It’s been four years since Ray’s the Dead was announced. That’s right, Ray’s the Dead was announced before the PlayStation 4 was even released. Alright, sure, it’s not nearly as long as some other games have taken to release, but it’s still quite a long time. So to see Ray’s the Dead rise from the darkness with the help of Adult Swim Games like Ray’s own hoard of undead beings was quite exciting. It’s fitting that this bizarre game lands under the umbrella of Adult Swim Games, a place of belonging for games without a place of belonging. The island of misfit games, if you will.
My biggest question about Ray’s the Dead has always been what type of game it would be. The animation style and reminds me a lot of of Zoink! games like Stick It to the Man and Zombie Vikings, but it’s a vastly different game than either of those. Zombies have power in numbers, so a zombie game should have a hoard. If Ray is going to be bringing the dead back to life, he ought to have an entire horde of his own to do a little damage with.
The gameplay of Ray’s the Dead follows the style of Pikmin. If you haven’t played this Nintendo exclusive, it revolves around a leader character using hordes of small aliens for a variety of tasks. Similarly, Ray uses the odd device on his head to raise the dead around him. He can then use this horde of undead beings to attack gates, dig under fences, and defend Ray from the living that just don’t understand zombies. I played through an early part of the game, beginning with Ray bursting from the grave. Now, Ray isn’t a bad guy, but sometimes when you’re a zombie, you just have to do some morally questionable things. That poor guy wandering the graveyard was just in the wrong place at the wrong time and didn’t know what hit him. Then he was mine.
Learn in Death
There’s a certain level of both strategy and puzzle gaming to Ray’s the Dead. The demo didn’t showcase additional zombie types, but one of the developers let me know that there will be things like zombie dogs that will be required for puzzles further into the game. Partway through the level I went into a flashback of Ray when he was alive. The gameplay here was similar, but the horde mechanic was explained away by basically saying that Ray is a pretty charismatic dude. This flashback does more than just provide additional story on Ray though. Through it he learns new techniques that his undead self remembers in order to continue on.
In combat, Ray isn’t very strong against enemies, especially those with weapons, so he relies on the zombies that he’s been raising from the grave and fallen enemies to take on more enemies to make them more zombies and take on… yeah, you get it. It’s like a perpetual cycle of death and undeath. Some of the encounters get quite tough and I found myself losing my entourage if I didn’t approach each situation strategically. It wasn’t just about blindly sending the zombies in to fight for me.
Ray’s the Dead is a dark comedy with a light heart and fun bit of gameplay. As long as there are a significant amount of additional techniques and mechanics that keep the game twisting and turning, Ray’s the Dead could end up being a really fun and smart puzzle brawler, a unique story with a little heart and a lot of brains.
PSX 2016 - Rays the Dead Preview - Return From Death (PS4)