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Video Game / Headlander

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It is the future. Well, it's what people living in the 1970's thought the future would be like. You wake up on an abandoned spaceship, having just come out of cryosleep. Only problem is, you're just a head stuck in a space helmet. Fortunately the helmet is equipped with rockets allowing you to move around and attach to various robot bodies. Unfortunately the AI known as Methuselah has declared you an aberration and is sending an army of robots called Shepherds after you.

Released in 2016 by Double Fine, Headlander is a Metroidvania style game available for download from Steam.


  • After the End: The Archives hold a clip of a news report announcing the end of the "Ever-Wars" and the need for remediation of poisoned farmlands. Another clip describes the Impostor robot bodies as capable of withstanding the changing climate. It's strongly hinted that the space station is all that's left of humanity's legacy.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Methuselah is an old AI that went rogue and now runs pretty much everything. On the other hand there's ROOD, the AI in charge of opening doors. He's not evil, but he can be difficult at times. Then there's Electrosux Zed-Four, who is very passionate about keeping things clean. Homicidally so.
    • Towards the end of the game you learn that Earl is really ERL, an AI designed to stop Methuselah from going out of control. Averted in that he really is on your side.
  • Brain Uploading: In order to live forever the human race has uploaded their minds into robot bodies called Imposters. It is implied that Methuselah was created by several uploaded minds being combined, one of which belonged to the character that the player character is a clone of.
  • Bullet Hell: A number of enemies have Spread Shot which, if there are enough of them, can completely cover the screen and make it difficult for players to maneuver around. Even more difficult are certain areas with environmental elements that reflect and multiply every laser fired into them in more spreads.
  • Cassette Futurism: Everything in the game is based around what a person living in the 1970's thought the future would be like, with things like boxy, beige computers driven by reel-to-reel magnetic tape.
  • Color-Coded Castes: Methuselah's Shepherds have different levels of security clearance based on the spectrum of visible light: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, and Violet. Only robots of the appropriate color or higher can go through colored doors; laborers and other ordinary citizens can only go through white doors.
  • Cranial Processing Unit: Every robot in the game has a detachable head or equivalent that can be ripped off so that the player can hijack the body for their own use.
  • Crazy People Play Chess: Halfway through the game you must enter an arena run by the Queen, an AI who has taken chess and turned it into Grid Clash, a game with chess pieces shooting lasers at each other.
  • Cybernetics Eat Your Soul: Methuselah believes that "something" is missing from him. He is unable to get it from his experiments on the citizens and believes that the only way to become whole is to merge with the player character.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Remember Mappy? The infodesk robot you killed over and over just to get a pdf map file you didn't even need? Methuselah upgrades him to Killbot status near the end of the game. His weapon is weak, but he's a tank for health and comes in hordes.
  • Heroic Mime: Justified, and even lampshaded in the opening cutscene. Your character is a disembodied head attached to a succession of robot bodies; you can't talk without lungs.
  • Justified Extra Lives: Partway through the game Earl reveals that you are a clone. Near the end of the game Methuselah reveals that you're not just one clone, but a series of them. Whenever one of you is killed, a new clone is teleported into its place.
  • Light and Mirrors Puzzle: There are occasional force fields surrounding objects that won't drop unless players successfully manage to hit every target in the area. They're generally lined up so the Reflecting Laser can be fired upon all of them in fewer shots.
  • Losing Your Head: You spend the entire game as head in a space helmet with no body.
  • Nanomachines: Used in flavor text to explain things like the Headlander's Regenerating Health that can be upgraded to extend to the bodies they take over.
  • Neat Freak: Electrosux Zed-Four will do anything to keep the station clean, up to and including murder.
  • Plug 'n' Play Technology: The central conceit of the gameplay is that the Headlander can plug themselves into any open port and take control of whatever it connects them to. Most often it's used to steal robotic bodies.
  • Reflecting Laser: Every laser in the game bounces off walls a few times. This can be exploited by enemies and players to hit targets that don't have a direct line of fire.
  • Restraining Bolt: All citizens are fitted with an Omega Gem to keep them in line.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Vilified: A group known as the Daughters of Lucia-13 fight to overthrow Methuselah and return the human race to their original organic bodies.
  • Sense Loss Sadness: At the first visit to the Rogue Eye, Headlander can talk to a rebel named Rhea-6, who is gardening. If you talk to her enough times, Rhea-6 will lament that due to their robot bodies, nobody can enjoy the smell of plants.
    I've grown all of this around us. I wish I could smell it. Do you know, I've even forgotten what it feels like to BREATH?
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: At the climax, the Headlander has Methuselah in his sights and prepares to fire. Methuselah admits that if he's destroyed now, then he'll be gone forever, but civilization as it exists cannot maintain itself without him, and either way it doesn't matter. Headlanders response?
  • Smart People Play Chess: Averted. White Queen is clearly off her rocker and reduced to fighting gladiator games.
  • Spread Shot: Stronger enemies will often have lasers that fire multiple shots or split multiple times after a short distance in a forking manner.
  • Teleportation: Here they use "zapping" to teleport from one place to another.
  • Use Your Head: One of two offensive options that the Headlander can use without a body is an upgrade of rocket boosters. Initially used to ram through certain walls, it can be further upgraded for use against enemies.
  • Voice with an Internet Connection: Throughout the game "Earl" will walk you through what to do over the radio.
  • Weapons That Suck: The Headlander's initial tool is a vacuum attachment to the base of their neck that's strong enough to lift or rip out any nearby components. It's most often used to open ports to plug into or rip of the heads of robots to take their bodies. This is basically a one hit kill on the latter, but can be difficult to pull off under heavy fire.
  • Wham Shot: Late in the game, you explore the moon for humanity's organic bodies. The first one you find is a corpse belonging to someone named Winters and they are a dead ringer for Headlander.