Dead Head Fred is a game published by D3 Publisher and developed by Vicious Cycle Software using the Vicious Engine. The game focuses on the main character, Fred Neuman. Upon waking up in a strange laboratory and learning that his head has been replaced with a jar, Fred embarks on a quest to save both missing cranium and the small town of Hope Falls, New Jersey from the clutches of Ulysses S. Pitt, the evil corporate fat-cat. Dead Head Fred features many types of gameplay from several genres. The most prominent feature of the game is Fred's ability to use several replacement heads that he finds as he progresses throughout the world. He can switch these heads out at any time, and they all offer unique strengths and weaknesses that Fred must take advantage of throughout the game.
Plot Summary (Possible Spoilers)
Fred Neuman was a private detective who had recently began an investigation into the practices of Pitt Industries, a company with stakes in developments all over his home town in Hope Falls. It is revealed early in the game that Fred was killed by the CEO of Pitt, Mr. Ulysses S. Pitt. Fred's body is discovered by a man named Doctor Steiner, a mad scientist who had recently terminated his employment at the Pitt Nucular Plant (Nucular being a name, not a misspelling) for shady reasons. Doc Steiner is able to extract Fred's brain and eyes from the head before he has to send it to a taxidermy shop to be made into a souvenir for Pitt. As a side effect of his resurrection, Fred awakens with amnesia, which creates problems for him when he's trying to convince people that he really didn't die. As Fred regains his bearings and re-explores the town, he learns of the many different ways that the Plant has been negatively affecting life, and the reasons that he had started his initial investigation.
Mutants of all types can be found throughout the town as a side effect from constant contact with nuclear waste, often acting hostile towards other citizens. When Fred finds his girlfriend Jeanne Rossini in one of the town's Pitt-controlled upscale cabarets, she refuses to believe it's really him. He is still able to convince her to give him the name of his old partner, Benny Salazar. Fred finds Benny at a dive bar, and Benny is overcome with embarrassment as he realizes that it was him that accidentally revealed Fred's activities to Pitt. Benny helps fill in several holes in Fred's memory, and reacquaints him with their office while explaining the details of Fred's latest case. Fred finds out that he was killed for a video tape, one that he had taken of Pitt murdering Jeanne's father. Her father had been a former mobster who had devoted the last few decades of his life to bringing life and prosperity to the town of Hope Falls. With his newly found memories, Fred is able to convince Jeanne that he may really be who he says he is by performing with his saxophone at an open mic; something Jeanne said only "her Freddie" could do. Fred then goes on to destroy the Nucular Plant, which ends with him fighting Pitt's lieutenant Lefty, who is presumed dead after falling into a giant vat of waste. Lefty climbs out soon after, and attacks Fred as he begins the final assault on the Pitt industries building. Fred defeats him temporarily, pursuing Pitt to his office, where it is revealed that he has kidnapped Jeanne. Fred hands over the video tape to save her and regain his head, but the head falls to an unknown location when Lefty jumps up the side of the building and takes Pitt to the roof. Fred then battles Lefty and Pitt, a fight that ends with Lefty and Pitt falling off the building and dying. Fred, Jeanne, Benny, and the rest of Hope Falls then begin to strive for the town's renewal once again, ending the story (although the game continues to be free to explore after the last battle).
Dead Head Fred is primarily an Action/Adventure game, focusing on Fred's interchangeable heads for the bulk of the gameplay. The world is structured by tiered exploration, with areas and Sewers (quick travel points) only being unlocked after certain story points are reached. Once unlocked, the player is free to return to any area at any time.
The game's combat system is based primarily on combos. The Square button is used to begin combos, and players can either continue mashing Square, or they can alter and augment their combos with the X button. Different heads are effective against different enemies, and each head features two special attacks. The first special attack hits one enemy. The second is an area of effect attack, striking anyone who happens to be near Fred at the time. Both special attacks cost one rage point each. Every head is able to receive two upgrades related to their combat abilities, ranging from increased stealth attack damage for Fred's jar head to more highly infectious disease-breath for the Zombie head. Each upgrade costs one Gold Worm, a mutant creature often earned at the end of boss battles or found in secret areas. Gold Worms are also able to be bought for $1,000 from the secretary at the Morgue.
Each head also has the ability to counter a different enemy. Counters are activated when the right head is equipped and the enemy begins a special attack. The player must time a Triangle button press correctly, which enters them into the parrying mini-game. The mini-game consists of mashing the indicated button until a meter is full, and then pressing triangle to finish the enemy off, earning bonus rage points.
Platforming is one of the core aspects of Dead Head Fred's gameplay. The main platforming heads are the Zombie, Bone and Shrunken heads. The Zombie head has the ability to suck in air and float for a certain period of time, allowing players to reach areas they normally would not be able to. The Bone head features the ability to climb up meat-walls, which are easily identified as a red mass of bones and body parts that allow the player to climb at any angle and avert dangerous objects or broken pathways. The shrunken head comes into play when the player finds an entrance made out of a pipe or any other small hole in a wall. The player places the Shrunken head on, and is instantly downsized. Once inside the pathway, more traditional platforming mechanics are used in the form of balancing upon broken beams, avoiding moving obstacles, and making difficult jumps.
Exploration is not required to complete much of the game, but it is essential for players who would like to fully unlock the whole world and acquire all of the hidden items. Exploration is limited throughout the game, and requires players to make use of the platforming mechanics early in the game. Later on, after the Stone Idol head is acquired, players are also free to break through walls and other obstacles that cause the Idol icon to pop up. This unlocks many previously unreachable areas, and they usually contain valuable items or collectibles that the player can trade to certain characters for money. There are also various Tiki Statues strewn throughout the game world. When the player activates the Tiki statue while wearing the Tiki head, they are transported to an odd dimension consisting of random pieces of floating land and a swirly, purple-hued background. The player must defeat all enemies found in that word to progress to the secret area. Once they do, they can exit the realm in another location. These locations often sport more rare items and loot, just like the Idol Head locations. The player must then enter the Tiki realm and defeat more enemies to get back to the main world.
Dead Head Fred also features some basic puzzling mechanics, often centering on environmental alteration, such as slamming the ground with the Stone Head to flip floor tiles to a certain color pattern, pushing blocks, and other things. Puzzles also come in the form of blocked off pathways, often requiring the use of the Zombie Head to put out or start fires, and the Mutant Head to melt metal objects.
: The first head you acquire, it sports a much stronger health regeneration rate than the other heads. It also features the ability to generate a stealth field, concealing the player for a limited period of time. It is strongest against Bone Thugs and Stone Idols.Corpse head
: The second head Fred gets has the ability to suck up liquids into it's expandable skull cavity. It can spew those liquids to ignite flames, put them out, or even fly if the player absorbs oxygen from an air conditioner. The zombie head can also use it's diseased breath to infect and disable enemies. It isn't particularly strong or weak against any enemies.Shrunken Head:
The third head out of nine, the Shrunken head lets players make themselves tiny enough to fit into pipes and crevaces in order to reach new areas. It also sports the ability to roll and do a large uppercut, acting as a boosted jump to get to areas a normal jump can't reach.Bone Head:
The fourth head is the Bone Head. It lets the player climb up walls of meat. It's special combat ability is the way to spew teeth like bullets from it's mouth. The Bone Head also is great against Zombies, Mutants and Scarecrows.Dummy Head:
The Dummy Head is the fifth head you get in the game. It is taken from a mannequin in a clothing store. The Dummy Head allows you to talk to normal citizens throughout Hope Falls without them running away and screaming. It features two "calming" actions that will make scared people normal and ready to talk to again.Tiki Head:
The Tiki Head can access Tiki Statues. It can also shoot out poisonous darts, and deploy "decoys" that distract enemies. It is particularly good to use against Zombies and Gladiators.Scarecrow Head:
The Scarecrow Head is the seventh in the series. It features three crows that surround it at all times, unless they are shot at an enemy. The Scarecrow head is also immune to fire, letting the player use it as a torch to set objects aflame, or to provide light.Stone Head:
The Stone Head is the heaviest of them all. It features a ground slam ability that Fred often uses to trigger switches or activate puzzles. It can also be used for a short but powerful shoulder rush move, that breaks through many doors and special crates. Both of these attacks knock down enemies. It also lets you walk underwater. The Stone Head is great against Zombies, Gladiators, and Mutants.Mutant Head:
The Mutant Head lets you scan for radioactivity, letting you identify special quest objects or areas. It is also immune to radiation, and can spew highly toxic vomit. It is effective against most enemies besides other Mutants, Gladiators, and Bone Thugs.
Dead Head Fred garnered mixed reactions from many critics, scoring a 75 average on Metacritic. The highest review, a 96 from Cheat Code Central, said "Do yourself a favor and, at the very least, rent Dead Head Fred. It doesn't have the same promotional budget as a game based on a movie license, but don't let that dissuade you. You can't put a price on imagination, and this game has that in spades." Meanwhile, the worst review, a 27 from Play UK Magazine, cited good ideas but poor execution. The bulk of the reviews center between 75 and 85, often praising the humorous story while docking points for "less than stellar platforming" and "slight gameplay issues".
Writers Guild of America Award
Dead Head Fred also received the first ever Writer's Guild of America Award for Video Games in 2008, attributed to writers Dave Ellis and Adam Cogan, and also to D3 Publisher. It competed against The Witcher
, Crash of the Titans
, The Simpsons Game
. and World In Conflict