Ray's the dead review

Ray’s the Dead Review – Bug-Filled Corpse (PS4)

Announced more than seven years ago—before the PlayStation 4 was even out—Ray’s the Dead is a Pikmin-like game that sees the recently deceased and freshly reanimated Ray controlling a horde of zombies in an attempt to stop an evil and nefarious plot and figure out the mysteries of his own death and rebirth as a member of the undead. Set to a funky ’80s vibe and filled to the brim with ’80s pop culture references, both overt and subtle, Ray’s the Dead features a great hand-drawn 2D aesthetic on a 3D world—a visually unique experience. Though more than seven years after its announcement and four years after we last previewed it at PSX 2016, Ray’s the Dead might have been rotting in its grave a little too long.

Ray’s the Dead Review – The Worms Crawl In…

Ray is a charismatic zombie with a special ability: he can get other zombies to follow him and perform tasks. Throughout the game, Ray recruits four types of zombies with various abilities: Basic zombies can attack in hordes and dig into tunnels. Dogs can restrain and stun other zombies and sniff out secrets. Large zombies do an AOE slam attack and can traverse through water, as well as slamming into objects. And Ninjas can stun large zombies and dole out big damage, though they have lower health. Various puzzles use the different zombies to varying effect, and encounters act as a bit of a rock, paper, scissors as you navigate which zombie type is strong against the enemies you are facing.

ray's the dead review

Throughout the campaign’s eight or so hours, Ray slowly gains access to all of these zombie types, trained to use their different abilities in very specific scenarios. Ray’s the Dead goes back and forth between Ray’s zombie present and his human past, offering a good variety of little offshoots and minigames utilizing the mechanics learned while uncovering the dark history of Ray’s life. However it often felt like after the forced training on each zombie type’s gameplay, it was rarely used again in meaningful ways, optional or otherwise. The dogs’ ability to sniff out hidden locations comes in handy a handful of times, while the Ninja’s ability to stealthily take out enemies using bushes only came up again one time that I can remember (and that time even glitched out on my so I just killed the enemies with slams from my big guy). By the time I got to the final boss battle, I was only using the basic zombie’s dig mechanics (and attacks) and the big guy’s object slam in a lackluster and overly lengthy final encounter.

Flitting between the puzzle-based encounters and combat segments, Ray’s the Dead’s gameplay is often too cumbersome to comfortably manage the kinds of precise tasks the game throws at you. My overcoming almost any part of this game felt not like great management of my horde, but rather my stumbling and strong-arming my way through any situation. Roughly halfway through the game, combat takes a wild swing on the difficulty curve, feeling suddenly harshly unfair and unfun to play with everything it throws at you. It goes from requiring strategic use of your zombies to just putting you entirely on your heels and facing down near-impossible scenarios against dogs that rush you, lobbed molotovs exploding around your, chain-swinging jerks knocking out half your force, and big lumbering dudes with an AOE attack that is larger than it has any business being. Yes, all at the same time.

ray's the dead review

I’ve played and loved difficult games, but Ray’s the Dead doesn’t teach you anything through its tough encounters. It just randomly drops enemies with guns that wipe out your forces, dogs that rush in from solid objects, and terrible zombie AI that gets your necessary forces killed as they wander about stupidly. In some of the more intense encounters, the screen gets so incredibly jumbled with characters both human and zombie that at certain points I just threw up my hands and gave up even trying to figure out what was going on. I couldn’t even find my player character, let alone target the enemies that were re-murdering my undead forces. The difficulty balance across the game’s various encounters ends up wildly inconsistent, and that’s before factoring in the many bugs that plague it.

Ray’s the Dead Review – The Worms Crawl Out…

Ray’s the Dead is filled with more bugs than long-dead corpse, many directly impacting the gameplay experience in ways that just make playing through it less than fun. After seven years in the oven, I’d have expected the game to be a little more cooked than this, but it seems like it spent seven years in the grave instead. Like Ray himself, Ray’s the Dead is recently re-risen, but ambulates with all the grace of a worm-eaten corpse.

Sometimes Ray would simply stop rotating altogether, so I couldn’t target specific enemies or objects to send my zombies after. Often interactive objects wouldn’t highlight, notable holes that zombies needed to dig into—a main staple of most of the boss encounters in the game. This created a massive issue during one boss battle that I though had glitched out, when actually I needed to move a burning vehicle with dig spots that were too hidden to see in the snow graphics and lacked the interactive highlights.

ray's the dead review

Frame rate drops sent the game into unplayable states, making mechanics that already feel clunky to navigate even more horrendously impossible. Attempting to navigate a stressful encounter becomes rather difficult when you lose half of your zombies and most of your health to frame rate issues. Level boundaries, graphics, and objects would frequently clip out and allow me to access out of bounds areas I clearly was not supposed to go. In a game that hides out-of-the-way secrets in the form of “backer graves”—custom headstones written by Kickstarter backers of the game—Ray’s the Dead encourages prodding off the beaten path, but seemingly obvious “paths” are often artificially blocked, while “solid” objects often let me clip through.

Whether from the bugs or lack of optimization and balance to the encounters, I came across numerous instances where it felt utterly progression halting. I’d throw down the controller after trying for far too long to either figure out a workaround or overcome the frustrating gameplay mechanics. I did finally reach the credits, but it came with more a sense of relief that I was done than a feeling of accomplishment. Completing a level after finding 100% of the hidden collectibles only gave me the thought “phew, at least I won’t have to ever got through that one again.” Subsequently, finishing a level and discovering I didn’t find all of the hidden gravestones led to feelings of dread that I’d have to replay the area if I wanted to get Platinum trophy. A game shouldn’t make me feel relieved to not have to play it again.

ray's the dead review

All that said, there’s a lot of charm and heart in Ray’s the Dead. The myriad ’80s references were fun to see and get progressively more bizarre throughout. Ray’s story is an intriguing mystery; a dark-yet-comedic tale that I continued to push through the rough gameplay to uncover, offering a small silver lining to my largely frustrating gameplay experience. Ray’s the Dead is the type of game I desperately wanted to like a lot more than I did. There’s apparently a day one patch incoming to fix some unspecified issues, but short of a small overhaul, a lot of encounter rebalancing, and the reworking of several concepts and mechanics throughout the game, I doubt it will drastically change the largely poor and frustrating experience I had.

More than seven years after its initial announcement, Ray’s the Dead just doesn’t feel like a finished game. Clunky gameplay and numerous bugs don’t do the imbalanced and overly difficult encounters any favors, while certain other concepts in the game feel underexplored and go unutilized. It’s potential to delve into unique puzzle mechanics is overshadowed by obnoxious and frustrating combat segments and bugs impacting critical elements of the gameplay. Ray’s the Dead might have a lot of heart, but that heart is contained within a cumbersome rotting corpse crawling with bugs that make coming back from the dead more chore than triumph.

Ray’s the Dead review code provided by developer. Reviewed on a standard launch PS4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.

  • '80s references are fun and entertaining
  • Unique 2D-on-3D art style
  • Some fun and interesting concepts
  • Clunky and inconsistent gameplay
  • Overwhelmingly frustrating and difficult combat encounters
  • Loads of bugs impacting gameplay
  • Underutilizes certain puzzle and mechanic concepts it should have leaned into more