head hunter

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 September, 2007, 12:00am

Prepare to kick the life out of malformed mutants, ghoulish gangsters and maniacal mob bosses in new 3D action game Dead Head Fred.

This twisted story of revenge and redemption for the PlayStation Portable (PSP) system was produced by United States-based Vicious Cycle Software, which previously made Robotech: Battlecry and the Marvel Trading Card Game.

The game draws you into a 1940s-inspired alternative universe: imagine a wacky yet hard-boiled, film noir from cult American director Ed Wood. You play private detective Fred Neuman - think Sam Spade in Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon - investigating the crooked dealings between the mayor of Hope Falls and mobster Ulysses Pitt. Neuman gets too close, so Pitt has him murdered and takes his head as a souvenir.

Luckily, the town's resident mad scientist, Dr Steiner, finds Neuman's body and brings him back to life in a bizarre experiment. Neuman awakes with amnesia and a new head in the form of a glass jar filled with a mystery liquid in which his intact brain and eyes are suspended.

The cranium-impaired detective then embarks on a vengeful quest to retrieve his head. Neuman tackles various challenging missions and mini-games by decapitating his enemies and using their severed heads as tactical weapons and for puzzle solving. For example, he can use a corpse's head, ripped from the shoulders of an enemy, to hold a few gallons of whatever liquid he might deem useful in a fight. He can also use a massive stone noggin to pummel through walls. A player can collect money to buy the power upgrades required for battle.

The fighting set-up is simple and includes a lot of button-mashing. It makes the gruesome task of decapitating an enemy fun - in a weird way - as it entails forcibly pulling an enemy's head off. You can also kick an opponent in the groin, but the effect of this blow is questionable - your enemies are virtual zombies, after all.

In one major drawback, players are sometimes left clueless about their next task and simply wander around aimlessly.

On the plus side, the graphics are some of the best yet seen on the PSP. Kudos also goes to the excellent voiceovers of John C. McGinley - Dr Perry Cox in NBC television comedy Scrubs - as Dead Head Fred. The actor's sarcastic delivery and one-liners are spot-on funny, making the game even more enjoyable.

Pros: a refreshing concept for an action game, with excellent voiceovers and graphics to match.

Cons: game play gets tedious when a player is left wondering what to do next.