It sounds like a type of candy or cereal aimed at '70s acid casualties, but H.E.D.Z. is actually a very innovative third-person arcade shooter that takes the concepts of enemies and weapon power-ups and turns them on their heads (sorry, I just had to say that). But H.E.D.Z.'s inspired design doesn't always translate into inspiring gameplay, and while it's frequently funny, it's not very fun once the novelty wears off.
H.E.D.Z. is an acronym for Head Extreme Destruction Zone, a series of arenas where aliens engage in the seemingly brutal sport of head-hunting. But they're not taking the heads of their prey and putting them on display; instead, they've figured out how to acquire the powers of their victims through "brain to brain contact." The heads wind up in a trophy case, all right, but only so they can be pulled out and worn whenever the aliens like.
Playing as an alien, you start each of the cartoonlike levels with five heads in your head case; at any time you can switch to any of these and use its special weapons and powers. Kill a fellow H.E.D.Z. combatant, and you can grab his head and store it in a backpack - provided he doesn't pick it up first, of course, and he can always do the same to you. Only five heads can be active at a time, but as long as you've got enough money (it's lying all over the place) you can swap heads from the head case and backpack; if you're out of cash, then you can only use the ones in the head case.
There are 225 heads in all, so it's easy to imagine some very cool puzzles requiring you to use the right combination of heads in the right sequence. Just discovering the various types of heads is pretty fun for a while. Each makes a cool signature sound when you activate it - choose the German soldier and he says "Jawohl!"; Napoleon's head plays a snippet of "Le Marseillaise"; the gangster says "Capice?"; Elvis is accompanied by a little boogie-woogie piano; and so forth - and of course you need to figure out what they do and when you should use them. And the background rock and pop soundtrack contains some of the best and most varied music I've heard in a game, running the gamut from droning Link Wray anthems to a 1960s rave-up that'll have more than one person thinking of the Velvet Underground.
But instead of exploiting the concept of hundreds of weapons and power-ups, H.E.D.Z. takes the idea and runs with it for about an hour or two before it collapses under the weight of its design. The reason is simple: There's too much emphasis on combat and not enough on puzzles. Instead of having to use certain heads in certain ways to work your way through a level, about all you need to figure out is which heads deliver the quickest death blows against other headhunters.
There's some challenge involved in that process, but thanks to the game's clumsy third-person point of view, the only real hurdle is control. Walk into a room, and the lack of a free-look feature means you'll take four or five hits before you even realize where the attack is coming from (you can look around if you're standing still, but that's not much of a help). Once you do blast a head off a headhunter, the odds are good he'll retrieve it before you do. Combat's tough even on the easiest setting, and it doesn't help that weapons don't start to recharge until they're completely empty and can't be fired until they're completely recharged. Start attacking a headhunter when you're almost out of ammo, and you'll have to switch heads in the middle of the fast-paced action in order to finish him off. By the time you've reached the fourth or fifth level, you'll probably wind up losing simply because you're so outnumbered and have run out of the requisite cash to grab a head out of the head case.
If H.E.D.Z. developer VIS Interactive had lightened up on the combat, focused on making some puzzles that were as creative as the game's basic concept, and slowed down the pace so gamers would have time to come up with creative uses for the heads, this could have been a real sleeper. Instead, it winds up being just an average third-person shooter with a good sense of humor.