Messin' With Heads

So how's Dead Head Fred coming along? We grab a build and see for ourselves.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: August 24, 2007
It's been a few months since we last got a look at Dead Head Fred. Though the game was shown off at Sony's Gamers' Day event earlier in the year, an event with a good 70+ games isn't exactly the best environment from which to take some meaty impressions. It was, however, enough to whet our whistle and after the news that the titular lead character would be voiced by none other than John C. McGinley (of Scrubs fame), we were dying to see what the game would be like.

It wasn't but four minutes into the intro cinematic (which sees Fred waking up and looking around a dilapidated lab before meeting one Dr. Steiner and discovering his rather, uh, unique predicament) that we heard our first perfectly delivered, "what... the... fuck?" Yes, it's safe to assume that the game will be a solid M, and we couldn't be happier because while the dialogue in the game is littered with four-letter expletives, it's also surprisingly mature in terms of writing too.

We know from earlier builds of the game that it was going to be dark -- or at the very least skewed toward the gloomy end of the visual spectrum. The town of Hope Falls has fallen on hard times since one Ulysses Pitt opened a Nukular (not nuclear, nukular) plant and flooded the town with radioactive sludge. It polluted the streams, turned the streets into breeding grounds for zombies... basically the place is a shithole now.

This is the world that we were forcibly thrust into, but not before getting the low down on combat, which is as simple as approaching a shuffling creepy crawly and tapping the Square Button to start a combo, from there, X and Circle handle the other pummeling duties, and after we wore down the enemy enough, we could tap Triangle to rip off their heads -- useful because they could be traded in for upgrades later on. See, heads are something of a precious commodity to Fred, mainly because he can swap 'em out at will by simply holding down the L Button and picking a new one. These heads give him any number of powers, from spitting teeth to blowing out clouds of noxious gas, and if he collects enough new heads, he can trade them into Sam Spade, the humpbacked mortician for a shiny new head and the powers that come with it.

We, however, could only do the gas thing at first, along with throwing on a big ass Easter Island-looking thing if we wanted to throw a little extra weight into a charge (or headbutting attack), or if we needed to breathe underwater. The first hour or so of the game essentially walks you though the basics of combat, of head switching, and gets you used to the overabundance of puzzles that litter the game. No sooner did we get the expository speech by the good Doctor, though, before an uninvited houseguest arrived. It seems Mr. Pitt, the man responsible for killing Fred and dumping him in a sludge dump to decompose before Steiner found the body and "saved" him, went to go look at the melting remains of the overly-snoopy Fred and found it had gone missing. Mr. Pitt was displeased.

After exchanging a few words where Steiner played dumb (even after a meaty backhand from the appropriately named Lefty, a man with a scrawny body and a Tommy Gun save for a huge left arm), Pitt and his sidekick decided to go for a walk with the doctor. After a brief fight where we learned to channel Rage (by holding the R Button) and then hitting a direct (Square) or area effect (Circle) attack, we followed through a hidden passageway and found out Pitt was going to off Steiner, so once we figured out how the hell to get out of the puzzle-laden castle, though the cemetery and out to the Creepy Hollow where Steiner would meet his end... well we did all that stuff.

That's skipping over a lot of the semi-confusing puzzles, of course, but we'd rather not spoil things. Plus, some of the minor gripes that we have with the game are probably due to the fact that much of the game is still rather early. Cutscenes were missing some foley, and we're sure there will be further tweaks to make some things a little more obvious, either with visual or audio cues.

Still, one thing about the game stood out perfectly: the dialogue and characters have the same kind of quirky, weird style to their proportions that it all has a very Tim Burton-esque (or perhaps more appropriately Tim Schafer-like) vibe. It's fantastic stuff, helped immensely by absolutely wonderful vocal performances. It was already mentioned, but John C. McGinley does a killer job giving the sarcastic, pissy Fred a voice. Why the guy hasn't been doing video games voices for years now is beyond us, but we'll take what we can get.

We actually want to get our hands on a more complete build (the one we have is a couple months old, actually) just to see how things like the lower texture resolution and slightly spotty framerate work out. Even in the state the game is right now, though, there's an unbelievable amount of potential. The fact that we're even making comparisons to Tim Schafer's games should tell you something about the level of creativity and the characters in the game, and we're just bummed we'll have to wait a few more days for the final retail version of the game to roll into the office. Expect a review very, very soon.