In all media, people generally seem to agree on a single hard and fast rule: sequels suck. All media, that is, except videogames. Perhaps it's the relative newness of the medium that makes it seem like designers almost can't help but have interesting, original gameplay ideas. Even when a second game is just a rehash of the first, it's invariably bigger, more complex, far prettier, and—if one removes the assumption that newness is, in and of itself, a thing of value—just plain better. Headhunter: Redemption is the perfect example of this principle. While Headhunter was a good game with several major flaws, Redemption is essentially the same game with those flaws removed, leaving, if not a great game, at least a very good one that stands head and shoulders over the original.
The gameplay has been sharply improved. First off, and this will come as a piece of great news to anyone who's played the original, the motorcycle has been removed. Other than that the gameplay is pretty much identical—straight post-Winback corner-hugging 3rd-person action. The controls have been tightened and most of the camera problems have been ironed out. There's also been a complete revamping of the game's combat mechanic to include blindfiring around corners and an entirely new aiming system.
The aiming adjustment is worth noting because it's such an obvious change that I can't believe someone hadn't done it before. Instead of the now-standard expanding and contracting crosshairs, the shakiness of the hero's aim is depicted by the targeting reticule actually floating around the screen—when the hero fires, the bullet always hits the centre of the reticule, wherever it is on screen. The player can either wait for the hero's aim to settle down on the target or try their luck blasting away as the crosshairs pass over their opponent. This system can turn every gunfight into a reflex-based minigame, adding a skill element to each shot.
Story-wise, Redemption picks up around twenty years after the first game left off. The plot is good enough that I'm not going to spoil any of it, but suffice to say that the apocalyptic virus released at the end of the last game proved to be less than apocalyptic, just as the happy ending the main characters faded out on turned out to be less than happy.
The plot is actually much better this time around. While the first game started out as a straightforward action/mystery, right at the end it spiraled into bizarre sci-fi nonsense about a mad scientist trying to conquer the world through the use of subliminally-activated viruses and genetically engineered super-soldiers. Redemption, by comparison, wears its sci-fi nature right on its sleeve. It takes place in a futuristic megacity, where underclasses are surgically altered and banished to huge factories and power plants below the surface to keep the upperclasses living in luxrious manner to which they've grown accustomed.
This plot winds its way through a large number of levels featuring some fairly diverse locations. Shooting and switch-based puzzles pad out the length, but none of them are too head-scratchy. The enemies are decidedly less diverse than the levels, coming in only five or six varieties—but their canny combat AI ensures that fighting them never becomes much of a chore. There are also a few boss fights which, just like everything else in this game, are a step above the fights in the original in that they never made me want to yank the hair out of my head by its roots.
Headhunter: Redemption isn't a fantastic game. It is, however, the perfect example of the learning curve the developers go through when working on a series of games. Everything that worked in the first game has been improved, and everything that didn't has been fixed or discarded. Is there anything new here? No. It's the exact same game that Headhunter was, only better. What more could anyone expect from a videogame sequel?
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