It takes a special kind of game to pull off a zombie apocalypse. Just imagine the response if Super Mario Galaxy or Metal Gear Solid offered a downloadable campaign full of smelly undead brain-eaters. Yet the infusion of zombies feels perfectly natural in the world of Red Dead Redemption. And best of all, it gives millions of virtual cowboys another reason to saddle up and play one of 2010's best games.
Unlike the last several downloadable packs, Undead Nightmare is a full-featured single player adventure. We're given a good ten hours worth of new missions, side-quests, hunting and more. It also offers a bunch of new multiplayer components, but the real meat of this experience is in the brand new adventure full of the walking dead.
Even though Undead Nightmare stars John Marston and a good chunk of the cast from Red Dead Redemption, it is not a sequel. There are certainly references to the events of the first game, but trying to keep the continuity straight between the two is pointless. This is nothing more than a crazy Tales from the Crypt-style episode of Red Dead Redemption, which turns out to be exactly what I needed this Halloween season.
We pick up with John Marston after he's freed his wife and young boy. This is the life John fought so hard to protect, and things seem to have worked out for the guy. One day our hero discovers a pack of zombies who are in the market for some fresh brains. He narrowly escapes, but not before his family is turned into these vile creatures. Not knowing exactly what to do, John ties his two loved-ones up and sets out for a cure. Along the way he meets up with a number of familiar faces, joins the military, hunts for answers and, most importantly, kills thousands of zombies.
Undead Nightmare is set in the same world you explored in the original game, only this time around everything is on fire and there are only a handful of survivors. All of the towns and graveyards have been overrun, so it's up to John to help the wounded and win back the country for the living. Usually this means he'll need to kill a certain amount of zombies before they finally get the hint, but in some cases our hero will go toe-to-gross-rotting-flesh-toe against easy boss characters.
The whole thing plays out in a fairly predictable way, at least from a gameplay point of view. Fans of the original game will feel right at home taking quests and helping people alongside the dirt roads. The narrative isn't as deep and interesting as the first game, but the story has a satisfying ending and offers enough changes to the world to keep things exciting. Best of all, it offers a great nod to anybody who is still choked up about the original game's emotional ending.Undead Nightmare has a great mix of serious action thrills and comedy. It's fully aware of how ridiculous the situation is, and the developers never miss an opportunity to point it out. Early on a player assures us that there's absolutely no harm in him going down a dark alley alone. He's perfectly safe. Nothing could ever happen to him. Moments later he's dead. Later in the game we're introduced to a film director looking to make a zombie picture, but John doesn't understand why anybody would want to watch a movie about the walking dead.
And even with all of this buffoonery, John Marston is a serious man on a deadly serious quest. The powerful lead character never allows the events around him to go over the line into slapstick territory, always offering an anchor to the lunacy. He may not have the right answers, but he knows that he needs to push on for the sake of his family. And because of his conviction, I found myself compelled to see his story out. Without that stern character leading the charge, I suspect Undead Nightmare would have turned into yet another cheesy zombie game.
This expansion pack gives players a new way to play Red Dead Redemption, as the guy who has free license to shoot anybody and everybody in sight. It turns the game into an all-out action game, one that involves the player doing a lot of running for safety. These moments are not only thrilling; they feel notably different from the original game. Because you are one of only a handful of survivors, you won't be able to buy ammo or perform trades. Instead players will need to use their ammo wisely and search out new quests. Thankfully ammo is not tight, I rarely ran out of ammo, even when I was taking down the zombie hordes overtaking the cities.
Playing through Undead Nightmare reminded me just how gorgeous Red Dead Redemption is. The characters and zombies are good looking, but it's the stunning vistas and beautiful scenery that makes the game. This is one of the few games where I would routinely stop and look out at the world in front of me. I'm so used to seeing amazing graphics in every game; it's rare for me to actually take notice. But there's something about this world that is so unbelievably pretty that it requires a few seconds to marvel. This world is so foreign from most video games, it's the first fully realized Wild West location and easily one of the best game worlds I've ever seen.
Undead Nightmare did a great job reminding me how much I loved Red Dead Redemption. Even though it's only a few hours long, the game manages to recapture everything I loved the first time around. It feels like they had a checklist of what made Red Dead Redemption the game it was and added zombies. And for $10, that's a recipe I can get behind. Undead Nightmare proves yet again that Rockstar Games is the undisputed king of story-driven downloadable content.