Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare

An undead dream?

To make a game instantaneously better, all you need to do is add zombies. That's video game design 101 and an irrefutable fact. So, where the cynics might think that Rockstar's decision to infect Red Dead Redemption's frontiers with hordes of ravenous zombie for its Undead Nightmare DLC is an exercise in placating every gamer's wishes, you'd be pretty much spot on. And there's nothing wrong with that, especially when you consider it's Red Dead Redemption with zombies! Zombies, for crying out loud!

Set in a kind of alternate Red Dead universe, Undead Nightmare opens at Marston's family homestead in Beecher's Hope, where there follows an overnight zombie epidemic, which sweeps the entire frontier. John Marston, ever the hero and gentleman embarks upon a quest to track down a cure and so he leaves the ranch to venture once more into Red Dead's sprawling sandbox, which has been completely engulfed by the infection, transforming people and animals alike into mindless brain-munchers.

Commencing at The Old Bacchus Place in the Southeast corner of New Austin, our demo opens with John finding toothless grave robber Seth attempting to play a hand of cards with a zombified Moses by the riverside. Seth wants Marston to head off to a grave plot at Sepulcro to torch the coffins and start eradicating the undead plague. This is the first of five graveyard plots in Undead Nightmare that now act as the zombified version of the gang hideout and you'll need to purify them all (burn them) to restore Red Dead's world to normality.

Jumping into the addle of Marston's putrefying zombie horse, we gallop off to the graveyard to reduce the exhumed caskets to cinders with a torch (which also doubles as a new melee weapon). Setting the splintered old coffins alight raises the nearby zombie hordes, who you'll then need to fend off to cleanse the site. Ammunition is quite hard to come by in Undead Nightmare, which makes these kinds of encounters more intense as we quickly learn.

These are no ordinary zombies we're dealing with either, as there are several different classes of undead to take into account. Bolters for instance, pounce from all-fours with frightening speed and agility and larger, tougher Bruisers charge without warning, sending Marston stumbling to the floor. Of course, there's the more traditional shambling zombie to contend with too, as well as the bile-spewing Retchers, which explode in a green, rancid cloud when killed.

Undead Nightmare's new Blunderbuss weapon will fast become your best friend in these kind of tense encounters then, as it can be stuffed full of zombie entrails and viscera lifted from rotting remains. Naturally, Marston is still packing his usual array of shotguns, rifles and revolvers, but nothing beats the Blunderbuss with it's explosive one-shot kill when surrounded by zombies. Its raw power is countered by its slowness in reloading as Marston struggles with a ramrod while he shoves zombie eyeballs, ribs and other undead detritus down the barrel. Luckily, Marston now has an improved melee attack that he can rely on to bat back zombies encroaching his personal space. Handy!

Once the Sepulcro plot is cleared, an old face from Red Dead's main story rises from her grave for an impromptu boss battle. It's the sobbing old widow, Miss Horlick from one of the game's early stranger missions. Upon dispatching her with a liberal dose of Holy Water and a shot from the Blunderbuss, the impenetrable gloom enshrouding the nearby area lifts, the weather lightens up and the zombie populous in the vicinity is also temporarily reduced.

Next, we're shown a Missing Persons mission, which work like Red Dead's Bounties, so you tear down a poster and hit the trail. Ridgewood Farm is where the survivor is holed-up and where a lone gun man is besieged in a barn surrounded by slavering zombies. The man in the barn is an optional ambient challenge and once we've given him some shotgun shells, he proceeds to return the favour by offering some back-up gunfire.

Inside the house at the centre of the farm, we quickly track down the missing person as he runs out guns blazing, actively looking to escape. Quickly, he saddles up with us and we blow the settlement as fast as we can. Happily, the zombie horse has a higher top speed and better stamina, but he's tougher to control due to his recalcitrant zombie nature. Following a journey involving plenty of wrestling with the horse, we return the missing survivor to Undead Nightmare's solitary 'Clean Zone' situated at Fort Mercer. Here you can choose to rescue another survivor by tearing down another Missing Persons poster.

Rathskeller Fork is where the final section of the hands-on demo takes us, where we're given the task of helping more survivors to clear out a settlement teeming with undead. Your progress in cleaning up and settlement like this is tracked by a progress bar at the top of the screen and once you've finished the job, Marston gains a safehouse where you can save you game. No more campfires for Undead Nightmare: the prairies are far too dangerous.

We make short work of taking out the zombies at Rathskeller Fork, as we climb a ladder to a nearby rooftop to man a Gatling gun. Throwing down some Zombie Bait, Boom Bait and Holy Water to thin the crowds, the bait also has the zombies clustered in one area. It's then just a simple case of cranking the Gatling and ripping up the remaining undead and then harvesting their bodies for Blunderbuss ammo. And with that, the demo draws to a close.

Having only sunk our teeth into one meaty portion of what Undead Nightmare has to offer, we're eager to try more. Boasting five new weapons ? Torch, Blunderbuss, Boom Bait, Zombie Bait and Holy Water ? zombie horses, mythical creatures, zombie animals and ravenous decaying humans aplenty, Undead Nightmare is looking like some immensely desirable DLC.

Remarkably, Rockstar has gone to town in making Undead Nightmare feel fresh, from a redesigned red and yellow HUD to a brand new eerie soundtrack recorded by original composers Bill Elm and Woody Jackson. Even the expansive open-world looks more oppressive, with looming black clouds rendering the landscape perpetually dark and foreboding. As far as game add-ons go, we reckon that Undead Nightmare might just be one of the most essential we've played yet. And there's more where that came from, as you'll find out in a follow-up preview next week.

Red Dead Redemption Undead Nightmare is coming on October 26th.

E3 Trailer