Rockstar Games' Old West tour de force Red Dead Redemption catches zombie fever—as video games now tend to do—with the Undead Nightmare add-on, a meaty, mystical expansion to the comparatively sober original adventure.
Zombies have invaded West Elizabeth, with the infection landing at Red Dead Redemption protagonist John Marston's doorstep. Marston sets off on an open-world adventure once more after his wife and son are ensnared by the mysterious plague, revisiting friends, foes and familiar locales, now ravaged by the undead hordes. Along the way, Marston will battle several strains of the undead, purging New Austin and Nuevo Paraiso of its zombie invaders with cleansing fire and brain liquefying bullet, all while seeking a cure.
Owners of Red Dead Redemption. Potential owners of Red Dead Redemption. This is a fantastic if flawed excuse to return to John Marston's world. It's worth playing, even if you've grown weary of this zombie thing that's been done to death.
Much has changed since the events of Red Dead Redemption. Storefronts, saloons and cities are devoid of life. Zombie hordes dot the landscape. Rockstar has radically re-skinned its version of the Old West, brazenly injecting kitschy narration, genuinely creepy tunes, zombie wildlife and all manner of mythical creature into this once serious game.
C'mon... Zombies? Seriously? There's little that's serious about Undead Nightmare. From the rather awkward narrative kick-off, it's clear that Rockstar's take on zombie games is designed with tongue in cheek. In between battling goo-spitting zombies and undead bears, you're revisiting many of Red Dead Redemption's most colorful characters, rarely feeling bogged down with the guilt and responsibilities of John Marston's original quest. You wouldn't be wrong to feel that Undead Nightmare borders on cheapening the original game, but better to just give in to this game's stellar spin on schlock horror.
What's there to do in the Old Zombie West? You'll be clearing graveyards of undead, saving towns from being overrun by zombie hordes and performing quests for Undead Nightmare's still breathing citizens. You'll have run-ins with old friends like grave robber Seth and snake oil salesman Nigel West Dickens who will further the plot with their own theories about the zombie infestation. While exterminating zombies in towns and cemeteries over the course of the six to eight hour campaign can quickly become repetitive, there's more entertainment in new random encounters and fresh hunting challenges. There's an impressive wealth of content in here for ten bucks.
Anything not zombie related in here? Yes. Strangely enough, you'll have an amazing encounter with Sasquatch that's definitely worth seeing. You'll also be able to tame and ride four horses of the Apocalypse, special steeds that exhibit mystical powers. War, for example, sets enemies on fire if they get too close. Death causes zombies to explode on contact. There's a tangible reward for capturing these unique creatures because you'll be riding around on a horse that's on fire!!
War, one of the four horses of the Apocalypse players can tame in Undead Nightmare may not be the most effective, but he's certainly the coolest.
Flaming horses? Great! Now what's the catch? Red Dead Redemption's targeting system and encroaching zombie hordes don't always play well together, especially when one of the skittering "Bolter" zombies is underfoot. Clearing zombie riff-raff from infested towns really isn't that enjoyable. It's a tiresome exercise in shooting rotten fish in a barrel.
So did you love it or hate it? I loved Undead Nightmare for its great new additions, like the deadly Blunderbuss, a zombie-shredding shotgun that fires zombie body parts as ammunition. I loved it for its bizarre encounters with weird creatures and the random suicide I witnessed while riding through the wilderness. I loved its very final chapter, because it was spooky and unique. I loved its gorgeous soundtrack, which deserves a release of its own. I might've hated being forced to ride carrion horses, though, but just for a little while.
And multiplayer? Largely a forgettable "Horde Mode" that piles on more and more zombies wave after wave. It's tense and amusing for a little while—not to mention profitable for the in-game cash poor—but its appeal doesn't match that of the single-player side. The better multiplayer offering is "Land Grab," a new territorial control gametype that's zombie free.
Undead Nightmare is a shining example of what downloadable content for games can be. This infected world is stylistically different enough to feel special and unique. Undead Nightmare's story is not nearly as powerful as the original Red Dead Redemption campaign, nor is its combat as enjoyable. Fortunately, its humor, its panache and the opportunity to reacquaint oneself with John Marston's circle of friends more than make up for its shortcomings. Maybe zombies aren't so bad after all.
Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare was developed by Rockstar San Diego and published by Rockstar Games for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, released on October 26. Retails for $9.99 USD or 800 Microsoft Points. A voucher for the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played through single-player story on Xbox 360, testing Undead Overrun multiplayer on Xbox Live. Killed me some zombies.