In Headmaster, footballers have been imprisoned in a 'Football Improvement Centre' to help improve their game. Basically it's the kind of drastic measure that's easy to imagine the FA implementing to turn things around for the England national team.
Headmaster is too innocent for it to be a problem, but it wasn't until playing the game that I realised what a trope housing puzzle games in testing facilities run by faceless sardonic voices has become since Valve did it perfectly with Portal, twice.
Gamers are cast as Player 3274, learning to improve their heading skills in a facility enclosed in barbed wire fencing. Headmaster presents an Angry Birds-style successions of challenges, called lessons, to be completed through accumulating points by hitting targets. Each lesson has a potential three stars to attain, and you'll need a certain amount of these to unlock exams.
These exams don't differ themselves too much from regular lessons, seemingly acting as little more than goals to incentivise continued play. Fair enough, but it's a shame these exams don't differentiate themselves in more ways than how they're scored: three levels of success – 'pass', 'bonus' and 'aced' – rather than stars.
Initially it doesn't seem like Headmaster will be able to offer much variety in its gameplay. The player's actions are limited as it is solely about heading a football, but a variety of obstacles and challenges keeps things fresh. There are piles of boxes that can be cleared easily by footballs with dynamite strapped to them, targets that move, others that only appear after certain other targets have been hit, targets being flown around by drones and many more, much crazier obstructions. Later levels go completely off the rails.
The game sustains itself for longer than you might think, but not without a few sharp increases in difficulty. In one example, a goalkeeper (a piece of plywood on a track with a crude goalie silhouette drawn on it) will block anything heading towards the three targets in goal, meaning the player must aim for targets around the goal that appear one after the other.
Later levels increase the difficulty further, requiring a level of accuracy that's hard to accomplish in the virtual reality headset without it feeling more like luck than skill. Moving your head repeatedly with any degree of finesse with a headset attached to it and wires draping off, is difficult and quickly becomes frustrating.
If developers Frame Interactive hadn't nailed the physical properties of the football and the obstacles presented to players, the whole game would have fallen apart like West Ham at a new address.
Fortunately, the physics give the game the crucial foundation it needed to be anything other than a failure. The sense of humour offers it a certain amount of charm: just enough to make it a solid launch title for PlayStation VR.
Stripped down, Headmaster is a simple game, but it's well-made and presents itself in a fun, light-hearted way. As a launch game it fulfils its purpose and then some, providing a sizeable challenge but one requiring a level of fidelity the headset itself isn't quite capable of replicating.