It’s official, zombies just make anything better. Or at least that seems to be the general trend these days, as more and more zombie-themed games keeps appearing. Left 4 Dead and Dead Rising are two of the most memorable undead kill-a-thons around, and CoD fans just can’t get enough of the dearly departed’s invasion of realistic shooters.
Rockstar must also have a fondness for all things shuffly and rotten, as its old west sandbox has been beset by the walking dead, and John Marston’s world is turned upside down, with an adventure that piles on the carnage.
Clearly a tribute to all manner of cheesy B-movie horror flicks, and a game that never takes itself too seriously, this add-on for Red Dead Redemption takes the core game mechanics of the original adventure, and ramps up the combat and adds a light essence of survival horror. The end result is a thoroughly enjoyable zombie-slaying tale, if one that’s a mite on the overly repetitive side.
The game begins with Marston and family living it up in his ranch (obviously not paying attention to the ending of Redemption) when all of a sudden Marston’s uncle, now a zombiefied flesh eater, attacks, biting Marston’s wife, who in turn takes a chunk out of their son. After quickly tying up his beloved, John sets out to find out what’s going on, and to find a cure for his now ravenous family.
What follows is a story that takes Marston back through the world we saw in Redemption, meeting familiar faces and revisiting old haunts (literally). As is traditional with Rockstar’s sandbox releases, there’s a main story to plough through with more than a smattering of side quests and collecting diversions, but this time combat is far more central, with a shift towards Left 4 Dead-style battles, albeit on a smaller scale.
The first major change you’ll notice is the addition of clearing town invasions. As you approach a settlement or town, it’ll usually be under attack by the dead, and a handful of survivors will be frantically trying to stay alive. You have to help stem the tide of the zombie horde, and free the town, making it safe(ish). Do this, and you’ll not only be able to relax and find some supplies, but you’ll also be able to rest up and save (this can’t be done in hostile settlements).
Another important change of note is the lack of shops. This makes ammo conservation a must, and although ammo isn’t exactly rare and at Resident Evil levels of scarcity (most settlements have chests of ammo, and you can loot the dead), you can’t simply go in shooting, or you’ll soon find yourself fighting off an army of zombies with a stick.
This adds an element of strategy to the game, far more so than Redemption, and you’ll soon develop an absurdly fanatical fondness for the headshot. Well, that’s all that can kill a zombie, right?
To facilitate this, Undead Nightmare features a far more generous Deadeye meter, so you’ll be able to pull off several impressive multiple headshots with relative ease in a short space of time. This meter builds up quickly, so you’ll rarely be unable to slow down time to line up the shot.
You’re also helped out by a couple of new armament additions. The torch is used to keep the dead at bay and can set them on fire, the tomahawk is deadly at close range and can be thrown, and the blunderbuss is a powerful rifle that can shoot body parts for explosive results. You can even lob bottles of holy water a la Castlevania.
On a fiery horse I ride
Other elements of the game are similar, but altered a little. Horses return and are as essential as ever, but you’ll also be able to find and tame mythical steeds, namely the four horses of the apocalypse (including a plague ridden Pestilence and a fiery War) as well as the fabled Unicorn. These horses have special abilities, such as setting foes on fire or instant death of foes, and most have near-unlimited stamina and are very hard to kill.
Random events are present again, but are tailored to the theme. You’ll find people being attacked by zombies (who require you to save them lest they become a member of the undead legion), and witness poor husbands sobbing next to their zombie wives, only for the wife to attack, leaving the husband to shoot her and then himself. It’s occasionally grim, but never too much, and as I mentioned earlier, Undead Nightmare never takes long to lighten the atmosphere. Hell, you can even unlock Ash’s costume from The Evil Dead and take your boomstick to the Wicky, Wicky, Wild West.
It’s all entertaining stuff, make no mistake, and the dialog and cut scenes are as polished as ever. Side quests are enjoyable, and there’s plenty to see and do. My only major gripe here is the repetition. Saving settlements is enjoyable at first, and it never really get’s dull, but it does get more than a little familiar. What’s worse, you never really feel all that threatened as you can easily jump up to higher ground and take pot shots at the undead in safety.
Even if you run low on ammo, as long as you keep an overly powerful tomahawk handy and simply press the right trigger to use it as a melee weapon, you can kill most zombies with a single hit.
The only difficulty here comes from the game’s ropey close combat. Often you’ll think you’re going to hit your foe, only to swing wildy in the wrong direction as they circle you and start to rip chunks out of you. And other times you’ll be running around like a loon, desperately trying to hit something or someone. It’s glitchy at best, but even with i’s hiccups, melee combat is far too powerful.
Marston is also blessed with regenerating health, and as he takes damage, the screen slowly turns blood-red. As long as you stay out of trouble, though, you’ll regain health, and can keep fighting. This makes things a little less challenging. The game isn’t a push over, but a little more danger would have been welcome.
Undead Nightmare adds a couple of new multiplayer modes to the series alongside the single player mode. Land Grab is a nifty mode that sees players grabbing up deeds to valuable real estate and fighting to keep it, and Undead Overrun is a Horde-style co-op mode that pits players against waves of relentless undead. They’re both welcome additions, and help to bolster the already addictive online modes.
At around £20, Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare is a great little package, and it adds more quality Red Dead gameplay, giving us one more excuse to head on into the old west. The gameplay changes make it different enough from Redemption to entice players who’ve played the original to death, and you can play Undead Nightmare if you don’t own the original, if you go for the disc-based release (reviewed here).
In fact, if you buy the disc, you’ll also get all of the previous DLC, such as Legends And Killers and Liars And Cheats. It may be a little samey at times, and combat could have brought more challenge, but this is still a classy addition to any zombie killer’s collection.
Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.
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