Headhunter: Redemption Preview
Jack Wade is back and grizzlier than ever in the new action sequel from Sega and Amuze.
2001's Headhunter was notable not only because it did a respectable job of imitating the stealth action mechanics of Metal Gear Solid, but also, perhaps more memorably, because it was one of the final games to usher out the Dreamcast as a viable player in the console market. The original Headhunter only appeared on the ill-fated Dreamcast in Europe, but the game made it to the PlayStation 2 the following year courtesy of Acclaim, ensuring that it would finally gain a North American audience. Afterward, however, we wondered if we'd ever get to see the further exploits of gritty future cop Jack Wade at all. Well, this summer we'll get to do just that. Sega and Amuze are readying a sequel to the game, Headhunter: Redemption, a near-final build of which we recently got to check out on the PlayStation 2.
The setting in Redemption, which occurs 20 years after Headhunter, is just a tad on the bleak side. After the Bloody Mary virus ran rampant at the end of the first game, society was plunged into utter chaos, with millions of people dying and lawlessness prevailing in the streets. Though the virus was finally cured, the anarchy continued--and what better way to shake things up even more than with a massive earthquake? In the aftermath of all this destruction, society has stratified and formed two separate areas--Above, a pristine cityscape that's home to the power elite, and Below, a polluted wasteland where criminals and outcasts are sent to eke out a miserable living.
It's into this divided future world that an older but equally testy Jack Wade is thrust, bitter at the world but still doing his job. On a routine call one stormy night, he apprehends a street punk who calls herself Leeza X, but before Jack sends her away for good, he recognizes Leeza as the little girl he saved from her deranged father many years before. Instead of incarcerating her and washing his hands of the whole situation, Jack gives Leeza a choice: Stick around and train as a headhunter, or go Below. Leeza wisely accepts the former and begins to help Jack out with his policing business. Whereas the first Headhunter followed Jack's adventures, in Redemption you'll alternate between controlling Jack and Leeza as the story dictates. Of course, a game that just has you doing future police work wouldn't be too interesting, so as the story progresses, the pair will become embroiled in a fight against a sinister force threatening the whole of their divided society.
Much like in the first Headhunter, Redemption's basic gameplay model includes both stealth and out-and-out shooting action, although this time around the emphasis definitely seems to us to be on the shooting aspect. By holding down a shoulder button, you'll engage a lock-on system that helps you to zero in your targeting reticle on nearby enemies. As an interesting aside, when you start the game as Leeza, the rookie, your aim will actually float around for a moment when you lock on before it becomes accurate enough to score a hit. You can also perform evasive maneuvers in all directions when you're being shot at, and jumping behind cover is essential to staying alive in the game's fairly intense firefights. On the stealth side, you've got the standard assortment of moves--you can back up against a wall, Solid Snake-style, and peer around corners to see who's coming (and you can step out and fire off a few quick shots before stepping back, if you like). Of course, you can do the old silent kill move if you manage to sneak up behind an enemy unnoticed, although this proved pretty tough to pull off.
As a headhunter, you'll have access to a decent amount of equipment and firearms to help you get your job done. Chief among your handy tools is the IRIS. Aside from being a good excuse for headhunters to wear sunglasses at all times, the IRIS provides all sorts of information on your environment that comes in handy when you're trying to infiltrate an enemy base or figure out the solution to some technical problem. You can switch to a first-person view at will, and your IRIS will highlight notable objects in the environment that you may be able to interact with. Much like in Metroid Prime, you can then scan these objects to receive further information about their function and, hopefully, a clue about what you need to do to move on.
Graphically, Headhunter: Redemption is leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessor, which was merely an unenhanced port of the Dreamcast original. The character models are much more detailed this time around, and the cutscenes take place in the game engine to show them off. The game's environments are appropriate to their location--Above looks as clean and futuristic as you'd expect, while Below is grungy and dilapidated. Redemption makes liberal use of the sort of soft lighting you've seen a lot of recently in games like Prince of Persia and Splinter Cell, and from what we've seen so far, this creates a pleasingly ethereal effect without seeming cheesy or overused. The voice acting we've heard so far seems pretty good--Leeza's got a good bit of spunk, and Jack's about as gruff as you'd expect. The sound design seems a bit mixed, so far--some of the gunshot effects don't pack quite the punch we'd hope for, but the orchestral score by composer Richard Jacques does a nice job of providing a movie-style backdrop for the action (which can get fairly intense at times).
Headhunter: Redemption seems to be forming into a playable and worthy follow-up to the first game. The game isn't scheduled for release until late August, so Amuze should have time to polish up the few loose ends before the game goes gold. Between the feisty Leeza, a crabby ex-wife, and that whole "threat to civilization" thing, it looks like Jack Wade is going to have his hands full. Keep an eye out for more coverage of the game soon.
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