Welcome to our CHEATfactor Game Review of Headlander. We review the game and then factor in how the available cheats affect the overall game experience. For better or worse, our reviews will help you decide whether or not to use cheats when playing the game.
Headlander is just my kind of weird. Double Fine’s take on a Metroid-vania style game ditches the seriousness of the genre in favor of disembodies rocket powered heads and farting machines, but there’s some serious thought behind it. Headlander wants to tell you something but it isn’t afraid to be a little silly in the process and thankfully that story is told via mostly fun exploration and puzzle gameplay. Headlander isn’t for everyone but if you’re looking for a fun action game that doesn’t take itself too seriously you could do a lot worse than this retro sci-fi romp.
An advanced AI named Methuselah has enslaved all of the humans on earth and replaced them with robots; creating a dystopian society where everyone believes everything is fantastic and there are no problems. You play as the last cognitive human…well, you play as their disembodied head. Like the name suggests, Headlander takes place in a world where heads have been preserved in containment units and can rocket around the environment thanks to said containment units. It’s a silly concept sure, but it makes up the vast majority of Headlander’s gameplay and it’s used in pretty creative ways. You can hijack nearly any robot body you find in the world, which gives you the ability to open doors and deal damage to enemies. Flying through the air as a mere head allows you to move faster and enter into restricted areas but you can can’t deal any damage so finding the right balance of when to use which form is the key to being successful in Headlander.
Headlander could best be described as a Metroidvania style game, so you’ll have to backtrack a lot. Find a door; go back and find the item or body you need to unlock it, repeat. Enemy bots are color coded and only the right color can open that colored door; in theory that should feel repetitive but during my time with Headlander I rarely felt like I was waisting my time. Thanks to a plethora of different bodies to hijack and the game constantly adding new gameplay mechanics, Headlander felt like it was constantly in motion and constantly showing me something new to try. In a world where games constantly recycle old ideas, Headlander borrows idea sure, but it’s put it’s own spin on things and the result is something truly different.
What truly surprised me is just how strategic I had to be in Headlander. Double Fine has done a remarkable job slowing down a game that would in most cases be a run and gun and added a slew of strategy elements that change the experience greatly. Take shooting for example, you’ll aim with either the right thumbstick or right mouse button and you’ll have to aim each of your shots to be successful (you can spam the shoot button in close quarters but it’s so much less fun). Lining up a great shot and popping the head off an enemy is insanely fun and it’s even more so when that shot takes out multiple targets. I couldn’t help but feel like the game missed out on opportunities at some points like when they hinted that there were side quests to do and collectibles to find but nothing to actually do. I know paid DLC is something that’s overdone in the gaming industry but I would definitely pay for more Headlander if the studio made it.
Of course, this is a Double Fine game so yeah, it’s silly. Headlander is presented as if it’s a lost cult classic sci-fi movie from the 70s, complete with VHS tracking in the menus. The robots wear bellbottoms and dance in disco clubs, the dust busting robots fart and giggle when they’re done with their jobs. Look deeper though and you’ll see that there’s more to Headlander than the game initially wants you to believe and it’s one of the studio’s smartest games yet. One of my favorite things to do in the game was to go up to random NPCs and talk with them; most of them would be small gags but every now and then you’ll encounter something…more, something that gives context to the whole world. One room a robot was paying money to grind against shag carpet and he exclaimed that it feels just like grass before getting sad and asking if I remembered what grass felt like. Headlander hides a deeper message about reliance on technology and consumerism behind a silly facade.
Headlander feels like nothing you’ve ever played before but it’s core mechanics are familiar enough that you’re going to be able to jump in pretty quickly and understand wha you’re doing. It’s challenging, unique and most importantly a whole lot of fun. This is one of Double Fine’s best games to date and there’s a lot to love about the 70s sci-fi romp…you know, if you can get past the farting dust busters.
Joe started off writing about video games for small fan sites when he realized he should probably do something with his communications degree and didn't want to get into the grind of daily reporting. Joining the team in late 2008, Joe is the featured game reviewer for Cheat Happens, producing up to 10 CHEATfactor Game Reviews per month.
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