This Could Be Good

Ray's The Dead

I, Zombie

The hero of Ray’s The Dead has an identity crisis because he has an identity.

By Ryan Smith • June 13, 2013

Preview events offer only brief glimpses at very big games. Who knows how any given game will pan out in its final form? The most we can say is This Could Be Good.

Before they transformed into monsters with a peculiar appetite for brain matter, zombies were once human beings. So what might happen if such a creature managed to become self-aware and discover its own pre-dead past? It’s a question that has gnawed at the minds of Chris Cobb and Matt Carter for nearly a decade.

Ray's The Dead

The pair had a hand in creating the 2005 Xbox title Stubbs The Zombie In Rebel Without A Pause, a cartoonishly violent action game. Stubbs harbored a dark backstory about a Willy Loman-like zombie who learns the tragic secret behind his own death. After recently founding their own indie studio, Ragtag Games, Cobb and Carter are revisiting the ethos of Stubbs with Ray’s The Dead. The title character is a zombie with an identity crisis. He doesn’t know why he’s a zombie, or why he has a light bulb protruding from his head that grants him power over the walking dead.

That power is necessary to solve puzzles in a game that Carter readily describes as “Pikmin with zombies.” Much of the action consists of raising a horde of undead and managing different types of utilitarian zombies (like strong or stealthy ghouls) to help solve a series of macabre conundrums. To defeat armed cops, for example, you need to distract them with an undead dog you unearthed from a nearby pet cemetery. While the cops are stunned, you hit them with a beam of light from your bulb-head and order your zombie infantry to finish the job.

Ray's The Dead

The 15-minute E3 demo didn’t delve much into the details of Ray’s story, but Carter says the game will explore his past through a series of playable flashbacks interspersed throughout. “The mechanics will actually work a lot like the zombie portions,” Carter told me. “He was influential in his real life, so you’ll be able to control people in a different way.”

You also discover the history of your zombie mutt, an animal loosely based on the Stephen King household-pets-gone-wild novels Cujo and Pet Sematary. Both books date to the 1980s, which fits right into timeline of Ray’s—and its embrace of Reagan-era nostalgia. The first few scenes take place in a rural town populated by rednecks and clueless cops who resemble Andy, the goofy sheriff’s deputy from Twin Peaks. Ray and crew shuffle to the suburbs in later missions to create havoc in a world meant to evoke a John Hughes film. To heighten the atmosphere even more, Ragtag employed Double Dragon Neon composer Jake Kaufman to write some more bitchin’ ’80s-style tunes. An homage to ’80s ephemera starring a self-conflicted zombie might sound like a strange pastiche of pop-culture nonsense, but Ray’s The Dead appears to have plenty of heart, even if the title character can no longer say the same.

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11 Responses to “I, Zombie”

  1. Chalkdust says:

    “Mac, PC, PlayStation 4” is a peculiar release slate, but I expect we’ll see it a whole lot in this generation. I wonder if we’ll see any PS4 Humble Bundles.

  2. Jackbert says:

    80s nostalgia and zombies?! Chris Cobb and Matt Carter better be keeping an eye out for homing sights from Canada.

  3. aklab says:

    As a huge fan of Pikmin, I’d love to see more games that can be summed up as “Pikmin plus ____”.

    • Army_Of_Fun says:

      Pikmin plus Potemkin villages. I just like the way it sounds.

    • Chalkdust says:

      Then hopefully you’re aware of The Wonderful 101, which I look at and think “Pikmin plus Viewtiful Joe”.  It also looks to be one of the few 3rd-party Wii U games so far that really capitalize on the touch-screen.

      • aklab says:

        Yes! That is totally Pikmin + Viewtiful Joe. It’s looking more and more like I’ll be getting a Wii U this console generation… 

  4. I never played Stubbs The Zombie, but I did love the soundtrack to no end. These screens are giving me a real Costume Quest meets Plants vs Zombies vibe which I’m totally digging.

    • George_Liquor says:

      Meh, it’s OK. The soundtrack and retro-futuristic trappings are its best aspects. The idea of zombies invading Tomorrowland is at least interesting, but the gameplay quickly gets repetitive and the humor is annoyingly puerile way too often. 

  5. mizerock says:

    Looks amusing. Surely it will be out on PS3 as well, right? I find it hard to believe that this game is so resource intensive that it couldn’t be on both. I guess we’ll see if they bother to make it for what will then be “last generation” consoles.

  6. bostonrocco says:

    Stubbs the Zombie was great and is one of the original Xbox games that will still run on the 360.  The soundtrack was all covers of 50s tunes by modern bands (at least for when it cam out several years ago).   The whole thing had a great sense of humor and some really cool game-play (i.e.-detaching your hand to sneak crawl and sneak up on enemies).