As an American, I can't say that the sport of soccer (football for those of you outside the US) has never been a favorite of mine. However, certain aspects of it have thrilled me in the past when watching live matches, and a well-placed header is my all-time favorite. Headmaster, which you can gather from the game’s title, has players heading soccer balls. The simplistic, yet addictive gameplay mechanics would only work as well as it does in VR and provides some of the most fun I’ve had since the PlayStation VR launched.
You're sent to a soccer training camp resembling a prison by your team to get better at the sport, and you quickly notice the small details that keep you locked in the facility. Barbed wire fence outlines the soccer field; guard towers can be seen in the distance, and you are locked in a suffocating cell without luxuries when you are not heading soccer balls. Headmaster doesn’t require the use of a controller once you are in-game. The game even instructs you to go controller free.
You are placed on the soccer field near a goal, and your placement will charge during different lessons. Your instructor communicates with you over a crackling PA system, informing you of your task. While a scoreboard indicates the score required to get between one and three stars. Receive three stars on a lesson, and you’ll be rewarded with a bonus item for your room. The funny part about these rewards, which includes a boombox, is they are launched at your head just like the soccer balls.
Headmaster wouldn’t work if I didn’t feel like I was actually there. The use of heavy shadows and spotlights help keep the environment a mystery outside what you are meant to see. Mannequins come and go on predetermined tracks; target locations pop up and down, and cranes are used to alter the angle of the soccer balls coming directly at you. I recall one of the earlier lessons where the soccer balls were flying at me too fast, and not realizing what direction they were coming from (it was altering left and right), I put my arms up to protect my head from a ball about to clock me in the nose. This type of interaction is what I dreamed of when playing VR games and in that respect Headmaster delivers.
One aspect of the game that I think should get more recognition is the game’s use of playful dialogue. It is well-written and adds a decent amount of chuckles between actual gameplay moments. Developer Frame Interactive has found a way of keeping the game feeling fresh across the different lessons. One of my favorites features a party, complete with a cake and a swinging pinata. Breaking the pinata with a ball is only the beginning as it acts as a physics object that will reflect any subsequent balls heading in its directly. Lessons are littered with objects like that, such as crates and spiked rings, some of which can give you a lucky bounce and other times block a perfectly placed shot needed for obtaining three stars. Trust me, getting three stars is already hard enough. Through the week of release, I have still not received three stars on the very first lesson, but destroyed the score in the second and third lesson.
Headmaster is played, well, with your head, although the game is very adamant that you do not bend your neck, and instead bend at your hips. Considering I had major spinal surgery around my neck area last year, I can contest that you do not need to move your neck. Controlling the ball becomes a breeze after you are acclimated to what type of motion is required. If you need to hit a target at the top of the goal, try and have the ball hit the top of your head, and have it lower on your head for lower shots. Moving your head forward at the same time as the ball hits you and it will add additional force. Bend left or right for angled shots, although I seem to be better at going to the right than the left.
Headmaster is a simplistic game from a gameplay perspective, but also challenging to get three stars on all of the lessons. Visually the game has a very strong realistic style and has a strong use of 3D depth. The well-written and humorous dialogue is a plus, pushing Headmaster as a must-have PlayStation VR title. Frame Interactive will be adding post-launch support to the game, tweaking the game's difficulty and adding group play modes in the future.
Note: The review for Headmaster is based on a digital PlayStation 4 copy of the game, provided by the publisher.