specific aspects of gameplay: running, hiding, shooting, sneaking, and shooting and sneaking among other skills. Needless to say, the higher class you want to get, the more complex and difficult the tests will be.

Gameplay consists of sub-par Resident Evil style puzzles, Syphon Filter -esque shooting, and a bit of MGS2-like stealth all hampered by faulty controls and a stiff Winback style camera. About half of the game has you running in circles around environments collecting pieces for inane but surprisingly original puzzles. Early in the game you visit an auto repair shop, and in order to open a stopped door you need a a locker key to get a fire extinguisher, the extinguisher to get a token, and the token to get a crowbar. The other half is the action element of the game which requires a delicate intuitive control scheme that Headhunter doesn't have. When shooting, enemies are automatically targeted. This become a problem when fighting more than one character, because the lock on system chooses targets randomly, sometimes even targeting an enemy out of range when there is an enemy right in front of you.

I was impressed by the visuals considering this is a port of a Dreamcast game. The framerate is constant. The character models are more than decent. What bothers me is that a good number of the textures are muddy, bland and repetitive (especially those around the city). What it lacks in interesting textures, the city makes up for in its sense of size and scale. Character animations are another story entirely. The animations in the cinematic scenes are easily the most distracting elements of the game, and some of the worst I've seen since Sega Saturn. The character models are unrealistically robotic, and as they speak they make stiff wild movements. It's hard to keep up suspension of belief when Wade and the principle female character are onscreen doing the robot together.

There's no problem at all in the sound department. The voice acting for Wade and the rest is passable and clear. The crack of the gunshots sound clean, but each weapon doesn't make a very distinct sound. Also, the grenades sound pitiful.

What baffles me is Headhunter's mature rating. There is absolutely no reason I've seen that Headhunter should have more than a teen rating (aside from the option to snap an enemy's neck than shoot him a la Metal Gear Solid). Compare this game to Grand Theft Auto or even Twisted Metal Black you'll see that the ratings board has gone overboard in keeping younger people from enjoying what this game has to offer.

The Bottom Line: As an adventure game, it really doesn't have much to offer. As a shooter in the vein of Syphon Filter, it's hampered by woefully inadequate controls. I'd play this game for the story and it's cinematic quality alone.

Rating: 6.5/10

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