If, like me, you were waiting for more things to accomplish as John Marston, you shouldn't hesitate to pick up Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare. Rockstar's latest downloadable content for Red Dead is very obviously a love letter to B-movie horror flicks with a touch of fantasy added for good measure. It's unapologetically campy, and that is what makes it so special. Whereas Red Dead Redemption was a serious story in a serious landscape during serious times, Undead Nightmare twists the formerly grave game into something much more lighthearted.
With all new cutscenes (the intro is truly epic), voice work from the original actors, creepier landscapes to explore complete with zombified animals, and a whole new soundtrack, it's clear that Rockstar put a lot of work into making this a complete, high-end production.
The nightmare begins when John and his family are having a peaceful evening together at their ranch at Beecher's Hope. It's a dark and stormy night, and all of a sudden regular folks are transforming into flesh-eating monsters. Relatives rise from the grave only to grab a bite out of their loved ones, and best friends quickly turn into bitter enemies due to fear. Luckily, John Marston is around and he's not going to stand for such a dire situation.
Now, before you head into the undead-infested wilds by your lonesome, keep in mind that general zombie survival rules apply:
1) Zombies are jerks that want to nom on your tasty brains, so don't trust them.
2) Always aim for the head.
3) If its head hasn't exploded, it's probably still coming to eat you.
4) Stay away from hordes.
5) Zombies can't climb ladders, so get up high for a better chance of survival.
Killing zombies is really fun -- I imagine that's why they're commonly cast in videogames and horror flicks. To make it more enjoyable, you'll have some new weapons at your disposal: holy water, undead bait, and the ever-awesome blunderbuss. Using leftover zombie body parts as ammo, the blunderbuss will literally evaporate anything that is stupid enough to wander down your sights. Sweet. Using these new tools you can mix up your strategy when fighting off waves of brain-eaters -- bait and bomb them or just pull off a series of head shots using Dead Eye. There are also new close-up kill animations that are pretty cool and can help get you out of tough spots.
Now, not all undead are created equal. In fact, a few of the zombies in Undead Nightmare look like they shuffled on over from a popular zombie shooter. The normal walkers -- slow from far away but will start running once they catch a whiff of your scent -- are obviously the most common. There are also big fat ones that will try to knock you down, oozing green ones that spit poisonous venom, and creepy crawling ones that sort of remind me of that chick from The Grudge movies.
Variety aside, the coolest aspect of the undead infection is that the virus spreads in real-time. So if you see a poor soul bitten by one of the damned, don't turn your back on him -- he'll likely rise up and try to feast on you.
Though the game has received a zombie face-lift, it still plays out in a very familiar way. The missions are the same style as in Red Dead Redemption, but they're altered. So instead of hunting for fugitives, you'll search for lost family members, and clearing out graveyards is a substitute for the gang hideouts. There are five new challenge ranks to conquer, wacky side-missions to enjoy and a main storyline full of theories of how the dead rose from their graves.
It's every man and woman for themselves in a zombie apocalypse and the only thing worth fighting over is ammo, which explains the lack of cash in the economy. Such desperate times also call for desperate measures, and thankfully your actions are no longer measured by an Honor meter. So do what you want -- kill survivors and swipe their ammo or work in tandem with them. It's up to you. The intention of Undead Nightmare is to play around and have fun in a giant ludicrous sandbox world, not to make you feel guilty over murdering someone for a few bullets.
When you come across towns you once explored in New Austin, West Elizabeth, or Mexico, you'll see they're slightly different this time around. Mainly, the undead are taking over and it's up to you to lend a helping hand. Your motives don't necessarily spring from the kindness of your heart. When you clear out a town, you are rewarded with ammo chests and the ability to use a safe house there.
Undead Nightmare encourages (well, sort of forces, I guess) you to go out and explore the wilderness with the removal of campsite fast travel. It's too dangerous to park your tiny caravan randomly, so instead if you want to get around quickly you'll need to save settlements. Thankfully, you have easy access to a zombie horse -- just shoot your regular horse in the head, wait, and whistle. The undead steeds are much more resilient and won't get tired, but they're tough to control. Yeah, this can be a pain in the ass, but really, how are you going to find those mythical creatures if you fast travel all the time?
That's right: mythical creatures. As you roam, you might get a notification that there's something in the area. If you see this, it usually indicates that one of the four horses of the Apocalypse is running around, just waiting for Marston's gentle touch. War, Pestilence, Famine, and Death are all available to break and use just as you would any other horse, and they're so much better. With basically unlimited stamina (which comes in real handy when traversing long distances) and a special power (War lights people on fire while Pestilence is almost impossible to kill), these horses kick ass. But if an outfit description is to be believed, there are even more amazing fantasy creatures out in the wilds to be tamed.
A 6-plus hour side-story that takes place toward the end of Red Dead Redemption, Undead Nightmare is a separate entry into the Wild West that you access from the main menu. Don't worry; it won't mess up your old saves. That said, if you haven't seen the credits roll in Red Dead Redemption, you might want to complete that story before heading into Undead Nightmare. While nothing will be spoiled for you, you'll miss humorous references scattered throughout the journey, and you probably won't appreciate the ending.
Finally, the single-player portion of Undead Nightmare isn't without minor frustrations. John Marston can still be difficult to maneuver (especially when you're trying to shimmy up a ladder while there are hungry zombies nearby), there's some slowdown, and it crashed on me once. Despite these technical shortcomings, this add-on is still worth every penny.
The single-player portion, while a significant chunk of this DLC, isn't all you get. There are two new multiplayer modes included, as well. The first, Undead Overrun, should feel very familiar -- you and some friends (or strangers) team up against wave after wave of zombies until you're overwhelmed. It's pretty fun and seems like a decent way to rack up XP points for your multiplayer characters. The second mode is found in Free Roam and actually has nothing to do with the undead at all. Titled Land Grab, you're basically trying to secure seven different locations throughout the map. It's available for anyone to play, but only folks with Undead Nightmare can initiate a game.