In this edition of The Backlog we're taking a look at Red Dead Redemption's DLC expansion Undead Nightmare. If you missed last week's article in which Kyle looked at Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, you can check that out here.
I loved Red Dead Redemption.
Even though it kind of earned the “Grand Theft Horse” stigma due to the numerous similarities between it and Grand Theft Auto IV, I was drawn deeply into the world of John Marston and his quest to round up his former crew in the name of the Federal government. Rockstar has proven time and again to be wonderful storytellers and Red Dead Redemption is one of many notches on their belt. The game is an emotionally heavy one, largely evident by the game’s final moments, and even though the game is three years old the ending has since been etched into my brain.
When Rockstar announced an add-on single player campaign, I was instantly on board. However, when Undead Nightmare was revealed to focus on zombies, my first thought was, “Really? Rockstar is stooping to zombies now?” Being the Rockstar fanboy that I am, I bought the expansion anyway and played it briefly before moving onto other big releases. Fortunately, Undead Nightmare wasn’t what I expected at all. Rich with humor, the campaign was designed very much in the style of a B-grade horror flick set in the Old West. And it was more than just zombies! John Marston experiences all sorts of strange goings on in New Austin and Mexico in a quest to solve the mystery behind the zombie plague. I hadn’t played the game since I purchased it three years ago, so I was ready to settle in and experience the greatness of my favorite game of 2010. However, once I was given control of John I was shocked with just how awkward the controls were.
It was during one of the earlier missions involving Bonnie’s father who was stuck in a barn with the undead for three days. The farmer’s daughter tasked me with investigating her father’s fate and in order to get inside, I had to climb up a set of ladders. What surprised me were John’s clunky and awkward movements that made climbing ladders harder than it should have been. Where the controls just as bad in the main game? I don’t recall ever having a problem. Was I so enamored in the narrative and atmosphere that I turned a blind eye to such issues? I eventually got into the swing of things but I was left feeling that my confidence in the game had been shaken.
Moving beyond the controls, Undead Nightmare is a decidedly more difficult game because the most efficient way to kill zombies is to shoot them in the head. This is hardly an easy task because of their erratic movements movements and quick speed. As a result, Dead Eye is incredibly more valuable for its ability to slow things down enough to get a bead on the enemy. Given the value of Dead Eye and the scarcity of ammunition, Undead Nightmare is less of an open world shooter and more akin to survival horror. There’s a deep feeling of dread that sits in when you approach an overrun town with only a few shots in your pistol.
Much of the enjoyment I had with the game came from the interaction with the residents of New Austin. What makes these characters even more enjoyable is seeing how their individual personalities react to the undead. Upon seeing his wife and son become infected, John hogties them both to their beds, leaves a plate of food and asks his wife to teach the boy not to eat people. Seth Briars, the disheveled treasure hunter, is found playing cards with his undead partner Moses and later dances with zombies at a party (one of which is playing a violin). In one of the more righteous scenes of poetic justice, the racist owner of the General Store suffers a downfall at the hands of those he despises. Capping these moments are John’s hilarious noncommittal reactions to these events.
All in all, Undead Nightmare is an enjoyable and wacky adventure. I like that it afforded Rockstar the chance to “put its hair down” and have some fun. Although the “clear the graveyard” tasks get a bit old after awhile, the biggest draw for me was to see how the cast copes with the zombie threat. With genuinely funny moments and crazy little details (if your horse dies, it will come back as a zombie horse), there’s plenty to see and do in an adventure that’s far more challenging than the main campaign.
Well, the Backlog is finally drawing to a close. With the year's biggest titles coming fast, next week's article will be the last until the new year. So be sure to check it out. But before that, tell us what you think about Undead Nightmare. Are you going to revisit it for some scares on Halloween or did the campaign's campy tone leave you wanting. Leave your comments below.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.