Shin Force | Sega Dreamcast Review

Shin Force > Systems > Sega Dreamcast > Reviews A-M

Shin Force ~ Dreamcast ~
Geoffrey Duke
1x GD
2001 (Japan)
2001 (Europe)
3rd Person
Action / Adventure
Backup 24+6
Jump Pack
50% (Japan)
100% (Europe)
     > Thinking about the number of great games that died with the Dreamcast is almost unbearable. Not only were games such as Half Life and Soul Reaver 2 doomed never to see completion mere months away from release, but Headhunter, Rez and Shenmue 2 weren't even localized for the American Dreamcast. However, the last three games were released for the Dreamcast in Britain and found their way onto other consoles eventually. Headhunter is a Sega funded game developed by a Swedish games developer called Amuze. The game itself is an Action/Adventure game which manages to balance enjoyable amounts of both combat and stealth, but never too much of either. Headhunter merges the run 'n' gun duck-and-shoot combat of Winback (for the N64) with the wall-hugging stealth of Metal Gear Solid (where you can peer around corners) and the puzzles of Resident Evil (mostly involving carrying items around until you find out what purpose they serve). The game successfully merges these different types of gameplay into a cohesive whole. Headhunter ends up being a genuinely good hybrid, but in Sega's haste to release the game, a few corners were cut, so there are a few graphical glitches here and there (see below). Most of the game takes place on foot but some parts of the game involve riding a bike through a bustling city as you search for your next target. The action is punctuated with impressive cinematic sequences, telling the story of Jack Wade, a veteran headhunter who has forgotten himself and now seeks to unravel the mystery of his past.
     > Headhunter is set in the not-so-distant future at the beginning of the 21st century where California has become the capital of the world. The government hires privatized law enforcers called headhunters from the Anti Crime Network (A.C.N.) to hunt down wanted criminals, bring them to justice and generally bring order to where there was only chaos before. Criminals undergo mandatory organ donation as punishment for their crimes as a way of giving something back to the society they've stolen from, because for one reason or another, organs have become one of the most valuable modern-day commodities. So much so, that they are being smuggled into the country and sold on the black market on a regular basis. Conventional weapons are outlawed by the government, because no one wants to risk damaging valuable internal organs almost as if they are more valuable than life itself. Instead, E.N.P. (Electric Neural Projectile) guns, which fire streams of energy that cause a target's neural system to overload after impact, are used to counteract violent crime. The end result of being on the receiving end of these weapons is the complete forced shutdown of the brain, leaving the rest of the body undamaged and ripe for organ harvesting. The game begins with Jack Wade waking up strapped to an operating table with no clue as to why he's there surrounded by men wearing bio-hazard suits. He quickly dispatches the guards with a combination of lethal martial arts and expert marksmanship skills after grabbing a gun, and thus, begins his own journey of self-discovery in a brutal world where human organs are currency. Jack suffering from amnesia may be clichéd, but there are plenty of thought-provoking plot twists and surprises in store for this amnesiac headhunter...
     > The 3D graphics engine used in this game is beautiful and runs at a consistently smooth frame rate *most* of the time. Headhunter's graphical presentation is almost approaching Metal Gear Solid 2's level of detail on the surface with bright and clean textures, which says a lot. The on-bike urban areas are especially huge and colorful with a great sense of distance, moving vehicles, and barely noticeable pop-up. The character animations, especially Jack Wade, move with all the fluid realism of real people. I was disappointed by the fact none of the in-game 3D character models seem to utilize real-time facial animations and lip movement when speaking. Thankfully, most of the game's cutscenes are sharp high resolution cinematic sequences that blend with the in-game graphics seamlessly. Real actors are used in the news broadcasts, too, lending the game an unsettling semblance of reality (God help us if the world of Headhunter awaits us on the other side of the horizon). Special effects are subtle in some cases but prominent in others: bullets leave trails, glass shatters into tiny pieces as you shoot through it, real-time shadows follow characters around, and light sourcing is sometimes present to illuminate the main character like when Jack is lit up by red warning lights as sirens are blasting when he's escaping from the labs at the very beginning of the game (because deadly gas is being released into the air to try to contain him). Areas light up in an expected manner when things explode into balls of fire too. There's a confrontation on a rooftop during a rain storm where rain drops gather on Jack's shoulders, which was a nice added touch by the developers. Loading times are minimal enough not to grate on your nerves, and seem like a small price to pay in the light of the huge environments that are loaded in.

     > I'd be lying if I said there were no graphical flaws in this game. The frame rate dropped for a few moments in a few select areas, which were usually open spaces full of enemies, or when in the presence of a few massive explosions. For a last generation Dreamcast title there really shouldn't be any slowdown at all. As rare as it is, when slowdown did rear its ugly head it was only a minor annoyance in some places but major enough in others to affect the gameplay momentarily. There also seem to be a number of bugs Amuze didn't iron out in time for the game's initial release. I found myself stuck behind a door once, and my copy has crashed a few times. I wish the developers would've taken the time to purge the game of these flaws and ensure a stable frame rate throughout the course of the game. I can't help but feel that Headhunter was rushed out for its November 2001 release, which in my opinion, was inexcusable. 

     > A third person perspective like the one used in Headhunter is a double edged sword. On one hand, everything is in your sight until you turn around at which point the camera doesn't always follow you. On the other hand, the camera can be repositioned behind you at any time with the tap of a button. Although the game environments are 3D, some areas use fixed overhead angles as opposed to the traditional third person view, but even in them, you can position the camera behind you at any time by aiming your gun, which really helps immerse you in those environments.

     > Holding down the right shoulder button will aim your weapon very much like Resident Evil and the camera will position itself over your shoulder. Once held down in the presence of hostile creatures you will lock onto anyone in front of you. This can pose a problem when an enemy approaches from the side or behind you because you'll still aim forward when you draw your weapon. I found this refreshing as you aren't always relying on the game to do your aiming for you (as it would with a 360 degree auto-aiming feature). The camera can be a problem too but pressing the X button or holding down the right shoulder button again will reposition it to its proper third person view in the time it takes to blink an eye. You move the main character with the analogue stick and select your weapons and some items via the D-Pad, which works wonders for swapping weapons in a moment's notice. What a shame more games like this weren't developed from the ground up with the Dreamcast in mind.

     > Jack Wade has many moves at his disposal and can acquire more powerful weapons when upgrading his Law Enforcement Intelligence and License Approval (L.E.I.L.A.) bounty hunter license by navigating his way through virtual reality simulations and fighting against wire-frame enemies (people without textures put on them who glow green when non-hostile and red when hostile). Anyone familiar with Metal Gear Solid will feel right at home in these VR missions. Upgrading his license also means Jack gains access to new information and unfettered access to otherwise restricted parts of the city. Jack can roll, duck, hug walls (with his back) to peer around corners, dart out of, unload his weapon and dart back behind the safety of a corner again while hugging it, snap people's necks by sneaking up behind them, switch between targets while aiming (some targets include explosive barrels conveniently placed in the path of enemies), and even move while aiming and firing (unlike Resident Evil). Last but not least, Jack can throw decoy shell casings to draw a guard away from their patrol route (to investigate the noise), too, which is a more useful tactic than you may initially realize. A handy radar tracks the patrol routes and the positions of your enemies as well as the direction they are facing. Rushing in with guns blazing isn't always the best plan of action because it invariably draws unwanted attention to yourself. You can suddenly find yourself overwhelmed by an army of guards wielding automatic weapons if you can't control an itchy trigger finger. Health packs and other combat enhancing medication like adrenaline to reduce damage (an adrenalized person feels less pain) are spread throughout the game to gear you up for a messy confrontation, and can be stored in limited quantities for a rainy day.

     > The bike isn't the easiest of vehicles to control at first. It's quite cumbersome to steer in fact especially at high speeds. I find it best to take my finger off of the accelerator button before turning, but getting to grips with the bike at full speed is not impossible. Sometimes it is necessary to ride your bike at top speeds without stopping in order to earn skill points before being allowed to proceed to your next destination. This can prove to be quite challenging with so many cars on the roads.

     > If anything deserves praise in the sound department it's the music. Headhunter's orchestral musical score is simply incredible. You'd be forgiven if you thought the music in the game was from a blockbuster movie. Sega's Richard Jacques, whom some of you may have heard of, was responsible for composing the music with a huge amount of Sega funding, and it exudes atmosphere. This game wouldn't be quite the same without the music to create moments of suspense while Jack Wade is sneaking around, or without it shifting gears to a more dramatic tempo all of a sudden when Jack springs into action.

     > You might find this surprising, but the voice acting is very good. The voice actors speak their parts convincingly and inject plenty of genuine emotion into their lines. The sound effects are also of the highest quality, especially the gunshot noises, which sound as realistic as possible.

     > I'd put Headhunter, a mere Action/Adventure game, in the same league as Resident Evil Code: Veronica, in terms of overall quality and atmosphere. The combination of combat and stealth is balanced perfectly in my opinion. Too much of a good thing (either combat or stealth in this case) can be poisonous. If I wanted to play a game involving pure stealth tactics, I'd play the sublime Thief: The Dark Project for the PC again (hopefully the forthcoming Thief III: Deadly Shadows for the PC and Xbox will remain true to its roots). Games like Metal Gear Solid didn't revolutionize stealth gameplay; they popularized it. The stealth aspect of Headhunter is only one facet of its gameplay. The story is gripping, but as always, will lose its grip upon completion. The boss encounters always keep you on your toes, because merely firing bullets in their direction is the most expedient path towards your own death. Puzzles very reminiscent of the puzzles found in the Resident Evil games serve as challenging obstacles blocking your path to progress. If only this game was longer; it's too short for its own good. I must admit, the duel with Hank Redwood towards the end was awesome; I felt like I was Neo in The Matrix dodging bullets (this part of the game actually reminded me of the Quick Time Events in Shenmue because you needed to press the right directions in time to avoid moving bullets). I've never had so much fun navigating invisible laser fences like I have in Headhunter either.

     > The differences between the Dreamcast version of Headhunter and the Playstation 2 version are negligible, at best. The frame rate was smoothened out for the PS2 conversion, but the game's textures are rougher around the edges, not to mention seem washed-out in some places, and the real time shadows have been removed from the game for no apparent reason. If you happen to own both consoles, buy whichever version is cheapest.

Bottom Line
     > Headhunter's minor flaws are nowhere near bad enough to detract from the enjoyable action-packed experience it has to offer. I can't wait for the sequel to arrive on the Xbox...
Overall: 9.2 | Graphics: 9.0 | Control: 9.2 | Sound: 9.4 | Fun: 9.1
~ Geoffrey Duke ~

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