Dead Head Fred E3 2007 Preshow Hands-On

It's a tale of corruption, revenge, murder, and interchangeable heads. We check out Vicious Cycle's upcoming PSP adventure game.

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Private investigator Fred Neuman is having a bad day. After getting too close for comfort on some shady dealings by a local industrial magnate named Ulysses Pitt, Fred Neuman is "taken out" and his body is dumped in a local nuclear sludge pit. Neuman's body is rescued by a scientist, Dr. Steiner, but unfortunately, it's only Neuman's body which is saved. As for his head....well, the game wouldn't be called Dead Head Fred, if it turned up, right? Luckily, Steiner managed to keep Fred's brain and eyes alive in a jar that now passes for Fred's head. Fred's now on a mission to get revenge on Pitt, save the town of Hope Falls, and maybe--just maybe--find his missing head. This is the morbidly silly premise of the promising-looking PSP adventure game from Vicious Cycle, and we played updated build of Dead Head Fred at a recent press event from the game's publisher D3.

Click to enlarge!
Click to enlarge!

Beyond its premise, Dead Head Fred is distinctive in several other ways, not the least of which is its original property designed exclusively for the PSP. Where other action games give the main character weapons and accessories to overcome the many obstacles, Fred only has heads he can swap out on the fly. Fred will have nine heads to choose from, all of which will grant him some special ability. One head might grant him superior strength, while another will let him suck in a huge amount of liquid into his head for use in extinguishing fires (or alternately, spit gas all over an open flame and use his head as a flamethrower of sorts).

After an amusing opening cutscene that explains the basics of Fred's predicament (complete with fine voice acting from John C. McGinley, who plays Fred, and is best known these days for his role as Dr. Perry Cox on Scrubs), Dr. Steiner is kidnapped by Ulysses Pitt and his henchmen. Fred must then explore and traverse through the many levels of the good doctor's mansion to save him from his captors. Along the way, Fred will encounter zombielike enemies, which you'll need to dispatch using the various attacks in the game (controlled with the square and X button). There's also a finishing move controlled with the triangle button that will differ depending on the head you currently have equipped.

To really lay the headless smack down, you can utilize more powerful rage attacks by holding down the right trigger while pressing either the square or circle buttons. Holding the right trigger plus the square button will result in a focused attack on one enemy; holding the trigger plus the circle button will result in an attack that will strike multiple enemies. Rage attacks will drain Fred's rage energy, which can be built back up by defeating enemies or performing counters.

However, Dead Head Fred is more than a beat 'em up. There's also some light puzzle solving and platforming action thrown into the mix. One level had us traversing through a ruined section of the mansion by leaping from one section of the floor to the next. Later, after being trapped in a burning room, we switched to our corpse head, sucked up all the water out of a nearby fish tank, and sprayed it over the flames. Once the fire was doused, the room unlocked, and we could move on to the next challenge. You can swap Fred's heads by pressing the analog stick and holding down the left trigger. Most times, the game will provide you with an indicator of which head you need to have activated to solve a particular puzzle. While stuck in a library at one point, we moved close to a huge ladder along the bookshelf, only to have the game suggest we switch heads to Fred's stone head. Once we did, we were able to shove the ladder down the shelf and open up a passage to the next room.

One of the fun touches in Dead Head Fred is the different animations that Fred uses with his different heads; there's his normal gait with the glass jar head; there's his heavy, pounding stomp with his stone head form; and there's his zombielike shuffle with his corpse head. Other heads Fred can collect in the game include a shrunken head and a Tiki head, which can be used as a decoy or to fire darts at enemies.

Click to enlarge!
Click to enlarge!

With a darkly amusing storyline, a number of minigames to choose from, and between 15 to 20 hours of gameplay, Dead Head Fred looks like it's turning out to be a fun romp on the PSP. The game is currently due for release in August, and you can expect a full review once it hits store shelves.

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