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Player One Impressions: Ray’s The Dead

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Ray’s the Dead is a narrative driven zombie action adventure game by Ragtag Studio, first announced way back in 2013. You play as Ray LaMorte, a newly resurrected zombie brought back from the grave by an ambiguously evil old man and a series of pun-making goons. Ray, joined by a spirit companion, quickly begins to unravel the mysteries of his newly found un-life. Player One was provided with a demo key ahead of the game’s launch. This means I could only try the first few levels before sitting down to write a review, so consider these my initial impressions.
First things first: Ray’s the Dead is absolutely packed with 80s pop culture references. The initial graveyard sections are a homage to the 1985 horror comedy The Return of The Living Dead, complete with chemical barrels and graveyard punks. The opening levels lean so heavily on Living Dead that it even directly quotes the film in the final scenes of the demo – though the soundtrack is (mostly) more synth than punk rock. I also picked up on Billy Idol and Tears for Fears references. If this is your kind of thing, you’ll probably enjoy the reference-spotting.
In addition to your undead adventures, Ray’s the Dead has flashback sections set in the past. In an early level, a car crashing through the cemetery triggers a memory of a traumatic bus accident from Ray’s childhood.
At first glance, Ray’s the Dead’s mechanics seem reminiscent of Pikmin. Ray can call his undead allies to his side, command them to attack his enemies, or use them to bust through obstacles and dig underground. Killing an enemy adds to your undead army, as Ray has the ability to resurrect the recently deceased. This can be pretty enjoyable, and recruiting for your zombie horde mid punch-up is satisfying. If you get to an enemy fast enough after defeating them, you can munch on their brains to regain your health. This provides an incentive to keep close to them, rather than just hide out on the other side of the map while your zombie pals do all the hard work.
Part of the fun is using your undead peons strategically. This is especially well executed in the final section of the demo, where you direct multiple zombies to destabilise a statue in sync, all while dodging a moving car. I felt it was implemented less successfully in more straightforward combat portions of the game. At least in the early levels, it sometimes doesn’t feel like fights amount to much more than drawing your zombie horde close by to avoid danger, and waiting for your opponents to become vulnerable. Since I only got to play the demo, I can’t say how the game builds on this in the long run, but I am keen to see how it develops.
Design-wise, the characters are reminiscent of Plants vs Zombies – but more lovingly detailed. Its character models are two dimensional, but exist in a three dimensional environment. In the PC version, the character model follows the cursor, flipping back and forth like paper based on its direction. This can be disorienting, especially during the very early sections of the game before Ray gains the ability to resurrect and command other zombies to help out with combat, and depends on melee swipes to get by. Likewise, the two dimensional character models can make hitboxes a little hard to judge.
To me, the cartoony style of the characters never quite gelled with the three dimensional background. Both are attractive – but they aren’t cohesive. Still, the game is visually interesting, and the atmospheric lighting is a credit to the overall aesthetic, especially during the night-time sections.
Overall, Ray’s the Dead seems like an entertaining take on two of the most popular concepts of the last decade: zombies and nostalgia for the 1980s. It can feel a little clunky, but it’s compelling and attractive enough to leave me disappointed when the demo ended. If you’re looking for a comedic, corpse-based Pikmin, this is one to watch.

Written by Player One Contributor: Rebecca Jordan

thank you Ragtag Studios for a review code

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