Headhunter Preview

In Headhunter, you're a futuristic mercenary, reluctantly working for a government you hate. Check out what we've dug up on this upcoming cinematic adventurer whose amazing visuals and gameplay innovations assure that it's one to watch.

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In the world of fiction, California's fun-in-the-sun culture is often in doubt. If it isn't the continuous forecast of doom and gloom, made popular by movies like Escape from LA, Strange Days, or Blade Runner, then it's the promise of a future where Californians suffer the wrath of natural disasters, or worse, nuclear Armageddon (Volcano, and the RPG Fallout, come to mind). Apparently, many writers in Hollywood and Silicon Valley have something against their pleasant west-coast home and derive some bizarre pleasure from rendering it a charred wasteland. Now, the Europeans are getting in on the act. English developer Amuze has jumped on the California-bashing bandwagon with its upcoming cinematic adventure, Headhunter, for the Dreamcast. Just like Hollywood, Amuze's futuristic vision of California is a depressing one; crime is rampant, and law is (barely) maintained by a ruthless totalitarian government that employs mercenaries to keep the peace.

Headhunter takes place in the year 2019, when the promise of democracy has become nothing but a distant memory. A fundamentalist government has assumed power, censoring the public's voice. The best line of work for many is as a bounty hunter, employed by the oppressive government to keep its streets clean of villainy. While Amuze has yet to reveal specific details about the exact role and characteristics of your headhunter, we can confirm some basics. You begin the game as just another anonymous mercenary with your hog and sidearm always ready. With loyalty to no one, you execute your services to the highest bidder - and in this case, the only bidder offering steady pay is the government you loathe. You'll begin the game tackling small-time crooks, though the plot will take several sharp turns, and you'll uncover a vast organized crime syndicate that trades human organs and appendages for cash. Amuze promises that Headhunter will become a unique cinematic experience that spirals far beyond its Mad Max-inspired origin.

Headhunter's free-roaming, cinematic gameplay superficially resembles Shenmue; though fixed camera angles, covert maneuvers, and a more action-oriented storyline have also drawn comparisons to the DC's upcoming Agartha and the PS2's highly anticipated Metal Gear Solid. Your primary method of transport through the city is your motorcycle, which will take you from one "chapter" of the plot to the next. When you reach a destination, you disembark, ready your high-powered pistol, and investigate further on foot. Like Shenmue, the game begins slowly: You'll spend most of your time initially scouting the city, looking for signs of criminal activity.

Headhunter assumes a third-person perspective during outdoor interaction. When you're indoors, the game will often switch to fixed positions (similar to Resident Evil: Code Veronica or the upcoming Alone in the Dark 4). The game handles combat simply, employing an intuitive lock-on system, which is activated when potential enemies are on the screen and you've drawn your weapon from its holster. Headhunter also promises interesting innovations in the gameplay that will take advantage of the DC's unique characteristics. Your VMU, for instance, will act as the headhunter's pager, providing contacts and messages from nonplayer characters (NPCs), which further the plot. Also, Amuze intends to make use of the DC's Internet capabilities, and, like in Skies of Arcadia, Sega will make downloads available from Headhunter's homepage after the game's release. These downloads will open new areas of the gameworld and will include additional side quests. Network capabilities let you take your headhunter's bike online to race up to eight other opponents on the city map for equipment and items that can then be downloaded and used in the single-player game.

Headhunter's most impressive attribute, though, is its amazing detailed and smooth graphics. The main character, who wears sunglasses and has a chiseled frame, appears almost as realistic (and substantially more imposing) than Shenmue's Ryo. His motorcycle is just as amazing; the numerous polygons and high-resolution texturing on each minute gauge and piece machinery is extremely convincing. Slightly less impressive are Headhunter's urban environs, which so far vary from barren warehouse districts to high-tech office buildings. Most of the time, though, the game maintains a high visual standard. Even when you're riding on your motorcycle, Headhunter displays a good level of detail without a hit to the frame rate. You'll be able to see relatively far into the distance without suffering a significant loss of detail, excessive fogging, or other polygon-saving tricks. Most appealing of all, though, is the engine's convincing real-time shadows that stretch against the light sources and bend accurately around obstructions. Cinematic camera angles, lighting, and convincing polygonal architecture assure us that Headhunter will be both visually stunning and highly immersive.

Judging solely by the amazing visuals, Headhunter already shows great promise of becoming one of the Dreamcast's standout titles of 2001; however, there are still plenty of question marks surrounding the game. We know the headhunter's mercenary ways make the game sound like Mad Max meets Shenmue. We also know that California has been turned into a hellhole, run amok by crime and an oppressive government. However, beyond these particulars, Amuze has yet to confirm much of the actual plot or reveal how the story will expand the gameplay beyond its seek-and-destroy premise. As the release date draws near, we expect these lingering concerns to be addressed.

Look for Headhunter on Dreamcasts late this summer.

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