Ray’s The Dead was first announced in 2013. A mere 7 years later it finally gets unleashed on the public. Was it worth the wait? Definitely.
Ray’s The Dead is an action-adventure game with a story-driven narrative. It’s produced by Ragtag Studios, an indie dev trio with some pedigree (Thief 3, Halo Wars and some Disney and Activision stuff).
You play as Ray LaMorte, a freshly exhumed zombie who is given a second chance, and a quest to solve how, where, when and why he died. First, though he needs to escape the clutches of Old Man (the first ‘boss’) and his goons, who were responsible for bringing him back from the dead.
Along the way, you’ll recruit a horde of zombies to help you achieve your goals, have epic punch-ups and melee mayhem. You’ll also have flashbacks from Ray’s past that will help you unravel the mystery of his death.
The game is packed with 80’s pop culture references, including the initial levels which are ripped right from Return Of The Living Dead’s playbook; graveyard punks and chemical barrels (The game even quotes the movie in its final scenes). There was also a Thriller reference in the way that Ray launches out of his grave.
The campaign should take about 8-10 hours of your time, with around 40 levels to smash through that are rich with 80’s Americana.
It makes for a really fun game that you can get lost in for a few hours and has great replayability.
I played the game on PS4, so the controls felt quite natural to me. You have one button (R1) for attack, use X to pick up hints/clues/helpful stuff and your left stick for movement. Pretty simple, and the game is so much better for the uncluttered controls.
When you smash an enemy back to the dead, you can munch on their brain for health. So it pays to stay close to the enemies rather than sit back and let your undead bunch of ragtag zombie friends have all the fun, although it is hugely entertaining to let them have at it with enemies.
Ray recruits his horde by killing them as enemies and resurrecting them to bend to his will. Think Pikmin in this respect. Once they are in his crew, they will defend him at all costs and are fully prepared to take the L for Ray.
Your undead pals come in three distinct flavours. Grunts have burrowing powers, which helps you reach places and solve puzzles. Assassins are one tap kill specialists. Dog Zombies stun your opponents, allowing Ray to jump in, munch on brains and recruit a new member. While Heavy Zombies are your battering ram bulldozers who smash everything in sight, making holes for the others to exploit. Part of the fun of this game is strategy; where to place your hordes and how to get past the barrier/level/enemy forces. Rock, Papers, Scissors come to mind.
The action is well-paced and at around halfway through the game, the difficulty level is turned up and this is where Ray’s The Dead is at it’s most fun. One minute you’re comfortable, the next minute you are struggling with Molotov attacks, chain wielding destroyers and big brutes that smash half your horde.
The Plants v Zombies comparison is most keenly felt in the art and graphics. Your characters are 2D set in a 3D world but where it differs from Plants v Zombies is that the characters are brighter and snappier, the background lusher and the animations more varied.
This all gives the impression of a highly polished game and with Ragtag Studios’ history, this isn’t at all unexpected.
Real attention to detail, care and a bit of TLC goes a long way to making Ray’s the Dead look amazing. The levels do sometimes feel a bit samey but there is enough variation and fun in the game to overlook this.
The soundtrack is one of the areas where Ray’s The Dead really shines. It’s full of synth and if you pay attention you can find references to a number of hits. Tears For Fears, Billy Idol and yes even Michael Jackson inspirations can be found throughout the soundtrack.
They’re never directly copied though, only hinted at. This makes it all the more fun for 80’s music lovers like me. Picking through the music as you play keeps the game interesting through some of the samey levels.
I have to be honest here. When I was given this game to review I didn’t think it was going to be very good. 7 years in the making, a failed PS Vita version and an oversaturated character type in Zombies didn’t excite me much, but I really enjoyed playing Ray’s the Dead.
It gave me a hit of 80’s nostalgia, it is fun to play and the artwork and soundtrack in the game really sucked me in. What started as a quick 20-30 minute play to get my bearings turned into 4 hours play. Another couple of sessions and the game was done.
Some of the levels do bleed into each other but the game is fun enough that I was willing to forgive it.
All in all, a really good game to spend some time with.