Reviewed on Xbox 360
I’m sure that some of you – perhaps not a majority, but some reasonable amount – met the news of the Undead Nightmare DLC with much rolling of the eyes, clucking of the tongues and jumping of the sharks. I can’t blame you – despite the otherwise rabid fan-reception of the announcement, it was a worrying idea. After all, Red Dead Redemption’s world, though darkly comic, was still steeped in reality. Could the introduction of that gaming staple, zombies, do it any justice?
In a word: yes.
In slightly more words: oh, God, yes.
Undead Nightmare is both a homage to the classic Romero/Raimi zombie flicks and a surprisingly direct lampooning of American culture, something Romero’s early films also aimed to achieve. As the tide of flesheating freaks washes over the many settlements of New Austin, Great Plains and New Mexico, resentments bubble to the surface, exposing the darkest, most unsettling realities of the period’s culture.
That isn’t to say it’s without a sense of humour – albeit dark, Undead Nightmare retains the original game’s sense of wit. John Marston reprises his role as a sane man in a world gone mad(der), and boy, has it ever. Old friends pop up throughout the course of the story, some welcome, some unwelcome, several meeting horribly entertaining demises in the process – Seth, West Dickens, Landon Ricketts, Leigh Johnson and more, not counting several bit players that pop up where you’d least expect them.
Story to one side, the meat of the game itself is fairly substantial. Although it won’t rival any previous story-based DLC in terms of serious content, there’s a wealth of things to see, do and gruesomely splatter all over the prairie. More than a dozen settlements need rescuing from the undead hordes, treasure maps lead the way to caches of supplies, mythical beasts roam the wilderness and an assortment of new random encounters fill up the sandbox with a fair amount to do. The issue is that it all feels rather disconnected – most of the missions, though fun, really serve as little more than ways to get your hands on new weapons and ammunition, with only a smattering actually pushing the story forward.
The deeper we push into the game, also, the more some flaws start to surface – none that really ruin the experience, but enough to start niggling. For one, the much-touted need to conserve ammunition isn’t the factor it was intended to be: at any one point, I had enough ammunition to clear two settlements for my rifle alone. No matter how challenging it’s intended to be, this reduces the potential ‘Oh God I’m Going To Die’ factor considerably. Even the addition of a crafting system does little to boost the immersion factor, with nothing really outclassing the explosive rifle in terms of full-on zombie-mulching power.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. Well, tell a lie, it is – but it’s supposed to be, and it’s bloody gorgeous to look at. The colour palette and atmosphere have been retouched to give everything a pale, green, sickly hue, rendering the world into the visual equivalent of a septic wound, festering in the dark. Even your shambling foes have undergone the same treatment – rather than just reskinning old models, the zombies of Undead Nightmare have personality (sometimes literally), in varying states of decay, corruption and danger.
Combating these slackjaws is no laughing matter – in fact, Undead Nightmare really ramps up the on-the-spot difficulty, as the zombies can only be put to rest with a shot to the head, their lurching, scuttling movement making gunplay difficult to say the least. Throw in vomit-spewing Spitters and bull-rushing Bruisers and, very quickly, you’ve got a big, big problem. Even Dead-Eye isn’t the reprieve it used to be – you’ll be relying on it for almost every encounter if you’re using Hardcore aiming, and even then, you’ll struggle to make every shot count.
Single-player aside for one moment, the addition of two new multiplayer modes, Undead Overrun and Land Grab (the former a Horde-like survival mode, the latter being King Of The Hill with a sneaky twist), injects fresh content into an already overflowing online community. Especially with Undead Overrun, the challenge of wiping out ever-increasing waves of zombies as you fight to destroy coffins ramps up the excitement factor to near-frenzy, demanding a tighter level of co-operation than Outlaws To The End ever did. Go walkabout, you die. Simple as that.
With this all in mind, is Undead Nightmare worth the 800 MS Points, or $9.99/£7.99 pricetag? Most certainly. Undead Nightmare is not a Lost & Damned with zombies: it’s true that won’t knock you flat with some new, amazing revolution in storytelling. But it is a bloodthirsty, darkly comic Weird West tale that takes no prisoners, shows no mercy, and leaves no flesh uneaten.
Pass the boomstick.
Undead Nightmare is also available on a standalone disc, containing the Undead Nightmare Pack, the Outlaws to the End Co-Op Mission Pack, the Legends and Killers Pack, the Liars and Cheats Pack and all the Multiplayer Free Roam modes released to date. Undead Nightmare is available at retail stores everywhere for £24.99 and does not require a copy of Red Dead Redemption to play.