In the newly emerging world of VR games, there are some games that seem like they just wouldn’t work. In the case of HeadMaster, it sounds like the experience could be horrible. A hands-free VR game where you use the head tracking on the PlayStation VR to hit soccer balls sounds like it could be terrible. What actually emerges is a fantastic experience, marred by some serious gating problems. HeadMaster could be one of the best original PlayStation VR games, if you can get past some incredibly frustrating parts.
The first thing you notice when you begin playing HeadMaster is how quickly the game removes classic “controls” from you. The only time you ever need to push a button is at the start of the game. Beyond that, the entire experience is played only using the headset. In this regard, it feels like a Gear VR game, but that’s not really a bad thing. Since you don’t use a controller, you never experience a lot of the motion sickness associated with motion in VR games, which can be a huge welcome to players more prone to motion sickness.
The game opens with a bag being removed from your head. You are in the middle of a soccer field which happens to be seemingly in the middle of a prison. You are informed that you have been forcibly moved to this “heading training” center by your teammates.
The narration is similar to GLaDOS, as you are being forcibly tested and need to pass these tests in order to progress. The writing is sharp, too, helping to build this idea of a soccer jail really well. This lends heavily to the charm of the game, but the actual design of these trials helps as well.
Trials will put you in front of a soccer goal. Soccer balls are shot at your head and you use the headtracking of the PSVR to aim the ball. At first, the aiming can seem incredibly tricky as in order to aim a ball lower, you have to tilt your head up so that, in the game your chin would be hitting the ball. Aim your head down so that the top of your head would bounce the ball higher.
The real issue is actually performing horizontal movement of the ball. You can be turned nearly 90 degrees to the left or right, but because you hit the ball at a specific angle, that ball might go straight. Early on, this isn’t an issue but as you progress it can easily make you want to stop playing altogether.
The trials start off simple at first, with you having to hit various targets around the field and try to get the balls into the net. However, as you progress the trials get more and more absurd. One will have you in the air trying to hit drones. Another may have you hitting multi-colored balls into specific nets.
All of this is in service of trying to unlock the exam. These are generally harder tests of skill that gate you off from the next set of challenges. However, in the exams lies the heart of the problems with the game. It uses a star rating mechanic in order to unlock these exams. While getting one star on a level is technically “passing”, in order to unlock the second exam you need to, on average, score 2 out of 3 stars on every level. The 2 star rating can sometimes be absolutely absurd to try and get and if you are having trouble with horizontal shots, you simply will become incredibly frustrated. This begs the question, why even have the 1 star rating if it’s not going to help me get past the star gates? By the time you are halfway through the game, you can feel incredibly frustrated and disappointed in the game’s progression design.
It’s all an issue because of how good all of the other parts of the game are. The writing is on point, when you are scoring goals there’s an incredible satisfaction and the experience is completely unexpected. It could and should be the best game of the PlayStation VR’s launch, but instead it becomes frustrating and incredibly tough to play, especially when you have to use precision that the game sometimes doesn’t seem to allow.
HeadMaster really is a fantastic title but it’s wrapped in a poor shell of progression. There’s a lot to love but its overall design can lead you to stop playing the game altogether. There is a sharp difficulty spike and for a game that seems designed to appeal to a more casual audience, it’s hard to believe that people would be willing to invest everything they have to a game that becomes as difficult as this. HeadMaster as a concept is great but in its current state, it leaves you wishing for more.
SCORE: 7.0 out of 10
A code for HeadMaster was provided to Pixel Related for review.