Dead Head Fred - PSP - Review
Fred is dead and the fact that he’s still walking around without a head makes his situation truly bizarre and somehow very hilarious. He’s not a supernatural being - although the world of the supernatural does play a role in his life - but rather a crudely put-together freak that was revived by a mad scientist you would only find in a B-movie sci-fi flick that showcases a hero given a last chance to make things right and avenge his own death in the process. Dead Head Fred for the PSP is one of those weird but delightfully charming and original games that should not be missed.
“Oh my God, it’s Keith Richards! We love you Keith!”
You assume the role of Fred Neuman, a private investigator asked to look into the illegal wheeling and dealings of a crime boss named Pitt. Somehow, Pitt must have gotten the drop on you and you wake up in a daze in some wacky scientist’s laboratory. This strange scientist is Doc Steiner and he drops a bomb: you’re dead and, to top things off, you’re missing your head. The Doc managed to revive you but the shocking thing is that instead of your old noggin you are fitted with a jar filled with formaldehyde as well as your brains and your eyeballs that will allow you to think and see. You’re a walking freak show, alright, but you’re given a chance to get your revenge on Pitt and solve the mystery behind your own death.
This, of course, means you’ll have to go through a number of strange thugs and an army of deadly zombies in this 1940s-inspired universe. Thankfully, the good Doc has set you up with the ability to change your jar head with eight other different heads that have their own abilities Fred could take advantage of on his quest for revenge. The best part about having interchangeable heads (nine in total, even) is the fact that each head grants Fred different abilities. There’s the Stone head, a head carved out of a hard rock that gives Fred extra strength as well as the ability to ram into enemies to knock them down like bowling pins. Then there’s the Corpse head, a head ripped straight out of a zombie’s body that can spew toxic fumes or suck in a number of liquids (or fire) to spray at your enemies. There’s even a shrunken head that shrinks Fred to the size of a mouse and a powerful Tiki head as well.
The heads aren’t just used for combat purposes because the game tosses a number of puzzles your way. Many of the puzzles have obvious solutions and a few others will have you slapping your forehead wondering why you haven’t thought of using a particular head in the first place. That fire in the kitchen of Doc Steiner’s castle could easily be put out by putting on the Corpse head and sucking in water from a broken drain pipe and then spewing it on the source of the fire. That somewhat rickety old garage door out near the cemetery could easily be bashed open with brute strength. There are certainly a good number of clever puzzles and you’ll have a blast solving them throughout the game.
After completing a run through Doc Steiner’s castle, you’ll be given the option to freely explore a number of different areas that are surprisingly big. You’ll be able to venture through areas like Uptown, Downtown, and the town of Old Hope Falls, the Boonies and Zombietown. You can explore Creepy Hollow (a Tim Burton-inspired version of Sleepy Hollow complete with a hilariously rude Headless Horseman) as well as a place called Freak Farms. You’ll find that you won’t only be going through these areas just to fight enemies and defeat bosses but you’ll also participate in a number of mini-games as well. You can play a game of pool (and not a simple little rack-them-smack-them-and-it’s-over game of pool but a lengthy game) and you can even raise mutant roosters to bet on them in the cockfight arena for money … I mean, you can even name your mutant rooster.
Yes, Dead Head Fred has it all but somehow when it comes to combat the game falls rather short. This is mainly due to the fact that the fisticuffs become way too repetitive too quickly in the game. It’s not to say that it isn’t fun but it doesn’t stay very fresh for very long and that’s with a game that has you breaking zombie necks and ripping out heads in a gusher of blood. At least you can upgrade your head’s powers for some extra abilities. The camera is also something of an annoyance but since we last previewed the game it’s come a long way. Still, even with these few flaws, it isn’t able to take anything away from the quirky story, great characters and witty dialogue to make this a darkly humors and fun game.
As far as the graphics are concerned, the game is a real beauty. The sharp character models simply jump off the PSP screen and Fred’s freakish form is like looking at a car crash … you really don’t want to stare but you just can’t help it. There are some amazing backgrounds as well, making each area’s environments really stand out. There’s some clipping and sometimes the textures can take on a dull appearance but, overall, Dead Head Fred is a great-looking PSP game.
“Frank, I don’t think that’s the kind of attire the boss had in mind for “casual” Fridays.”
One of the things that makes the game’s story such a rich experience is the fact that the voice acting is really top notch and the dialogue (filled to the brim with profanity) so comical. What makes Fred such an interesting character is his slick personality that is brought to life by actor John C. McGinley who is currently best known for his Doctor Cox role in the television show Scrubs (as well as stellar performances in movies like Office Space and Platoon). A bit of Doctor Cox’s razor-sharp wit can be found in Fred and he is always quick to serve up a number of insults to his enemies as well as to the player when Fred gets killed. There’s also some great music in the game and the sound effects are just so wonderfully detailed that you might want to play this game using earphones to get the full experience.
Dead Head Fred is one of those unforgettable romps that’s twisted, bizarre and oh-so enjoyable to the point that you won’t be able to put your PSP down … or even want to for that matter. While there are a few weak spots, like the occasionally weak camera and the repetitive combat, there is so much to see and do in this charming tale of revenge and the walking dead. Really, this one is for any PSP owner that’s looking for something different and something fun.
Review Scoring Details for Dead Head Fred
Playing a dead gumshoe with nine different interchangeable heads might sound a bit off but this game’s warped sense of humor and surreal situation make for one seriously delightful romp. The different heads aren’t just for combat - the weakest part of this game - but for solving pretty neat puzzles as well. There’s a lot of ground to cover in this world and what other game has mutant cockfights?
Sharp visuals make this a really pretty PSP game with a wonderful sense of environment design and equally impressive character design. Fred himself is a hoot to look at and so are the cast of colorfully warped characters that make up this odd universe. I just wish the camera wouldn’t be such a hindrance sometimes.
The game’s music is not only catchy but wonderfully eclectic and charming from start to finish. Even the sound effects are nicely detailed to the point that you’ll know when zombies are around. The real highlight comes in the form of McGinley, whose overly sarcastic delivery and insults make his “Scrubs” character seem tame in comparison.
Fighting off wave after wave of zombies gets pretty hard but the real challenge comes from battling the level bosses like the Headless Horseman and henchmen that work for Pitt. There are some smart puzzles to solve in this game and some competitive mini-games as well.
What’s not to love about playing a dead private eye with interchangeable heads and warped enemies that crack wise and practice mean voodoo? There’s a lot to explore in this game and plenty of mini-games that are just as fun as the main story mode.
Dead Head Fred is a wildly unique PSP game that will not fail to hook you into its quirky, deliciously twisted and downright satisfying adventure. It’s rare to find a game - especially a handheld game - that walks its own distinctive line and when we do find it the game in question will make you appreciate it even more. Yes, combat can be really repetitive but it pales in comparison to all the things that make this a gem.