Go! Go! GOTY! 2016: Day Two: Headlander

Day Two

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While I didn't make too much progress in Headlander today, I feel like I've seen a decent amount of what the game has to offer, if only mechanically speaking. Headlander is a stylistic Indie SpaceWhipper (I believe this is the third one in a month for me) which is clearly inspired by classic science fiction, and in particular the heady era of the late 1960s and early 1970s where people were so high on various chemicals that long, languorous, contemplative sci-fi epics about the nature of humanity and our place in the universe were how they spent their time.

2001: A Space Odyssey is an obvious source for much of the game's oddly comfortable looking space travel, though there's plenty from Zardoz (at least one trophy gives a nod, and the antagonist is usually pictured as a familiar statue of a bearded face), Logan's Run (the modest pastel outfits and how all the game's civilians are called some variation of "first name-number" - I've met at least one "Jessica-6" so far), Silent Running (adorable robot designs that elicit the same kind of empathy pets do - plus some of the robots actually are pets), Barbarella (the only sci-fi movie that comes to mind that used shag carpeting in its spaceships), Mars Attacks! (which was a mid-century B-movie in spirit, and I'd imagine was where this whole "heads come off and get attached to other things" business came from) and general archaic visions of the future collectively known as "zeerust" by futurist fans that are frequently explored/parodied by Futurama. It's a game that luxuriates in this particular aesthetic, much like how Inside was made magnitudes more fascinating by its stark chiaroscuro-heavy visual design, and a big part of the fun of Headlander for me is spotting all the visual references.

Man, I wish I had a hyper-lounge. Who'd want a boring old regular lounge without egg chairs?
Man, I wish I had a hyper-lounge. Who'd want a boring old regular lounge without egg chairs?

However, the game's also been plenty of fun as a regular 2D exploratory platformer too. The player isn't so much controlling a whole person than simply the head, which is capable of attaching itself to the game's wide array of mechanical NPC bodies once their original heads are out of the way. Many of these NPCs are security droids which the player is forced to incapacitate, either by shooting the body until they explode or destroying the head to preserve the body for themselves. The head quickly regenerates lost health, though won't survive long in a firefight on its own, but bodies have a fixed health bar that can't easily be repaired in the middle of a battle. Generally, the player needs to consider their next body donor as they whittle down the resistance they're facing. I've learned that it's generally a good idea to take over those with better weapons or higher security clearance, the latter indicated by their uniform color (brief aside: I don't know if the game was inspired at all by the old B-movie-inspired tabletop game Paranoia, but it also had a similar color-based security system for players to adhere to, as well as an inscrutable CPU overlord who really wanted the players to trust it). Other robots include regular citizens, who unhelpfully disco dance instead of fight, and various robotic civil servants in control of scanners, doors, forcefields and other potential obstructions. Occasionally, the player will be forced to move on as just the flying head, especially where small spaces and higher ledges are concerned.

The game looks fantastic even if you're not an avowed fan of old-ass sci-fi. Parts like this where you're flying around as the head kinda remind me of Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet.
The game looks fantastic even if you're not an avowed fan of old-ass sci-fi. Parts like this where you're flying around as the head kinda remind me of Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet.

The game's way more generous with its mapping than Axiom Verge was. It's happy to keep track of all the collectibles and upgrades you passed because you didn't have the right ability to reach them at the time: it even tells you where all the doors are, and which level of security clearance you need to pass through them. It still behooves the player to keep track of what actual upgrades they need to reach these currently unobtainable goodies, but it doesn't seem like the game has too many to dole out. If the upgrade screen is anything to go by, there appears to be four special traversal-enabling functions your disembodied head can learn, and a huge number of smaller boosts that assist in combat and exploration in various ways - shield increases, melee damage buffs, a headbutt attack that allows you to switch heads with another robot instantly, and so on.

It's a great game that I'm enjoying quite a lot so far, though the gunfights are already getting a bit tiresome as many of them rely on fighting waves of robots who teleport in in quick succession. I'm in love with the aesthetic, though, and I'm eager to see where its plot goes. It figures that the game's lead designer, Lee Petty, is the same guy who directed Stacking: the only other Double Fine Indie game I've appreciated without reservations so far. At any rate, I'll update y'all on my continued progress tomorrow.

My pretty meager current progress. I want to say these fonts are also from something. Star Trek: The Motion Picture?
My pretty meager current progress. I want to say these fonts are also from something. Star Trek: The Motion Picture?

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