Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare Review
High Moon Studios’ under-the-radar--and under-appreciated--Darkwatch was one of my favorite original Xbox titles. Blending old west action with paranormal threats, it delivered a unique experience on the console Master Chief built. Sure, its run-and-gun shooting was pretty standard, unremarkable stuff. But its inspired haunted wild west setting and cowboys-and-ghosts gameplay guaranteed it a top spot in my last-gen library. Plenty of shooters have come since, some even starring six shooter-slinging protagonists, but none have allowed me to kick my spurs into undead horses or cap zombie-fied ladies of the night as Darkwatch did. So, you can imagine my enthusiasm when Rockstar Games announced some zombie-themed DLC for their game-of-the-year-worthy Red Dead Redemption. While many groaned over the release of yet another zombie shooter, an admittedly played-out premise, I couldn’t wait to let John Marston loose on the infected hordes.
Before getting into Marston’s own personal zombie apocalypse, it should be noted Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare is not on the level of GTA4-supporting solo-play DLC entries The Lost and Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony; while those were fully-fleshed 20+ hour standalone entries, Undead is more of a novelty one-off. That’s not to say it’s not totally worth the ten bones--it absolutely is--but expectations should be set accordingly. It easily packs 10+ hours of single-player zombie-slaying, and extends that further with a new live-as-long-as-you-can cooperative multi-player mode; if you’ve played Gears of War 2‘s Horde challenges, you’ll be right at home fending off this mode’s endless waves of brainless monsters.
While the online action is a nice play-extending bonus fun for a weekend of testing your survival skills with friends, it’s Undead Nightmare‘s solo play that ultimately makes a return trip to Armadillo well worth your time. Rockstar probably could’ve gotten away with dropping a few hundred zombies into Red Dead‘s existing, expansive landscapes. I mean, who couldn’t kill a few hours revisiting the title’s detail-drenched world, unloading hot lead on the occasional foot-dragging foe? Never a developer to phone it in, though, Rockstar’s crafted this creeps-inducing package with plenty of immersive details and goosebump-raising touches. For one, Mother nature reacts accordingly to the walking dead threat; overcast skies and foreboding rain storms perfectly complement the horror vibe. And all that wild life you probably spent hours hunting in Red Dead have returned with an even bigger appetite for human flesh--not even the animals escaped the virus. Coolest of all, Red Dead’s flocks of birds have been replaced by colonies of sky-eclipsing bats.
While all these extras give Red Dead an inspired haunted makeover, it’s the gameplay that’s most affected by the supernatural threat. Significantly altering Red Dead‘s duck-and-cover approach to offing outlaws, Undead‘s inhuman enemies come in various shapes and sizes, but don’t carry guns or take cover. Expect to be charged by solo predators rampaging toward you on all fours, or slowly consumed by groups of slower brain-eaters. Of course, there’s also the requisite vomit-spewing zombie to keep you on your toes. Thankfully, Marston’s got some new gear in his saddle bag, and he’s all-to ready to unleash it on these brain-feasting menaces. Zombie bait is exactly what it sounds like, allowing you to toss it out and watch the freaks feed; if you especially enjoy watching the meat bags suffer, you can also light ‘em up with a torch; and the musket-like Blunderbuss, which can be filled with ammo-serving zombie parts, is great for blasting up-close groups of shufflers. You still have access to Dead Eye mode, so you should also feel free to use your old stand-bys for a little slo-mo zombie slaying.
Undead‘s critical and side missions offer plenty of opportunities to paint the world in bloody entrails, but they don’t pack the inventiveness or variety of the main game’s quests. For the most part you’ll be clearing towns of the infected, rescuing missing persons, and helping survivors in other various capacities. However, the repetitive nature is generally saved by solid writing and voice acting. The ending is fantastic, as are many of the encounters leading up to it. Interacting with familiar characters in this decidedly unfamiliar situation is a hoot; Seth the gravedigger’s solution, for example, is to befriend the undead, but he soon learns they’re not especially stimulating companions at the poker table. Undead can be played without completion of the main game, but you’ll be missing out on half the fun if you haven’t already been introduced to Red Dead‘s cast of colorful characters.
There’s a lot more to this package, such as the ability to tame the four horses of the apocalypse, but we won‘t spoil all the spooks for you. If you’re craving a fresh take on the oversaturated zombie genre or, like me, wish horror-themed wild west games were as popular as modern military shooters, Undead is worth a download. For ten bucks, it offers an excuse to revisit one of the year’s absolute best games and kill zombies. Besides, with a Darkwatch sequel nowhere in sight, it’s likely your last opportunity to thwart an undead apocalypse from horseback.