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Ray's the Dead

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Ragtag Studio
Release Date: Oct. 22, 2020


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PC Review - 'Ray's the Dead'

by Cody Medellin on March 18, 2021 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Ray's the Dead is an action-adventure game that lets you play the life and afterlife of Ray LaMorte.

Ray's the Dead was first introduced to the gaming public in 2013 during a Sony presentation. It was supposed to be a big indie offering to kickstart the first year of the PS4 era. Seven years have passed since then, and the game has finally come out at the tail end of the PS4 generation and a little before the start of the PS5 life cycle. That's a long time for a game to be in development, even with a small staff working on it, but the result isn't quite what people would've expected.

Ray's the Dead begins in a graveyard with a few people setting up a pentagram atop a fresh grave. With a pump and candles nearby, the ceremony is complete, but nothing happens. As soon as they leave, something happens when a zombie emerges with a contraption atop his head. You play the role of that zombie named Ray, who must discover why he was summoned and what is going on.

The story takes time to delve into Ray's life before the zombie incident. Going from childhood to adulthood, the sections of the story when you're alive take up roughly half of the game and make for a great break from the usual undead shenanigans. On the other hand, the abundance of 1980s references ("The Goonies," "Phantasm," "Top Gun") can get annoying. There are way too many callbacks to the point where it feels like pandering, making the novelty factor wear out quickly.

The game is presented in a isometric viewpoint, and at the beginning, your basic zombie abilities take a page from those seen in the developer's previous work, Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without A Pulse. You have a weak slashing attack that gets the job done if you're patient, but the inability to create basic combos can be painful. If you hurt an enemy enough, you can get a chance to eat their brains before they die, replenishing your health in the process. You can also resurrect the dead — those who have just died and those who are long buried in graves — to be part of your army. They won't attack on their own, so you have to send out a command to make them attack anyone. These zombies are much better than the ones in Stubbs, since they move at the same speed as you and rarely stray from your radius of influence. Should they lag behind or get stuck, you can put out a call, and they'll rush to your side.

Later in the game, you can create a temporary shield so you and your zombie horde can deflect enemy attacks, and you can gather into a tighter group to make everyone moved faster and reduce the chance of them getting randomly hit. The only drawback to these two maneuvers is that it eats into an energy meter, and while that meter fills up fairly quickly, you'll want to scavenge extra batteries so you can perform these two moves for a longer duration without recharging.

There's actual variety to the zombie types in your army. A standard zombie doles out standard attacks, but they can also dig at designated holes to tunnel over to switches and other items behind barricades. Ninjas have strong attacks but attack in a dashing manner instead of staying to continue the pummeling. Dogs can find secrets, but they're more useful for pinning down enemies, so other allies can get in free hits. Brutes are larger zombies that can move heavy objects and have a strong, indirect area attack.

Having different zombie types begs for some strategy, and Ray's the Dead facilitates that during the early stages. When you face off against enemies of one type, it is easy to formulate plans about sending out specific zombie types. This falls apart about halfway through the game, when different enemy types appear at the same time, and any strategy is thrown out the window since sending zombies in a panic is your only solution. The breakdown in strategy isn't helped by the similar colors for foes and zombies as well as fluctuating camera zoom levels. You'll often lose yourself in the brawl, and you'll experience a few deaths that are easily preventable. It also doesn't help that aiming where to send your zombies is imprecise since it's done with the left analog stick, which is the same stick that controls Ray's movement. It would've made more sense for aiming to be done via the right analog stick, since that currently doesn't serve a function. It might also address the issue that highlighting targets can be a hit-and-miss affair, and the same applies to the holes and structures to which you send zombies. Combined with some areas that have sloppy stealth mechanics, and the title becomes a frustrating mess with a lackluster ending after an eight-8 hour journey.

There are a few smaller issues that drag down the experience. The game menus try to zip between different screens once you highlight each option, but you can't do anything until the camera panning has finished, so it's a chore to do things like reach the Options menu. If you're the type who doesn't care much for story, then you'll find the unskippable cut scenes to be infuriating. Unless you're a completionist who needs to see every Kickstarter backer message on the gravestones, expect this to be a one-and-done affair once you complete the campaign, since there are no other difficulty options.

As far as presentation goes, what's here is mostly good. Graphically, Ray's the Dead adopts something of a papercraft or Flash look, as character pieces are segmented when they move. That might not seem like much praise, but the hand-drawn designs give it an appealing style, while the fleshed-out backgrounds add to the creepy cartoon look. Even with the decent-looking effects at play, the game runs at a consistent 60fps, which makes up for the lack of options in the graphics department. Audio-wise, the effects are fine, and all of the dialogue is replaced by grunting, which is fine even if the grunting is never stylized. The soundtrack is composed mainly of 1980s-style music, but the tracks are short enough that it is easy to figure out when the song is looping.

There are parts of Ray's The Dead that are enjoyable. The idea of being a Pikmin-like zombie game is appealing, as is the game's desire to tell a more nuanced story around your character's life, death, and rebirth. However, the controls lack precision, and the inherent strategy falls apart due to haphazard enemy placement and odd design decisions. For a title with this long of a wait, it should've been better.

Score: 5.5/10

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