Review: Ray’s The Dead – Movies Games and Tech

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Slightly kung-fused maybe

Rays The Dead is a 1980s-inspired zombie action-strategy-puzzle game developed by Indie developer Ragtag studio with an impressively meagre$50,000via Kickstarter and, after a turbulent 6-year development and repeated delays, was eventually released (or escaped) in October 2020.

This highly unique title has Ray, a brain-eating zombie, form and command an army of zombies to help him traverse the puzzle-laden maps of his 80s reference-filled world. Initially unsure why the nearest cranium always ends up in his mouth, he soon learns about his past through playable flashbacks, while an evil corporation unleashes a riot-inducing green mist on the town in the present.The dual narrative conveys the closeness of a group of friends that experienced a traumatic childhood, and its 2D hand-drawn feel of the characters on the smooth unity-rendered 3D backgrounds gives it a gruesome cartoon look.

Rays zombie army can be made up of 4 different types of zombie (standard, dogs, assassins and muscle-bound beasts) each with their own strengths and weaknesses and their own assigned button, allowing you to send them off to attack different targets at the same time. You can also group your team together when you need to stealth past guards and shield against oncoming attacks. This gameplay loop is relatively repetitive but deepens as you progress the story and unlock extra zombies for your army. It even requires some strategic thinking when you have to fight a map full of enemies and obstacles.

The action represents the largest part of the gameplay and is interspersed with puzzle and stealth sections. The puzzle sections generally consist of simple switch-based mechanisms and are integrated brilliantly into the levels, such as uncoverable areas that only dogs can discover or buttons that need to be pushed with a severed arm (ala Evil Dead) while moving along on a conveyer belt. Stealth, on the other hand, is unpolished by comparison with enemy detection distances different from the view distance line shown on the screen and bugs that revive a defeated enemy.

Unexpectedly, its the smaller sections of gameplay that give the title its personality. Scenes that use timing-based rhythm in a Karate Kid-esquetrainingscene has you karate chopping and blocking dodgeballs while another has you sending traders on a trading floor to buy or sell shares. Unfortunately, these and the 1980s characters, Mr.T and Aliens Ellen are utilized far too sparingly despite the games reliance on 1980s references. They would have also been great replacements for the standard-fare bosses currently on offer.

The games soundtrack is overflowing with addictive 1980s charm and largely excellent atmospheric tracks, but the tracks themselves are quite short, which means they start to lose their appeal by the 4th and 5th loops during long or repeated levels.

So pervasive and overbearing are the games faults, that it cant help but turn the overall experience into a negative one. The most immediate are in the form of the script and gibberish speech which are to put it bluntly awful. The script tries to be funny and tragic at the same time and often falls short in both. Combine that with the off-putting gibberish that doesnt even match the tone of the text and characters facial expressions and it makes going through the conversations far harder than it should be. A voice cast may have been too expensive for their budget, but even beeping sounds (aka Ace Attorney) would have been a vast improvement.

With a game that aims to be irreverent, its quite hard to tell whether inconsistencies are intentional features in a mish-mash of 80s glory or a lack of focus. Im of the latter opinion, however, as the game has too many competing ideas to achieve anything great. If you cut down on the story of Ray and his group of friends, removed the gibberish voices and added extra depth to the gameplay such as customizable zombies and playable 80s characters, then its key strengths might have shone through a bit more.

While its possible to dismiss the prior complaints as personal preference, youll soon come up against technical issues that even fans cant ignore the numerous progression-halting bugs, which force you to restart and do the level all over again.

So, while Rays The Dead has an interesting and unique gameplay mechanic, its hard to recommend it in its current state. And although its80s references and zombie themecaptured a niche audience on Kickstarter, its difficult to say whether this inconsistent effort could appeal to a larger group even when its issues have been fixed.

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Review: Ray's The Dead - Movies Games and Tech

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