Instead of writing a game review, I decided to interpret Headlander’s retro sci-fi aesthetics and historical influences…
The late 1960s early 70s was an era brimming with optimism. July 20, 1969, the Apollo 11 and its crew landed on the moon. The USA had won the space race and claimed one of humanity’s greatest feats. If we could land on the moon than we could go anywhere, do anything. The future was looking bright, and Mars was the obvious next step in man’s conquest of the stars.
Fact: NBC was so sure that Mars would soon be colonised, that they wouldn’t allow the original Star Trek series to venture to the red planet as fiction would clash with reality.
So what does a 1970s vision of the future look like? Double Fine interprets it as flared pants and disco…in space. Even though Headlander is a parody of 70s culture, it sums up the style and attitude incredibly well. The visionaries behind 70’s sci-fi along with everyone else thought we would have colonised the stars by now. They jumped the gun. People were so confident that the technology existed that they believed life in space would be no different than life on Earth. What other reason would there be for the fashion? Just look at the outfits worn in Logan’s Run and Buck Rogers. Practicality was ignored and swingin-70s style was on display. A fact Headlander wants to remind you of.
The 197Os brought about significant social change. The fallout that followed Vietnam, the rise of the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, a recession and oil shortages. Optimism was replaced with pessimism, and this theme continued over into the 1980s. Blade Runner, Escape From New York and Mad Max The Road Warrior all featured dystopian futures where technology had led to society’s downfall. Headlander is no different. A rogue AI named Methuselah enslaves the entirety of human consciousness for a nefarious purpose. Sci-fi has always looked at the consequences of uncontrolled technology growth. Headlander successfully channels the dystopian future spurred on the culture of the 70s and 80s and modernised the plot with its AI themes (see the awesome 2015 film Ex Machina).
Sleaze and Filth
Exploitation was rampant through the cinema of the 70s-that is B-grade films which trade prestige for sex and violence. Exploitation films came about because of the lifting of censorship laws and the end of the Hollywood production code in the late 1960s. Filmmakers were able to get away with a lot more. Horror, Blaxploitation, Carsploitation, Ozploitation, Sexploitation, Spaghetti Westerns – the early exploitation genres that proved successful and some have even become staples of modern cinema.
Headlander is certainly not exploitation, although it likely draws inspiration from sexploitation films and pokes fun at them. 2069 A Sex Odyssey, Star Virgin, Sex World, and Sensual Encounters of Every Kind. There’s no shortage of 70s space filth. Headlander is significantly toned down to suit Double Fine’s sense of humour but the sex is still there. It’s just a lot of innuendo and dick jokes. There’re multiple comments from NPCs that can be interpreted as ‘head’ in the oral sense. There’s a pleasuredome-esque environment and even a phallic-shaped spaceship. Then there’s the concept art. Take a look at this article’s feature image and tell me it doesn’t resemble the male ejaculation.
A sexploitation video game would be interesting and certainly one of a kind, although it would never be accepted by today’s society. Sex is still a taboo in video games. Remember the drama that occurred over the sex scenes in Mass Effect? And there is still plenty of non-gamers who believe people emulate violent video games. So, for now, we have juvenile jokes that feel like they were pulled from an episode of South Park instead of 70s exploitation which is probably a good thing. Also obvious when you consider Headlander is published by Adult Swim Games.
Stay tuned for Part 2 where I take a look at disembodied heads and Headlander’s ‘groovy’ soundtrack.
Michael Vane is a freelance journalist and co-editor of PN2. He’s on Twitter @DrVane