Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare
Just in time for Halloween, Red Dead Redemption's Undead Nightmare is the first of what we hope will be many single-player story driven episodes for the game. This one injects Marston's entire world with an all-encompassing zombie epidemic that transforms almost every one of its inhabitants into mindless undead flesh-eaters intent on devouring brains.
The first thing you should know about Undead Nightmare is, 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, some of which have been turned by the onset of the zombie plague. It's still the same Red Dead you know and love, 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.
Opening with John Marston returning home to his ranch at Beecher's Hope, we find a member of his family has been turned, setting in motion a chain of events that prompt Marston into venturing back out into the Wild West frontier, first heading to Blackwater and the surrounding areas to begin the search for a cure. Undead Nightmare begins as it means to go on too, introducing you to some new faces and a lot of familiar ones while offering some additional insight into their personalities. Did you know that the owner of the General Store in Armadillo is unashamedly racist, for instance?
First there are a few new mechanics to explore though, and Undead Nightmare does a good job in getting all the learning out of the way quickly during your initial visit to Blackwater. Here you'll meet squabbling survivors, you'll incinerate infected coffins in the Blackwater graveyard and temporarily purge the town of zombies to create a safe zone where you can rest up and save. Then you're ready to boldly gallop out into the wilderness, looking for settlements to save and survivors to rescue.
There's plenty of story to play through too and it all knowingly plays on B-movie horror tropes, like a character going down an alley alone, despite Marston insisting that they stick together. You can see what's coming, but then part of the fun is finding out which of Red Dead's residents are going to come unstuck and be the next to succumb to the foul infection. Undead Nightmare finds time to mix moments of humorous levity into its bleak tale and some of the new survivor missions are genuine highlights. An early one among Tall Trees in particular, that's been 'six years in the making'. You'll know what we mean once you get there.
Like Red Dead Redemption's original experience, there's also a variety of ambient challenges to indulge in, involving treasure hunting, different weapon-based requirements and more. Locating survivors and aiding them in clearing out settlements is a constant concern and there are plenty of locations that need tending to and protecting. Zombies are always out in abundance, particularly in towns and graveyards where you rapidly understand that Deadeye is your most precious commodity in Undead Nightmare. Not only does it buy you valuable breathing space, but it also lets you line up quick and efficient headshots every time, which is essential since zombies generally won't die unless you put a bullet through their brain.
Marston is still a badass gunslinger of course, but now he's also a dab hand with the butt of his rifle, smacking any undead that get too close and even occasionally smashing their heads clean off with a powerful swing. His flaming torch is also extremely useful when a group of zombies bear down on you, as you can set multiple undead alight with an arced stroke and perhaps impale a zombies head with it too. Ammunition is extremely scarce, so relying upon these melee options as well as 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 a different number of circles above it representing each horde of undead you'll need to tackle. Some have two circles while other areas have six and can take a good while to cleanse.
Once the location is clear, green dots appear on the map representing ammo chests and you can loot corpses for extra bullets or bits to stuff into your Blunderbuss once you've earned it. Most of the time however, it's pure luck if you happen to find a decent stash of ammunition, but completing objectives as well as scavenging can build up a fair bit of ammo over time. Just be careful how you use it.
Naturally, there's plenty to see and do outside Undead nightmare's overrun settlements whether you're tackling zombified animals, rescuing missing persons or saving stranded people from random attacks. Keeping your wits sharp is important, as a lapse in concentration could see you being mauled by a vicious rotting cougar or a putrefying zombie bear. Keep your gun drawn and loaded at all times, if you want to survive! You're just as likely to bump into a gun-toting maniac or cannibal chewing on body parts at a random campsite too. Nasty.
Undead Nightmare is an astonishing add-on given the price tag. There's hours of story to indulge in alone, complete with an entirely new soundtrack, anew voice-over from the original cast and plenty of great, memorable moments. Then there's the multiplayer Undead Overrun horde mode, which is enormous fun if you can round up a posse of 2-4 players to help you deal with wave after wave of infected zombie scum. Then there's the bonus King of the Hill-style 'Land Grab', a non-horror themed multiplayer mode for Red Dead's Free-Roam, adding even more value to an already remarkable package.
Undead Nightmare is an immensely enjoyable and compelling alternate story set within the Red Dead universe, that succeeds in making the open-world feel fresh and different. The story is entertaining and engaging, and just as well-written and produced as the main game. It's testament to just how well Rockstar knows its audience, because Undead Nightmare is unashamedly gratuitous fun and represents incredible value for $10. It just goes to show; to make something better, just add zombies.