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Written by Jason Nawara, @JasonNawara
From Blackwater to Escalara, a plague is crossing the land, causing the dead to rise with a taste for cowboy flesh. For John Marston, this means it’s time to blow another few hundred heads off — they’re just rotten this time. That’s OK, they explode better this way.
This Halloween will be the third anniversary of Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare, and after playing it (and loving it) just as much as I did three years ago, it’s blatantly obvious this is one of the best “must-play” expansion packs of all time. It’s once again the story of John Marston, Red Dead Redemption’s bandit protagonist with a heart, and it brings back nearly the entire cast from the original game in sick and hilarious ways.
Whoa, that was a pretty intense second paragraph. If you’ve played Red Dead Redemption, which was arguably Rockstar’s greatest game ever, you know the hyperbole is weak. The amount of content in Undead Nightmare is absolutely insane. From the brutal, pounding remixed soundtrack; to the vast side missions and collectibles like capturing the Four Horses of the Apocalypse, you will get your money’s worth from this expansion.
Like Red Dead Redemption, Undead Nightmare is an open-world game that takes place throughout what is Rockstar’s version of Texas and Mexico. The mission structure is the same, with John traveling across the countryside running errands and killing things, but it’s the errands you run and the things you kill that make this expansion so great. This is more than merely a tacked-on zombie game. One of the first missions in the game has you hunting Sasquatches, and in typical Rockstar fashion, your mission to hunt down Bigfoot and his friends turns your green-hued world morally upside down. New weapons and items are introduced into the expansion pack, like the devastatingly explosive Holy Water, a Blunderbuss (very satisfying to shoot, slow to reload), a torch to light zombies on fire, and much more. Like zombie bait. Oh sweet zombie bait, you’ve saved me so many times. Nothing is more reliable than a six-shooter or a shotgun aimed at the rotting skull of an enemy though.
As you travel throughout the now stormy map that has a haunting, green sky, Marston will come across towns, small villages and graveyards that will need to be cleared of the undead. Ammo is now at a premium, and head shots bring down the shambling villagers hungry for your guts instantly. Trust me when I say it’s not worth plugging them anywhere but the head. While protecting the wild, undead west as you ride from town to town, you have the option as I mentioned before of hunting down the Four Horses of the Apocalypse. Their riders are nowhere to be seen, but I won’t ask why. Wrangling horses in RDR was an important game mechanic, and they’ve brought it back with these super horses. Each Horse of the Apocalypse has a different powers beyond the usual speed and stamina upgrade we saw with the ‘regular’ horses in Red Dead Redemption. These guys will light zombies on fire if they get too close, or they’ll cause the zombies’ heads to explode. All in all — these rides are awesome and worth going after. There’s few experiences like wading through a cluster of Zeds and watching their heads explode like party balloons.
It should be noted that there are more than just the reanimated corpses of Armadillo or Plainview shambling after you, it should be known. Like Left 4 Dead there is a host of different, more situational zombies. There’s the bruiser zombie, who will knock you over with his charge. A spitter that will explode into a deadly green mist and other mutations awaiting your delicious brains along with the rather weak ‘normal’ zeds. And the plague hasn’t just taken over the humans, the wildlife has succumbed and the only thing worse than a hungry black bear chasing you through the woods is a hungry zombie black bear chasing you through the woods.
The graphics are beautiful. I could say ‘for a three-year-old game,’ but I won’t. It stands in 2013 that this game is still very beautiful, and it can only make me wonder how GTA V will turn out. Rockstar had a real handle on their engine at this point in 2010. Hi-res textures bring the world to life in all of its horrific glory. The frame-rate is smooth with only slight hiccups. The lighting effects from the torch that you can light zombies on fire with is just as impressive today as it was a few years ago, and the gore is there. Oh yes, the gore is all there. Everywhere, really. The completely remade soundtrack is a haunting joy to listen to as you blow up zombies. The amount of recorded dialogue for a simple expansion is just staggering. As expected, the sound design is top-notch, whether it be your horse’s hoofs flopping through the mud as the undead swarms groan after you, or the click of your revolver and the wet smack of brains against a dirt path sound like it’s happening right next to me. The audio is extremely well done.
The sheer amount of content in this expansion is incredible. I feel like I owe a Rockstar employee a drink for this deal. And that’s at $20. You can find Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare on a disc new for $10 easy, and that includes quite a few multiplayer packs for the base game. Or just play this as a stand alone. You probably shouldn’t if you want the maximum enjoyment of seeing all the returning characters, but you could if you wanted to. It’s a free country. I want to go into the characters and plot of the game, but if you haven’t completed Red Dead Redemption, some of the gravity behind these returning characters won’t hold the weight that it should. Yes, you can play this as a stand alone game, but it will be way more fun surviving in the world you knew so well in the base game, turned sour like it has here.
In addition to the dense single player campaign (did I mention that you can hunt Chupacabra?) a pretty cool multiplayer mode is introduced called Undead Overrun. It’s your basic horde mode, with zombies constantly attacking in waves as you and up to 3 friends scramble about one of the many graveyards they stick you in, scrounging through coffins for supplies and weapons. It can get boring after a while, but it’s a great addition to the multiplayer suite, and can add some nice variety. It’s also a really great way to get XP fast. Especially during a triple XP weekend.
The controls of Rockstar’s games will always be the point of contention. If you can get over the loose controls to manipulate your character as you intend, it’s great. If not, I can see why some people shy away from Rockstar games. This isn’t nearly as wonky as GTA IV though, and everything is much, much tighter for Undead Nightmare.
The whole package can take anywhere from 6-15 hours to complete 100%. It depends on the type of gamer you are, the level of completion you are seeking, and how much you love Undead Overrun. This was my second time through, I’ve played it once on the 360 and this time I hunted the undead on the PS3. I noticed no real graphical differences, and only slight hiccups of slowdown happened when the action got real hot and heavy. This happens with both systems, but in no way hinders your enjoyment.
The Final Word: Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare is as good as expansions get. The deep and enjoyable single player campaign builds on what made Red Dead Redemption great, and twists it around into a love letter to horror in general. The only thing it was missing was a cameo by Gramps from House II. But that might be asking too much. Beyond the somewhat loose controls, this is the entire package. A Triple A title that is light on the wallet and heavy on the zombie killing.
Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare is available on the PS3 and Xbox 360 (reviewed).
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