X360A Review: Red Dead Redemption's Undead Nightmare DLC

Richard Walker

 Forget everything you know about Red Dead Redemption; Undead Nightmare is an altogether different beast and should be treated as such. It has nothing to do with the main game's narrative, other than the setting and characters of course, some of which have been turned by the onset of the zombie plague. It's still the same Red Dead you know and love though, but the entire landscape has been transformed, with fires burning on the horizon, trees gnarled and twisted, and a perpetual gloom hanging in the air. The zombies are a coming! Run for them there hills!

Opening with John Marston returning home to his ranch at Beecher's Hope, we find a member of his family has been turned, putting a chain of events into motion that prompt Marston into venturing back out into Blackwater and the surrounding areas to begin the search for a cure. To begin with, Undead Nightmare eases you in gently, explaining the game's various new mechanics while provoking a few welcome flashbacks with some familiar faces. Part of the fun is figuring out which of Red Dead's residents are going to fall foul of the zombie virus and it’s usually painfully obvious who's going to be a victim before they succumb to it.

Brilliantly playing on horror B-movie tropes, Undead Nightmare mixes moments of levity into its bleak zombie outbreak, finding time to add an inconsolable, sobbing mythical creature and a variety of crazed, maniacal characters to the narrative. Like Red Dead's main storyline, there's a range of ambient challenges to indulge in, involving treasure hunting, weapons and more, and Undead Nightmare also introduces some extra stranger missions to complete. It's a hefty chunk of gameplay, with plenty of diversions in addition to its central yarn.

Locating survivors and helping them to clear out settlements is a constant concern, and more and more affected areas gradually unlock as you roam around the vast open-world. Burning graveyards and eradicating the undead element is another aspect introduced in the game's opening section in Blackwater as you meet up with Professor MacDougal and his Native American buddy, Nastas. Once you've finished this first meeting, the zombies start coming thick and fast. You realise that Deadeye is going to be your most valuable commodity in Undead Nightmare from this encounter alone, as it buys you time and guarantees quick and efficient headshots every time.

Thankfully, Marston is still as handy with a gun as he ever was and when things get hairy, you can club zombies away with a strong rifle butt or by swinging your torch to incinerate any undead getting up in your grill. Ammunition is extremely scarce, so relying upon melee and carefully aiming shots is integral. Entering settlements marked by white question mark icons on the map also initiates working with survivors and causes a bar with several circles above it to appear. Each progress bar you fill up, in turn fills a circle, which then allows you to clear up the last of the zombie horde in the area. When the location is clear, green dots appear on the map representing ammo chests and you can loot corpses for extra bullets too. However, you'll be lucky to find one or two bullets, but you'll soon find that even a single bullet is hugely valuable.

Every area where you manage to take out the marauding zombie populous then acts as a safe house for fast travel and saving your game; incidentally there's no more setting up campsites, since it's far too dangerous to do so. There's plenty to see out in the wilderness though, so you'll need to be careful and keep your wits about you. Getting torn to shreds by a zombie bear or ravaged by a putrefying cougar is a constant danger, but happily there's always a checkpoint by a town or an autosave to go back to.

Undead Nightmare is an astonishing achievement as far as DLC is concerned. The sheer size and wealth of options is something you'd expect from an expansion pack, not a cheaply-priced add-on. The narrative portion is as slickly produced as the rest of Red Dead Redemption, and we’ve not even touched upon the multiplayer yet.

Also, included in the DLC package is the Undead Overrun mode, which is enormous fun if you can round up a posse of four to take on wave after wave of the decaying horde. And of course, there is the new non-Undead themed Land Grab, which is essentially an attack and defend based game of King of the Hill. Frankly though, the co-operative Undead Overrun and Land Grab game mode will take a back seat to the brilliant single player.

The achievements are still as tough as the rest of Red Dead's, so completing all of the ambient challenges and garnering that 100% statistic will take you some time, but immersing yourself in the game's Wild West sandbox is so unreservedly enjoyable and fun, you'll most definitely want to.

Undead Nightmare might not tie-in to Red Dead's overarching story, but as an entertaining journey into an alternate tale set within that rich and compelling universe, it's an add-on that proves utterly indispensable for any self-respecting fan of the game. And for Red Dead virgins, the standalone disc might be the perfect introduction to one of the finest open-worlds in gaming. Plus, it has zombies. Lots of zombies!
Undead Nightmare releases on October 26th.

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