After announcing Ray's The Dead, their spiritual successor to Wideload's 2005 cult-hit Stubbs the Zombie in a feature story here at Polygon, and aborting their Kickstarter campaign earlier this month, developer Ragtag brought its cuter take on brain-eating to this year's E3 courtesy of a slot in Sony's Playstation 4 indie initiative.
While Ray's was initially announced for PCs, designer Chris Cobb told Polygon "Sony has removed all barriers, quite literally, on their system. ... It's been easier to get our game onto a Sony platform than it has been to get on Steam." While Sony isn't funding Ragtag, they did give the developer a pretty decent piece of real estate on the show floor, where a fairly substantional chunk of Ray's The Dead was playable.
After playing through the entirety of that demo, it's clear that Ray's and Ragtag have a few primary challenges ahead of them. The fundamentals of the game are easy enough to grasp, as Ray wanders first a graveyard then a small town and its streets, amassing a mob of zombies under his control in an effort to solve various action-based puzzles and progress further. But Ray's The Dead quickly became more involved, and at E3, that tended more toward complicated than complex.
The E3 demo tended more towards complicated than complex
Moving Ray's horde is easy enough on the right analog stick, but actions requiring more finesse, such as directing a lone zombie to a bush to wait for an unsuspecting passerby, is finicky and unreliable. As the demo progressed, this became more of an issue, resulting in at least a pair of incidences where a zombie was directed inaccurately and ate the wrong brains, and this during a mandatory "stealth section."
From a technical perspective, Ray's is still early, and according to Ragtag, has only really been running on the PS4 for about six weeks. That in mind, Ragtag is almost assuredly working to address some fairly serious performance problems on display in the E3 build — toward the end of the demo, as I had accumulated dozens of zombies, Ray's slowed to a crawl with single-digit framerates. This made the complicated control scheme even more difficult to navigate.
The cleverness and humor you'd hope for are in place
The good news, though, is that the incidental cleverness and humor that fans of Stubbs would hope for is already in place, semi-adorable, 2D paint-job notwithstanding. The aesthetic choices Ragtag is making are working well and the soundtrack is also great, though a far-cry from the 50s-inspired alt-rock covers that Stubbs was known for.
The other good news: Ragtag has plenty of time remaining, as they've committed to release during the PS4 launch window, which is unofficially considered to be within six months of the system's November launch. Ray's The Dead is expected in 2014.