Partnering with Tearfund

Dead Head Fred (PSP)

Rated: 15.

Story: You're Fred, a private investigator on a mission to bring down the mob boss (Pitt) who's ruining your home town. Except he kills you before the game even starts. You wake up to find that a mad scientist has brought you back to life with a brain in a jar for a head. Normally, this would make you a bit of a freak, but Pitt's nuclear power plant has turned much of the local populace into zombies, mutants, monsters and psychos. You set off to crack some heads and, er... borrow them...

Gameplay: Dead Head Fred is a third-person adventure with a heavy emphasis on hand-to-hand combat. You get to wander the town, fighting monsters, receiving missions from the inhabitants, unlocking new areas and locating extra heads with useful powers such as water-breathing and immunity to fire. You can swap between any of your accumulated heads quickly. Each is effective against different types of monster.

There's a linear main quest to defeat Pitt but doing other missions brings money, items, head upgrades, worms and fish. (Really.) You occasionally need a big wadge of cash to continue the main quest but most stuff just leads, one way or another, to obtaining extra healing potions.

Save System: The game can be saved at any time but progress is only recorded up until the last checkpoint. Checkpoints are usually extremely frequent, however.

Comments: This is one of those games.

One of those games that's always OK, sometimes good and frequently promises to be great... but never actually is. It's fun enough but somehow lacking. It should be an excellent cross between Ratchet & Clank, Zelda and Resident Evil. In reality, it's a weird mish-mash of beat-'em-up, platformer and adventure that never completely succeeds at anything.

At heart, there are some great ideas here. The head swapping should have produced clever puzzles. The role-playing elements should have added depth to the combat and jumping. Unfortunately, the level design is basic and much of the gameplay is merely walking from area to area, putting on the appropriate head and then hammering the attack buttons. The developers seem to have attempted to cover over this by adding in any number of superfluous features like working pinball machines and fishing mini-games but the game is too long and it's all just spread too thin.

This 'throw everything at it and hope it gets better' approach is exemplified by the vast numbers of side quests. Nearly all of them involve going somewhere, killing some monsters, collecting an item and then returning to the place you started. Since going through any doorway results in a pause, a short cut-scene and then a lengthy loading screen, traipsing all over the shop for the sake of a few dollars hardly seems worth it. There's really little need anyway. Once you've got the hang of the combat, there's seldom much call to use potions, so money is only required to buy essential disguises. It's possible to pick up sufficient for this without too much effort.

Still, there's just enough variation to maintain interest and the story is intriguing. The Film-Noir-with-zombies setting sometimes becomes a little too bizarre but the script contains a number of good jokes and keeps you persevering.

Even taking all its failings into account, Dead Head Fred is a decent game if you like third-person adventures and you've already worked your way through both PSP Grand Theft Autos, Daxter and Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters. Be prepared to be patient with it, though, and don't expect it to suddenly flower as time goes on - the first couple of hours are pretty representative of the whole game.

Conclusion: A great concept let down by lack-lustre level design.

Graphics: Competent. The game runs smoothly but many of the locations are quite bland and angular. It looks like an early PS2 game.

The loading screen will be burned into your brain by the end.

Length: Long.

Rating: 3/5.

No comments: