Though its gameplay grows stale, UN's story is great
“Hasn't the zombie craze in video game design died off yet?” That's what I thought to myself as I saw the title “Undead Nightmare.” Red Dead Redemption's singleplayer expansion came out in July 2010. When it was first announced, many were slightly sceptical. There were zombie games all over the place with Dead Rising and Left 4 Dead, as well as plenty of undead-inspired mini-games and pieces of DLC such as the Nazi Zombies mode in Call of Duty. For Rockstar, a company whose wont it is to parody clichés as opposed to simply running with them them, taking the already thinly-stretched zombie theme seemed like a bit of a weird decision. However, Rockstar wouldn't have gathered such universal acclaim if they hadn't always treated every single subject with the utmost reverence and care, and this side story in Red Dead is another testament to that very fact. Resurrection of the dead is often thought of as a new theme in horror fiction, but it can actually be traced back to the Egyptians and their mummification of important people. Still, mingling the Old Western setting with zombies is not exactly common. And yet that is precisely what they did, and somehow, a fantastic product came out of it.
As one might expect, Undead Nightmare takes place in an alternate reality to the original game. Marston is sitting at home with his family, when Uncle comes home and acts rather strangely. Things turn ugly quickly and both John's son and wife are bitten. He is thus forced to tie them up until he has found a cure, and heads off to the nearby town of Blackwater, where he has hilarious encounters with some of the greatest characters from Red Dead Redemption's storyline.
What makes this whole zombie outbreak setting work is the sheer brilliance of the dialogue. Marston has always served as a neutral factor in the cutscenes. He was his own character, but for the bulk of the main story, he did little to judge other characters' motifs, instead simply obeying because he felt he had to. In a similar fashion, he takes all the craziness that goes down in this dark new world in stride like it is nothing. His dry commentary on the outrageous suffering that was everywhere had me a in stitches on multiple occasions, especially when it was coupled with the baffled and gullible inhabitants of the New World wondering just what the hell is going on. Over the course of the four to six hours it took me to beat Undead Nightmare, I never got tired of the babbling about curses and the ignorance the characters display. Their motions are overblown, like this whole thing is almost a Monty Pythonian-esque play. For this reason alone, Rockstar validates its 20 euros asking price for the package.
Actually playing Undead Nightmare is a pretty different experience from playing the full game as well. There are still missions to receive from quest-givers, as usual, which move you towards the conclusion of the story. The meat of the gameplay is found in liberating and defending towns, however. You will travel all over all three regions of America, and just about every settlement needs to be released from the terror of the zombies. This boils down to going in and either giving the survivors who are shooting dudes from the rooftops the supplies they need and draining your own in the process or shooting enough walking dead to clear the town. From there, the town will be safe, though you will get messages that tell you to go back and help out a village, as it has been overrun once more, which was more cumbersome than anything.
The zombies in this Nightmare are in the middle between the extremely slow ypes and the quick ones. There are a couple of variations, including the regular ol' lumbering generic dudes, acidic green zombies and the brutes; big dudes with a lot of power. They are definitely harder to kill than the human outlaws you faced in Red Dead Redemption, and continue to get up until you've blown off their head. For this reason, Dead Eye is pretty much the key to every single battle. If you manage to position yourself properly and line up enough zombies, battles blow over pretty quickly. Nonetheless, I grew tired of fighting these things about halfway through. It all became kind of a grind, especially the freeing of towns. The shooting in this game is good, but there were times when I just didn't want to go in there and shoot zombies any more, despite some of the cool weapons that are included.
Some of the very best Stranger encounters in the entire Red Dead Redemption package appear in zombieland. They made up some of the best moments in the real game, and the same can be said here. On top of that, the four horses of the apocalypse have also come down with the zombie plague, and they are there to be found and broken by the players. Riding them is pretty awesome, although they had a very annoying tendency to die on me—though I can't deny that I should have been more careful with them around the deadly channel between New Austin and Mexico. It's a pretty funny inclusion that just goes to show how Rockstar has dealt with the source material: with just the right amount of respect and humour.
If you loved any of the characters from Red Dead Redemption, I reckon Undead Nightmare will be enjoyable to you. It portrays the hilarity of a zombie outbreak to absolute perfection. The gameplay grew stale after a while, but that far from ruined the experience. 20 euros is a pretty steep asking price, but I can still quite easily recommend this piece of downloadable content. You should get it. Rockstar's extension of Red Dead's campaign is one of the absolute highlights of the zombie trend, and if it keeps on giving birth to such gems, I do not see why it should go away any time soon.