Retro Review: Headhunter

[Editor’s note: This review was originally published on the old SEGA Nerds’ site on Nov. 9, 2006. Aside from fixing some formatting and spelling or grammatical errors, this review is presented in its original, crappy form.]

Described by many as Metal Gear Solid for the Dreamcast, Headhunter sends you to a futuristic beachside town in America.

The game starts with various news reports, telling you a brief description of how the government has set up the Headhunter scheme and how crime is now dealt with – criminals are forced to give organ donations. In this world, organ donations are the new medical achievement, where organs are taken from the dead and implanted directly into a needy citizen. Of course, any criminal who has to undergo forced donation will of course die in the process.

You are given a fairly short cutscene in which you (Jack Wade) wake up about to undergo some form of operation. You break free from your captors with no real memory of what has happened to you in the last few months. You pass out and wake up in hospital, watching TV and soon learn that Christopher Stern, the a powerful political leader of the Anti Crime Network and the man behind the Headhunter program, has been assassinated.


No one has been caught, but many fingers are pointing at the mysterious Don Fulci, a crime lord who opposed the Stern ideology. But seeing as no one has ever seen the man, he is quite hard to arrest. Fortunately, Stern left his vice president, Alan Sharpe, in charge, and he seems keen to continue in the same vein as Stern.

While in hospital, you are approached by your former boss (you used to be Headhunter) who tells you that he will try to help in any way, but you have to be careful and you need to get into training again. Using the LEILA system (a virtual reality system similar to Metal Gear Solid’s training program), you will gain the licenses for various guns and security cards.

Angela Stern, the late Christopher Stern’s daughter, also approaches you. She requests that you work for her, help to find out who killed her father and why.

headhunter-dreamcast-screenshot-change-targets-to-eliminateThe game is very similar to that of Metal Gear Solid (not story wise) but gameplay and the engine are all very similar. I did find this game more fun to play with. It doesn’t have so many of the cliche characteristics, like Solid Snake pretending to be the hard-nut feeling no emotions, then cracking at the first sign of a beautiful woman. Jack has a similar air about him, but he doesn’t seem to put it on as much.

The game sees you venturing through many parts of the city, using stealth and your special combat skills to dispatch of enemies as you help the lovely Angela in the mystery behind her father’s death.

There is nothing really wrong with the graphics, but they aren’t as impressive as they should have been. They look (dare I say), very Playstation 2-esque, where I find that the PS2 has very rough graphics. There are no glitches in the graphics, and there is plenty to be seen on screen, but the attention to detail is low. For example, you can be in a room filled with items, but it will look bare.

headhunter-dreamcast-screenshot-jack-wade-the-games-hero-lookingAlso, the full-motion video cutscenes are very poor. Not at all good by the standards of the day. They would be forgiven on the Saturn, PlayStation, but not on the Dreamcast.

While the graphics are a disappointment, the game is still very playable. Everything that needs to be on screen is shown quite clearly, and it’s not as if they are reduced to looking like PlayStation/Saturn graphics. But it would have been very nice if SEGA actually put some effort in to one of the last big releases for the Dreamcast.

The game does run very smoothly, with no hint slow down or jerky-ness, which is impressive as the game has plenty of sneaking around and gun fights. The fighting system is slightly easier than that of Metal Gear Solid, where locking onto targets is clearly displayed, and it’s much easier to knock an opponent out with a simple tap of a few buttons. Jack Wade incorporates some decent moves into the action, like a quick side roll whilst firing, or the ability to roll forward, dodging bullets and shooting an enemy.

Fortunately, the camera positioning is pretty good, which is a change from many 3D games of the era. And the use of the digital map is very good, although not original.

headhunter-dreamcast-screenshot-hope-jack-can-reload-beforeThe enemies seem to be slightly harder to avoid than in Metal Gear Solid. They show more signs of intelligence, and you won’t find yourself trying to fend off hundreds of guards- even though you’re well hidden just because you tripped an alarm. They need to search for you harder if you go into hiding.

One of the best parts of the game, which also makes it for me, is riding your motorcycle across town to get to new locations. Weaving through traffic at speeds that would make even the most hardened rider nervous is incredibly fun. It’s only a pity that you can’t get off your bike anywhere in the city and walk around or visit random shops, like in Shenmue; that would have been very cool indeed.


Headhunter’s sound is one its best features. When you ride around on your bike, you have a very compelling and powerful piece of music playing. All the traffic sounds are realistic, though your bike’s roaring engine drowns them out and you’ll most likely be humming along to the tune in the background. The sound effects and level music is atmospheric and really adds to the mounting tension throughout the game. For example, you’ll have to listen closely for footsteps in a nearby room that might clue you in on approaching danger.

Surprisingly enough, Headhunter has good replay value. Once you complete the game, you can play through again on a harder setting, making the game more enjoyable. Additionally, there are times to beat in the LEILA training program; once you beat them all and you complete the game, you can access the special locker, which gives you a few bonus items, like all weapons, unlimited ammo, to name a few.


In truth, there’s nothing particularly special about Headhunter, but it features fun, solid stealth action and more than adequate voice acting. I prefer Headhunter to Metal Gear Solid and definitely suggest you give it a chance.

Graham Cookson

I'm the European Editor of SEGA Nerds and co-founder of the original SEGA Nerds website with Chris back in 2004 or 2005 (genuinely can't remember which year it was now!). I've been a SEGA fan pretty much all my gaming life - though I am also SEGA Nerds' resident Microsoft fanboy (well, every site needs one) and since SEGA went third party, I guess it's now ok to admit that I like Nintendo and Sony too :0) I'm also the Content Manager of the big data company, Digital Contact Ltd, in the UK: http://digitalcontact.co.uk/company/team/
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