Review: Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare (DLC)


Title: Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare
Format: PlayStation Network Download
Release Date: October 26, 2010
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Developer: Rockstar San Diego
Price: $9.99

Playing Red Dead Redemption was one of my gaming highlights for 2010.  It received high marks for a strong story, emotionally diverse characters, solid controls and beautiful visuals.  From the minute I pressed the start button I was undoubtedly immersed and incapable of inserting a different game into my PlayStation 3 console – it just wasn’t gonna happen.

Now, just in time for my favorite “Holiday” of the year – Halloween – Rockstar Games has released one of the better options in downloadable content.  Undead Nightmare provides for an entirely new single player campaign as well as additional multiplayer content.  I couldn’t be happier.

The story of Undead Nightmare establishes itself prior to the conclusion of the original Red Dead Redemption and begins with a dark and stormy night on horseback and an appropriate Vincent Price-like narration.  Once again you play the part of the hardened John Marston whose life seems to be resembling some much needed stability with his wife and son.  But this happy life is cut short as “Uncle” – looking considerably worse for wear – interrupts their fireside moment by attacking John’s family.

As the opening cinematic ends we find Uncle with a bullet in his head and John’s wife and son hog tied – suffering from Uncle’s infectious bite – no longer resembling the family John battled so hard to get back during the original Red Dead Redemption story.  Sticking with the idea that the term “zombie” has never been uttered, John concludes his family has been afflicted by a mysterious disease and rides off in search of a cure.  So sets the backdrop to this new tale in an already established and wonderfully realized world.

The player has the opportunity to revisit many of the incredible locations and inhabitants of Red Dead Redemption, as well as become familiar once again with the tight controls.  Of course, Red Dead Redemption gameplay wouldn’t be complete without the oft-used Dead Eye.  The ability to slow down time to mark your target continues to be one of the highlights of Red Dead and Undead Nightmare requires that you master that ability.  In true “zombie” form the horde is most easily disposed of by a clean shot to the head – anything else will simply piss them off.

In addition to John’s standard arsenal of 6-shooter, double barrel shotgun and rifle the player will get a chance to try their hand at some of the more unique offensive and defensive weapons.  The torch becomes a much used weapon very early on.  It not only provides for a needed light source while wandering some of the darker corners of Red Dead’s towns, it also allows John Marston to set aflame the various coffins and cemeteries from where a great number of the undead inhabit.

Torching the undead will slow them down and, eventually, eliminate them for good but more often than not John finds himself surrounded; enough so that fire and a shotgun won’t provide a means by which he can escape.  Getting yourself into those situations happen often and typically end in disaster.  Luckily John is provided with flasks of undead bait (among other items) that attract the undead horde (think Pipe Bomb from Left 4 Dead), giving him just enough time to gain a little breathing room and find a way to safety.

Easily the most powerful of weapons against the undead masses takes the form of a Blunderbuss gun.  Using the scavenged remains –  eyes, limbs and bones – of the undead as your ammunition it does the most amount of damage, essentially rendering the undead into a blood-red mist.  The downside to this powerhouse of a weapon is that any undead it is used against leaves nothing behind that can be used as future ammunition.  It is very much a catch 22 situation and you would be advised to use it sparingly.

The open world of Red Dead Redemption has not only been ravaged by the undead but has also become the home to a number of Mythical creatures that your HUD map will identify when you get close to one.  I don’t want to spoil anything (oops – see below) but when you have the opportunity to chase one down – take it; the payoff can far outweigh the search.

The look and feel of Red Dead Redemption included some of the better visuals this year.  Undead Nightmare keeps those standards in place and, in some situations, adds just a touch more.  You’ll still have several chances to experience some of the most beautiful and expansive set pieces found in a video game.  This time around they take on a more ominous feel.  Where Red Dead allowed the player to breathe in the rugged old west, Undead Nightmare has set those images of beauty and splendor on fire – literally.

Chaos reigns in the world of Undead Nightmare regardless of where the story takes the player.  Every man, woman, child and beast is more aggressive.  You can see it in their eyes and in the rotting flesh that hangs loosely from their head and torso.  These images are disturbing to view and, at the same time, difficult to look away from.  Rockstar has once again proven that they have a firm grasp on what gamers look for in a AAA title and their dedication to satisfying the Red Dead masses has not faltered with their DLC.

The voice acting of Undead Nightmare continues to propel Rockstar Games as a top contender for delivering high quality gaming experiences.  Returning to the mix are all the actors and actresses that lent their voices to the first Old West experience – and it’s absolutely wonderful.  How the character looks is just one, albeit important, aspect to the success of such a story-driven game.  Adding a cast of experienced voice actors gives these same characters a nice boost of authenticity.  The player can admire how the characters look on screen but the solid voice-overs give them the life that so many videogames these days truly lacks.  Undead Nightmare doesn’t cut back on this detail and all the characters that fans of Red Dead Redemption have come to love are back for another helping of videogame magic.  In particular, the encounter with John’s old “friend” Seth, the former gravedigger, is one that I’ll not soon forget.  The acting provided during this scene is as disturbing as it is thought provoking.

To help set the mood of Undead Nightmare, Rockstar has incorporated some interesting audio effects for the soundtrack.  From a minimalist point of view it works incredibly well.  It’s difficult to explain but I got the distinct impression that the development team spent some time rummaging through a garage full of tools, spare automotive parts and garbage cans.  What they came up with was a creepy and haunting mix of “sounds” and effects that provide for the majority of the single player campaign.

Although I’ve been patiently waiting for some quality single player DLC to support an already stellar Red Dead Redemption story, it cannot be said that Rockstar hasn’t already provided for a substantial amount of multiplayer DLC.  Undead Nightmare continues this tradition and follows up the already released Liars and Cheats, Legends and Killers and Outlaws to the End packs with Undead Nightmare’s 4-player equivalent – Undead Overrun (think Horde Mode ala Gears of War).  It’s simple in theory and frenetic in gameplay and I thoroughly enjoyed fending off wave after wave of the undead masses – until I met my inevitable end.

Conclusion: I realize, and have heard the cries, that zombies and zombie modes have been done to death (get it, see what I did there?).  If you’re a subscriber to those shrieks (damn, did it again) my advice to you is to pass by the likes of Undead Nightmare.  If you’d truly rather die (oh, I’m on a roll now) than submit yourself to another zombie outbreak then you might just want to drop in a FPS of your choice – because there aren’t nearly enough of those available . . . right?  For me, Undead Nightmare was an unbelievable addition to the Red Dead Redemption experience.  It’s timing was impeccable both in terms of the Halloween holiday as well as from the point of view that Game of the Year awards are just around the corner; what a great way for everyone to start thinking about Red Dead Redemption again.

Clocking in at around 6-8 hours just for the single-player campaign, longer than some of the more recent $60 retail games, Undead Nightmare is easily worth the price of admission.  Tack on some enjoyable, although common, multiplayer and you’ve got yourself an easy decision.  You’d have to be dead and gone (ok, I’ll stop now) to not appreciate the value found in some of the best add-on downloadable content I’ve had the pleasure in experiencing all year.


Written by Bill Braun

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