A real blockbuster in many ways, Headhunter is an example of an extremely Western Sega game, more than influenced by countless "high-octane" Hollywood movies and TV series. It may not be wholly original, but what it does it accomplishes very well.
Set in a Western-American city in the near future, you control Jack Wade, a once-great bounty hunter sadly bereft of his memory who seeks to regain his skills and uncover a sinister plot revolving around the powerful Stern Corporation. It’s pretty by-the-numbers for most Hollywood films, but it certainly allows plenty of room for exciting motorbike rides, disarming bombs and silent sneaking. It’s almost like a prototype for 24 in terms of atmosphere and visuals, and I can’t help but think a post-24 Headhunter 3 would be amazing.
Stopping Headhunter reaching the top twenty is the fact it’s quite happy to borrow rather than innovate. The driving, stealth and shooting elements are all quite basic, without any of the invention seen in Metal Gear Solid, a clear point of reference. That’s not to say it’s completely without its own ideas – the news reports that punctuate levels bring some welcome levity to Jack’s story of amnesia and organ-theft.
Anyway, that’s enough about the game, now onto the real reason for its inclusion in any "best ever" list: the soundtrack. The compositions of one Mr. Richard Jacques have taken on a life of their own beyond the boundaries of videogames, performed live in concert many times and recognised as one of the all-time great media scores.
The first game soundtrack ever recorded in the Abbey Road Studios, it’s a stunning fusion of orchestral and electronic that works on a number of themes and motifs through a huge range of tracks. Whenever I listen to a great piece of music, Sega-related or otherwise, I’m always struck by the fact that there are absolutely no wasted notes, and nowhere is this more evident than Jack’s Theme. Light flute ripples contrast with the taut strings and piano, and the brass is so wonderfully bombastic it could have come straight out of any action film. Each phrase is sheer precision, executed flawlessly yet full of character, and there are so many false finishes and crescendos by the time the final flourish kicks in you’ll be convinced you are the quintessential gruff action hero. Which, if your name’s Jack Wade, you are.
In the great scheme of third-person action adventures, Headhunter comes off worse in comparisons with the Metal Gear Solids and Grand Theft Autos of this world, but it’s still a highly enjoyable and important game that’s as much a prestige piece for Sega as anything they’ve produced.