Back in the days of my childhood there was a comic that was very popular. You may have heard of it, for it was The Beano. In this comic book was a comic strip story called The Numbskulls, which was about a group of tiny workers who lived inside people, operating their minds and their bodies. Headspun, the new game from Wales Interactive, takes this concept and places a whole new spin on it, mixing FMV and hand-drawn animation to create an unusual story about a man coming out of a coma. I’ve spent a lot of time with this brilliant idea of a game, but have had to put up with a whole host of horrible problems.
Headspun starts off in a strange world where you are the boss of an organisation called Cortex. You wander around the headquarters unsure of what has occurred, failing to remember what has happened. Bits of the headquarters are on fire and badly damaged, while dead corpses are lining the corridors. It all pretty quickly transpires that you are Ted and you work inside the mind of Theo, a twenty-something accounts man who had a car crash and has been left in a coma for five weeks. It’s up to you to repair the cortex and help Theo remember how he got put in hospital in the first place.
How you play the game is complex, at least to begin with, but once you get into your stride, things are easy going. You start each day by leaving your room and going down to work. Here you wake up Theo and start the day. With him in his hospital bed, we see visitors arrive, from the Neurologist to family and friends, all played out in full motion video. From here you make choices via dialogue trees, watching the story unfold through these scenes.
The rest of the time it is your job to heal Theo’s mind and you can do this in several ways. First, you can take part in mini-game exercises like reading a book, doing light weights or concluding a crossword for example. These games are basically either simple hand to eye coordination games, button bashing or seeing you pick an answer to a question. You get some kind of neuro-currency for completing the tasks well, using this money to build up the cortex again.
It is here where we see that Headspun becomes like a sim game, allowing you to hire staff and allocate jobs for them to do, both for you and the cortex. Getting them to repair the cortex is the first job, in order to open up damaged departments; things like a memory bank which unlocks pieces of Theo’s past or a dream cinema where you can try and interpret the psyche of your host. There’s also an R&D department that will provide more hours in the day. Your main goal is to ensure the brainpower moves up to 100 percent, with each goal unlocked going towards this objective. It really is a great idea, a brilliant concept and is intriguing to play.
But, and this is a huge but. Headspun is broken.
Now, it’s the norm in the gaming industry to see bugs arrive in games, and a Day One patch normally sorts these problems out. In my first playthrough, though I noticed a few issues, like the cursor and selection responses in certain mini-games wouldn’t let me choose items or answers. At one point the mini-game was going on but I couldn’t see it happening – it was just the soundtrack rolling on, with the neuro-credits racking up. Another time I decided to leave the control centre to go to HR and then I couldn’t carry on with the rest of the activities. But the worst for me has been found at a specific point in Headspun – one in which a ton of gameplay has been put in – to find the game telling me I couldn’t finish the day unless I went to the memory bank to talk to a worker. That’s fine, not a problem I thought, but every time I would do this I would continue to be told to do it again, regardless that it’s already been actioned. So I had to start again. And again. After a few playthroughs with the same problem, I’ve fast realised it isn’t going to work and my time with Headspun on Xbox One is done.
Aside from those massive problems, I like much of what has been created. The visuals are good with a cartoon-world design that works very well. The FMV is of the usual Wales Interactive standard, superbly performed and designed. I especially like the main performance of the neurologist as she holds together a big bulk of the narrative. But even within the FMV there are some oddities, like too many sections which are repeated. In fact, at one point you can hear the director on a loop saying “action” before the scene starts.
It’s such a shame to conclude this review in such a negative way, as I’m a big fan of indie developers and the originality that they give us. There is a great game with a brilliant idea underneath the problems of Headspun; problems that have made the game unworkable. It is at times like these where I wish developers would just delay the release of their game, as I’m sure some patches will be on their way. But by that time it’ll be hard for anyone to be persuaded to have another go at Headspun.