Headmaster Review – Use Your Head (PSVR)
I never would have thought that an entire game could be designed around performing headers in football, but that’s the basis of Frame Interactive’s Headmaster. Yes, the football technique that you’ll see Sergio Ramos performing regularly is pretty much the entire game. While it’s easy to assume that it’ll be one mini-game stretched out way too thin, there’s actually plenty of depth in this non-concussive alternative to hitting a soccer ball with your head.
Taking place in a prison-like establishment called the Football Improvement Centre, Headmaster forces players to pass a series of tests (all involving headers) in order to graduate. It’s an absolutely insane premise, but it’s a fascinating one that is told over a series of notes in-between levels and dialogue before and after levels. The story takes some interesting twists as the game progresses, and it’s one of the most surprising elements of the game.
Each level has the player trying to earn points in order to pass the test. This is typically done by hitting a soccer ball in a specific part of the net and hitting a marker or going through a ring. These levels start off simple enough, with the first stage featuring an empty net, but quickly begin to include hazards to deal with as well. One of the earliest ones that are introduced is the “dreaded keeper,” which is just a cardboard cut-out of a goalie. The voice over the stadium’s loudspeaker (who runs the Football Improvement Centre) goes on and on about how the player is paralyzed in fear and that this course is to help the striker get over his phobia.
Things start to get far more ridiculous in short order, and in no time the player is dealing with cardboard goalies that move around. That’s not all as moving targets are introduced, and ridiculous scenarios such as trying to hit balls while suspended on a platform 30 feet in the air become a common occurrence. Things escalate rather quickly in Headmaster, and that’s probably for the best considering how simple the game is.
However, this simplicity is key to the game’s success. While not everyone has performed a header in their lives, everybody who plays Headmaster will have experience moving their head around. That’s the brilliance of it, and that’s the entire control scheme of the game. No controller needs to be used past the main menu, and it’s a completely hands-free experience.
That does mean that the game relies heavily on PlayStation VR’s head-tracking, but unlike my experience with PlayStation Move controllers, I found the tracking to be generally spot-on. I only ran into one situation where the headset wasn’t matching my movements, and a quick restart of the headset and the game fixed that issue right up. This meant that simple movements such as merely slightly moving my head to the right were accurately reproduced, and it was entirely up to me to hit the targets. Headmaster is a game of skill, and it relies on the player’s actual reflexes.
It’s Full Of Stars
Headmaster‘s challenges really reached a peak after its second chapter. By then the player is dealing with hitting colored balls in specific areas, are triggering power-ups such as explosive balls, and have completed an intense boss fight (which can be seen in the video above) that is accompanied with music that seems straight out of Star Wars. It’s clear that the team at Frame Interactive had a lot of fun with the design, and their creativity really shines here.
Eventually, the player will be hitting objects other than soccer balls with their heads. Beach balls, trash bags, and other items all make an appearance and help the game feel fresh. One of my favorite stages has the player wearing a football helmet and then attempting to play bowling by hitting bowling balls with their head. It’s super ridiculous, challenging, and ultimately rewarding.
The only thing I really dislike about Headmaster is its progression system. Players can earn up to three stars in each stage, and these stars are needed to unlock exams, which serve as the finale for each chapter. The game gets highly difficult and the star requirements forced me to replay a bunch of old levels in order to move on. It eventually got so ridiculous that I kept playing every new stage until I at least got two stars since I knew one star wouldn’t simply be enough in the long run.
The game also presents its challenges in a very linear fashion. Every challenge has to be completed before I could move onto the next one. That proved to be rather frustrating later on as I struggled with some levels for up to a half-hour. The levels are still brilliantly put together, but they’re so demanding that I wouldn’t fault anyone for giving up. It’s a shame that there aren’t options or an easy mode to let more players experience the later content as it’s some of the most creative.
Headmaster brilliantly manages to make a compelling game out of the simple action of simply moving your head around. While its high difficulty and progression system make certain aspects feel like a headache, the rest is pure fun. A surprising story also gets a starring role, and this is one of the best surprises to come out of PlayStation VR’s launch line-up.
Review code for Headmaster provided by publisher. Reviewed on PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.