Dead Head Fred (PSP) review
"Right Dead Fred"
Sometimes, when my life is overtaken by drudgery, I like to think about how it would be if video games were colours that you could mix together to get an entirely different hue. For instance, what kind of a shade would we get by combining Tomb Raider and Indiana Jones with a layer of Metal Gear Solid slapped on top of a canvas made from Splinter Cell? Would it be utter manliness set against ancient societies, Nazis, political intrigue and whips, or would it be a festering pile of crap where you fight bears armed with guns and sporting wobbly breasts while at the sodding end you find the EWOKS did it, a scenario fresh out from Mr. Boll's gifted pen?
I don't know that, but I do know what sort of a game we would get if you mix Medievil, fully complemented by its atmospheric locations, with Psychonauts and it's vibrant characters and an intriguing storyline with a splash of Beetlejuice, and, more importantly, the slightly-offkey Tim Burton. You would get Dead Head Fred.
Let's put aside the horrid name. Let's put aside its stealth release on the PSP and let's focus on the product itself. Your name is Fred, and, during your life, you were many things. A bastard, a private detective, but, most of all, you were alive. This, however, changes dramatically at the very start of your adventure when Fred wakes up on a doctor's table and finds out, with some worry, his bad case of decapitation has resulted in a nasty side effect of death. However, the good doctor resurrects Fred and salvages his brain which he puts in a jar and grafts onto his lifeless shoulders. He’s not overly happy about it. Oh, did I mention that Fred's insult-spouting voice is done by John C. McGinley, a. k. a. Dr. Cox from Scrubs?
Fred finds out that he was killed by crime lord Ulysses Pitt because he knew too much about his operation, but his recollection of the details are sketchy at best. Thanks to his un-ultimate demise, Fred lost almost all his memories and must now work his way through the various locales to connect the dots and thus find out who he was, and what was he working on that got him killed. During his journey, he will meet people that he knew in his life, ranging from a potential love interest to his old partner that can offer advice, or perhaps give you a mission in which you can earn an extra bob. Still, most information Fred gathers by beating the living crap out of Pitt’s goons. However, the crime lord has countless variations of ghouls, zombies, witch doctors and skeletons on his disposal to send at Fred, each with their own style of attacking, strengths and weaknesses. The only way to defeat such odds is to even the scales and Fred does that by literally decapitating his enemies and stealing their heads, more often than not in quite a gory manner.
During the journey which you undertake by controlling Fred from the third person view, guiding him like a puppet on ever-so-capable strings, every time you meet a new kind of enemy, you’re able to collect their head and exchange it with your default one, giving you a whole new set of abilities. For instance, kill a Freddie Krueger-like skeleton, slip on its skull, and grow sword-like fingers that slice and dice everything in their path. Knock off a leathery zombie head and exhale venomous gas at your enemies, or, due to its inflatable nature, inhale enough air to float over chasms and pits. Or use the Stone Idol head to smash one of the many breakable walls in the game by simply running into it. Every head is upgradeable, thanks to macabre shops allowing you to graft on new abilities or strengthen pre-existing ones.
One of the more unique heads is that of the Mannequin, which makes Fred somewhat presentable -- and by presentable, I mean that people won’t shriek in terror the moment you confront them since, apparently, a suit-clad torso with a brain loosely attached isn’t the most eye pleasing object in the world.
When you learn how to use your head(s) in battle, the difficulty curve will suddenly take a nose–dive because, for every sort of enemy you find in the game, there's a head that revels in its weaknesses. For instance, the Scarecrow head makes you a formidable force against mutated farmers lurking around irradiated corn fields, and you'll smile with glee as you execute a series of gory finishers, be it by blowing their face off with their own shotguns, setting the undead on fire with mystical abilities, or lean on pure brute force to smash brittle-boned mutants into fine powdered dust. However, just as you're strong against one sort of enemy, there is always a different beastie out there ready to take advantage of your shortcomings should you not learn how to change heads in mid combat as the situation warrants.
Every head that you collect has a battle purpose and a field purpose, and Fred needs to learn how to combine all of them if he's to survive long enough to find out the mystery surrounding his death and the apparent destitute state of the city.
So, the final question is, “DE, you incredible human being, you; why do you speak of this game with such high regards and yet I've never heard of it?”
Well, my dear reader, the answer is simple enough. A very stupid title name plus extremely lackluster marketing equals failure. Which, commercially, Dead Head Fred is. It's not aided by the unfortunate occurrence of an unwieldy camera that can frustrate and irk the few of you not yet hardened to this common genre fault.
So, I recommend this game to everyone; enjoy and revel in the rainbow of goofy aggression, bizarre noir, and popping people’s heads off then wearing them like a hat, much like a deranged serial killer. Odds are, you‘ll never see a sequel or anything quite like it again.
Community review by darketernal (October 30, 2020)
Occasional reviewer of random stuff.
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