During E3, I stopped by the independent developer portion of the Sony booth to see the titles that the publisher has been attracting to the PS4. One of the titles on display was Ray’s the Dead, a humorous take on the zombie apocalypse. Like any zombie-loving individual, I felt the tug of intrigue and went in for a closer look.
One of the first things that struck me about Ray’s The Dead was the art style, which is vaguely reminiscent of Plants vs. Zombies, but with its own flair and a 3D- background with which the 2D character models contrast nicely separating it from anything else that I've played before. The game is set during the 80s and little touches can be seen throughout the demo like the Pac-Man ghosts and the Double Deuce bar from the ’89 film Road House.
I played through the first level of the game which began with Ray, the titular zombie character, arising from the grave. After scaring some of the local hillbilly inhabitants, Ray learns that he can raise and command zombies by using the light bulb that is inexplicably implanted into his skull. After raising a few of the dead in the graveyard, Ray and his friends encountered a number of farmers who yelled things like “ERHMERGERD!” at the sight of a pack of approaching zombies. This was when I learned that I could give the zombies orders to attack specific locations and targets, much like the gameplay found in Nintendo's Pikmin titles. After killing a human, you can resurrect them to become part of your growing zombie army.
In the final area of the graveyard, I encountered a fist-fighting redneck and engaged him in one-on-one combat (which ended with Ray cartoonishly devouring his brains). Ray can perform finishing moves on stunned opponents that increase his health by 25% in addition to his normal melee attacks.
After the graveyard, I led my burgeoning zombie apocalypse into the town proper where it just so happened to be Halloween. With the kids walking around in costumes, the pack of zombies didn’t look out of place and no one was any the wiser. I was told by the developers that there would be a recurring theme throughout the game of people being unable to recognize the zombies as a real threat or writing them off for various (and possibly ridiculous) reasons. This part of the level relied on being sneaky, not killing anyone, and avoiding police dogs who could sniff out the decaying flesh of the undead. After making it through the sniffing dog section (which is a phrase I would have never expected to write), I encountered a wall that needed ten zombies to knock over, but only had seven following me. The solution? Hide zombies in bushes to gnaw on random pedestrians! After welcoming the new brainless to the flock, I pushed forward to the next part of our journey.
In the next segment, Ray encountered zombie dogs. The devs told us that these were just one of many different types of zombies that would have special effects. While ordering a normal zombie to attack results in the zombie shambling over to the target, zombie dogs will dash towards their enemies and stun them briefly, giving you a safe opening to send in the rest of your zombie army. After mastering these handy tools of the zombie trade, the zombie army made its way toward the final confrontation with the now alerted local law enforcement of the sleepy southern town.
The final area was the main street of the town where cops had converged to stop the zombie menace from spreading. This section of the demo proved particularly challenging and, much to my chagrin, I was unable to complete it. The build I saw was in pre-Alpha, so not all of the kinks were worked out, but this game shows a lot of potential.
Keep an eye out for it in early 2014 when it releases on PC, Mac, Linux, and PS4.