Double Fine are a great studio, none of their games seem to be anything like the other, yet they consistently maintain pretty sweet standards. I’m a big fan of their stuff and Tim Schafer. I loved Brutal Legend, Grim Fandango, The Cave, Broken Age and basically anything I’ve tried for them. Then I heard about Headlander! A sci-fi puzzle/platformer mash-up and if you’ve read my previous review for Blood Alloy, you’d see why I was excited. Without “fan-girling” any further, let me dive in.
Headlander’s premise is basically a trippy Altered Carbon meets Wall-E, where humanity has mostly given up the essentials to live as immortal lava-lamp watching robots (with some 80s dance moves and hippy-dippy lines). There’s a small resistance that existence to fight the system, and you being the only remaining human, are the only hope to rebuild life as it once was. You wake up as a head sans body, in a space helmet after choosing one of the three character options (one female and two male. One guess on what I chose). You get through the game by floating in contained spaces as a head attached to some thruster type mechanics or you use your suction abilities to decapitate one of the other bodies to take its place. You can’t go through doors or activate puzzle pieces without having a body. (if you were hoping this game was going to help you fulfill some odd dream of being a Krang for a few hours, I’m sorry to burst your bubble).
The puzzles you’re presented are pretty basic and revolve around you opening doors, or getting to areas of the map by ejecting and attaching to various bodies and some minor combat. In a combat body, you get access to a laser that can be reflected off surfaces. The aiming system allows you to calculate the bounce estimate of your projectiles before shooting but doesn’t actually lock on to targets. It’s fun to use but easily avoidable if you just want to headbutt instead (excuse the pun, I’m awful today). It’s all fairly basic but also a ton of fun. Headlander manages to find the perfect balance of enjoyably tense moments without making you feel helpless enough to throw down the controller if you’re looking to cruise through something light at the end of your day.
While in head-mode, you heal, however the bodies you take over have a limited, non-rechargeable HP. Some bodies will have better lasers, some will run out of ammo. You can also collect orbs or activate little bases which give you upgrades.
The characters you meet throughout are mostly NPCs, with the AIs responsible for door security being the sassiest and most hostile verbally. Interactions are short and entertaining. Some NPCs may give you small side quests if you want to flesh out your experience which is not something I initially expected. Other encounters are of the cute variety such as your helpful map system, Mappy or the little robotic puppies or creatures you discover throughout.
The game itself has pretty basic graphics which at points look beautiful and in other instances are kinda lacking. The lacking parts are mostly restricted to the cut scenes rather than actual level design. The character in those scenes, is more expressionate than your current RPG offerings but then game falls short with clunky animation which is disappointing given that otherwise, the game is visually decent.
Adding on to the thorough throw-back to 70-80s sci-fi is the HeadLander’s soundtrack which combined with the general aesthetics of the menu, the opening, and the load screen, makes a perfect combo for what you’d imagine getting into this. The biggest letdown in that department would be the SFx which are generally pretty tame, mildly out of sync and very downplayed.
I ended up trying out the game with a controller which played out smoothly. The control scheme is very basic and the first few minutes of the game act as a type of tutorial without excessive hand-holding. It gets you through without any confusion but maintains the lack of pauses as well. This would be one of those games that would play equally fine with a mouse and keyboard.
The game is all around fun but would be a lot more engaging without the minor glitches I encountered. For example at some point in the beginning, I floated through without a body yet ended up with one on the other side of the door. I’m not entirely sure if that hiccup may pop back up later in the game but the continuity there left me slightly annoyed. Another glitch I kept encountering frequently is the speed of the game. It generally just slowed down continuously, similar to a frame-rate drop but without the blinking. This made navigating around somewhat large map that you would have to cover back and forth in every section a bit tiresome.
I think with a little fixing up, this game can be pretty amazing but even as is, it’s definitely worth picking up for a few chuckles and some good platforming.
Headlander was reviewed using a PC downloadable code provided by Double Fine Productions. The PC version was tested on a PC running Windows 10, with a 4GB NVIDIA Geforce GT 750M fitted on a 4th Generation Intel i7 4700HQ 3.4Ghz CPU and topped with 16GB of RAM. The game is also available on PlayStation 4 via the PlayStation Store. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published
• General retro aesthetics of the game
• The soundtrack
• The NPC sarcasm
• The game's main premises and concept
• Clunky cut scene graphics
• Movement glitches
• Lack of Sound effects polishing