I think Brad's assessment of the game is generally accurate, but I cannot match his enthusiasm for Headhunter. When he claims it is the videogame equivalent of a Van Damme or Steven Segal movie, hes right. I, however, don't consider that a compliment.
I agree with Brads comments about the general gameplay. He hit it dead on when he explained how the pacing of the game comfortably supports the action and stealth elements, giving the player a nice, smooth ride from start to finish. The designers never bore or frustrate you with ridiculous overestimations of the kind of experience their gameplay can providethey just let ya do the fun stuff and move you right along.
Still though, thats not exactly an amazing feat, or at least one I do not find as remarkable as Brad seems to. I certainly do not think it has "some of the best game direction Ive ever seen." Its good, but its nothing special unless the only other thing you compare it to is the verbose overkill of Metal Gear Solid. Quite frankly, Ive played plenty of games that are enjoyably streamlined like this one is, only with better plots, characters, and other things that make a cinematic game experience generally stand out. Fear Effect 2, for example, was just as lean as Headhunter, but it actually had a dimension of style and originality to its story that was enhancednot merely deliveredby its brisk, non-redundant narrative.
This is why Headhunter, in spite its technical proficiency, remains largely uninspired. The plot and characters were utterly inane. Unlike Brad, I saw little in them that was likable or compelling, even in a campy way. Protagonists Jack and Angela rarely rise above the animate pieces of meat you can find on late-night Cinemax pseudo-porn, and the plot wasnt much better. I could totally dig a political conspiracy thriller set in a future world of totalitarian consumerism, but Headhunter does nothing with the idea besides exploit it for cheap, throw-away irony and then endlessly pats itself on the back for being so clever. This is exemplified in the newscasts Brad mentioned. Yes, they are well produced and live actors are a logical choice, but they are also too self-conscious to really add to the world in a tangible way. There isnt a moment of that footage where the newscasters dont seem to be secretly winking at the player as if to saw "Hey, this isnt our real job." The whole world has that kind of half-jokey feeling to it, as if its stuck in some awkward limbo between self-parody and deadpan dramatics. Say what you will about the many excesses of Metal Gear Solid 2, at least it understood that ridiculous material works better when its played straight. Headhunter, on the other hand, never quite seems like it believes its own story.
That said, I didnt find the story to be completely irredeemable. For the first two thirds of Headhunter, I felt bored and annoyed with its half-baked future world politics and limp characters. However, I would be lying if I told you it didnt get better near the end. I was bothered by the game not because it was bad, but because it was just so pathetically mediocre I couldnt bring myself to feel much about it at all. Fortunately, the plot managed to pique some interest towards the end by indulging in a series of plot twists that are nice and crazy. That made me at least sit up and take notice of what was happening, although it occurred so late in the game that it did little to change my opinion of the overall experience.
It may seem odd to discuss plot and story so much in what is, after all, a game review. Then again, it might be appropriate for a game that aspires to the "Holy Grail" of story-driven, cinematic gaming that Brad described. I would never suggest that a game is bad on the basis of story alone, but in a genre that promises a compelling narrative experience to go with its entertaining gameplay the question becomes how well each elements compliments the other. Brad and I both agree that one of those elements, the gameplay, is quite adequate. What we differ on is how well the story element motivates the player to participate in that gameplay. As far as Im concerned, it does not do a good job of it. I had no desire to see this story through to the end, and the gameplay, while decent, did not provide enough depth by itself to completely make up for that fact. For me to recommend this game, the gameplay would need to better than simply adequate, or otherwise the story would have to be more than petty imitation. As it is, Headhunter strikes me as a curious little nothing. Its like Wonderbreadit isnt that it tastes bad, its that it doesnt taste like anything. Sure its technically food, but so what? Thats all I kept thinking all the way through Headhunter. Sure its a decent game, but curious in the sense that it could never make me care.