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Dead Head Fred - hands-on

Even by the bizarre standards of videogames, Fred Neuman is an unconventional hero. An undead, amnesiac private eye, Fred's out to solve the mystery of why someone murdered him and replaced his head with a brain floating in a jar. His hometown can best be described as a 1950s-era toxic-dump nightmare, which might explain his ability to rip zombies apart with his bare hands. He raises radioactive worms as a hobby, and then feeds them to mutant chickens that he enters in cockfights. Weirdest of all, he gains new powers by decapitating his enemies and wearing their soggy, gruesome-ass heads.

But despite all this (or probably because of it), his game is one of the most promising things on the PSP's horizon. With only a couple of months to go until its release, we've finally gotten our first real crack at Dead Head Fred, and it's shaping up to be an impressive piece of work. A darkly comic, Tim Burton-esque freakshow, Dead Head Fred combines surprisingly deep beat 'em-up combat with creative puzzles, platforming, a bunch of minigames and a lot of free-range wandering. Oh, and about nine spare heads, which are pretty entertaining in their own right.

The tutorial demo we played took place in Castle Steiner, a sprawling mansion owned by a mad (but good-hearted) scientist who's reanimated Fred after fishing him out of a toxic lagoon. Fred doesn't have a lot of time to get used to his jarheaded predicament, however, as the castle is soon visited by Fred's killer - a corpulent, malformed crime boss who all but owns the toxic town of Hope Falls - and he kidnaps Dr. Steiner and leaves a bunch of skeletal Bone Thugs behind to keep an eye on things. If Fred's going to chase after Steiner and eventually recover his head, he'll need to use the heads he has to solve the castle's puzzles, destroy its unruly intruders and escape - and that's just the first level.

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