Headlander (Xbox One) Review

By Gabriel Jones 21.11.2016

Review for Headlander on Xbox One

It's often been said that the only survivors of nuclear war would be the cockroaches. Maybe they're speaking metaphorically. Consider how regularly science fiction obliterates everything, yet there always manages to be a few remaining humans. In the case of Headlander, that metaphorical roach is one human… head. The hope of humanity rests on her non-existent shoulders. Her mission is to infiltrate a dystopian retro-futuristic robot society. Maybe she'll find some answers, or at least the rest of her body.

For anyone that has even a passing interest in 70s sci-fi, Headlander is astonishing in its adherence to that era. The world more or less ended in the age of lava lamps and disco, the clothes are authentic in their cheesiness, and the post-processing effects had to have been drug-induced. The society that's depicted in this game is really something else. Despite the vivid imagery and surreal locations, there's still a sense of coherency that's massively important to world-building. Anywhere that a robot needs to go, they can get there simply by walking. They don't have to jump, or fly, or break through a wall just to get from the "Pleasure Port" to the "Satellite Chalet." Granted, due to the proliferation of security doors, only shepherds are capable of having total access.

All that needs to be said about shepherds is that they're soulless killing machines. A nearly defenceless flying head should be mere target practice for their lasers. Thankfully, the helmet is equipped with jets and a vacuum. All the player has to do is dodge those lasers, then suck the head off of the attacking shepherd. Congratulations, now the heroine has a body, albeit a temporary one. Taking control of denizens is the key to progress in this game. The shepherd's colour determines which doors they can pass through, so it's just a matter of finding and disabling them.

The combat is fairly rote, but also enjoyable. It involves lasers and their ability to reflect off of surfaces. If a robot is firing from behind cover, the player can still blast them by angling a shot to hit the back of their head. With exploration comes an array of different abilities for both the helmet and the body it inhabits. These abilities are augmented and strengthened through the acquisition of energy, which is either lying around or awarded via quests. Not all of the purchased abilities are going to be used in the average playthrough, so it's up to the player to try everything for themselves. As long as they make a point to explore every side-area for upgrades, Headlander shouldn't be very difficult. This can be problematic. While it's nice not to worry too much about frustrating combat situations, there could have been a little more of an incentive to experiment with different attacks.

Screenshot for Headlander on Xbox One

It also might be hard to accept the fact that there isn't any jumping. The heroine is free to fly wherever and however much she wishes. The process of attaching and de-attaching to robots, elevators, or anything else is as simple as a button press. Still, there are few things more satisfying than a good jump. Metroidvania fans might have trouble adjusting to a game where there aren't double jumps, wall climbs, or any other similar upgrades. One of the powers allows the heroine to break through clearly marked barriers. Although this power has some combat utility, its usage is essentially relegated to being a key. It's not very creative, unlike the games that it was inspired by. The ability to latch onto and control bodies is never quite as interesting as it could be. For example, there are a couple of points where the head can take the body of a dog, but all it's really used for is to go through small doors.

That said, there are a few fascinating set-pieces. There's one at the midpoint…that…well, maybe it's better not to spoil it. Just know that Headlander isn't afraid to experiment with different concepts. What Double Fine has accomplished in these brilliant scenarios can be attributed to both the stunning art direction and well-structured level design. Everything comes together to create something truly impressive. Not every idea immediately clicks, but it's apparent that this game is not afraid of pursuing grand ideas, even if it takes a few moments of banality to get to them.

It also helps that this is one of those titles that is capable of keeping the player "in the moment." There is always something to catch one's eyes and ears. The many sarcastic doors love their colour-based puns. It seems like every room has some manner of background detail and/or social commentary to partake in. Many of the robots have their own unique walk animations or even dance moves. It certainly helps that the soundtrack is absolutely perfect. As always, great music can elevate an experience, and it's most definitely the case with this one. A good stereo system or headphones is essential to grasping the full depth of just how much love went into this game.

Screenshot for Headlander on Xbox One

Cubed3 Rating

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

Headlander probably won't be the best "Metroidvania" everyone has ever played, but it is one of the most unique. Its overuse of door-based progression is unfortunate, but is more than made up for by a plethora of inventive scenarios. This is all backed by solid controls and combat mechanics, which is always appreciated. The visual and sound design is reason enough to convince players not to quit until they've finished the game. The way everything comes together makes for an unparalleled sci-fi experience.

Developer

Double Fine

Publisher

Adult Swim Games

Genre

2D Platformer

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date None   Australian release date Out now   

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