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Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare

It seems there are two types of monsters that feature prominently in today’s cultural zeitgeist: sparkly vampires and drooling zombies. Videogames in particular have embraced the latter and flooded the market with the undead little scamps–from Plants vs Zombies to Dead Island. For some, throwing zombies into the world of Red Dead Redemption might spell fatigue, but players who can stomach more of the walking dead will find that Undead Nightmare is a bit more than just RDR’s Halloween episode.

Undead Nightmare takes place after protagonist John Marston returns home to his loving wife and teenage son following his time doing the federal government’s dirty work. The peace is shattered on a stormy night when John’s family is assaulted on the farm by a zombie and soon infected. Marston dusts off his pistols and rides out to find a cure for the undead outbreak plaguing the countryside and his family members. The story is delivered in a tongue-in-cheek manner, with John delivering purposefully-overwrought dialogue and the denizens of New Austin making classic horror movie blunders. It’s a refreshing change of pace from Red Dead Redemption‘s largely somber tone and should please any fans of B-level horror movies.

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The add-on transforms the Wild West-inspired New Austin, Blackwater, and Mexico territories into a cliched horror movie complete with eerie music, overcast skies, and bats flapping in the night. Towns have become overrun and a handful of survivors are bravely fending off zombies from the rooftops. The undead have easily outnumbered the living and traveling from place to place is no longer a safe process. Marston will ride by random events such as damsels in distress of being eaten alive or freshly-turned victims of the zombie virus—nowhere is safe on the entire map, unless Marston rids the towns of the dead, although they will be continually under assault.

Undead Nightmare offers up a very different gameplay experience from Red Dead Redemption. Enemies aren’t taking potshots (and neither are you) from cover. The experience of a zombie apocalypse is emulated with dozens of drooling undead rushing Marston with reckless abandon.

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Staying stationary is a bad idea, and not getting surrounded is key to survival. To make sure things are on a level playing field, the Dead Eye meter has been extended so John has enough time to line up proper headshots to take enemies down. In keeping with tradition, a bullet to the head will put them to rest permanently, shooting them anywhere else merely delays them momentarily.

Ammo is scarce, so be prepared to do a lot of scavenging and running away since there’s no situation more dire than being in the middle of a mob of zombies with a dry gun in hand. Replenished ammo is typically the reward for saving a town, so it’s a good idea to stop now and then to help out. It provides little respite, but it’s ultimately rewarding as players will need all the ammo they can get to take down the zombie hordes.

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In a nod to Left 4 Dead, zombies in Undead Nightmare have special ranks as well. They’re harder to hit, can take more damage, or spit out deadly green goo at the player. They’re not that difficult to deal with, but like any good zombie apocalypse, they overwhelm with sheer numbers.

There are plenty of sidequests to deal with as well. Challenges return with a zombie-centric twist, along with stranger missions that run the gamut from finding missing persons to the utterly bizarre, such as John’s filmmaker friend that wants a live zombie as its star attraction. The biggest challenge is finding mythical creatures, namely the four horses of the apocalypse, and adding them to Marston’s stable. It’s almost as if Undead Nightmare is challenging players to take it seriously.

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This expansion also adds unique weapons as well. The torch is a melee weapon that can light Marston’s way and be used to set the undead ablaze. Holy water immolates foes and perhaps the most entertaining of the bunch is the blunderbuss: a blast from the 1600’s that uses body parts as ammunition and completely obliterates anyone unfortunate to find itself in its crosshairs.

Undead Nightmare is one of the rare expansions that completely transforms the original experience into something fresh and new. Forget everything learned from playing Red Dead Redemption, as Undead Nightmare plays by its own rules. It’s a silly salute to all the gory zombies anyone may have grown up with and a truly terrific addition to an already wonderful game.

9 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in March 2010.

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