Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare Xbox 360 Review
There are many good ways to spend a weekend, but I did not expect Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare to consume a whole one. “It’s a bit of DLC, I will get through it in a couple of hours”, I said to myself last Friday evening. Fast-forward a few nights later, and as I write this it is now late on a Sunday, my place looks even more messy than usual, a bunch of calls have not been returned, and other than yet another quick attempt to tame Super Meat Boy, it feels like all my spare time has gone into this.
That’s a lot of playtime, and still I feel like I’ve missed out on a lot of content, and only now accept I will probably never see everything, as Undead Nightmare is pretty much a mini version of Red Dead Redemption. Although, when I say “mini,” that’s only when compared to its on-disc forefather, as its seven-plus hour lifespan (for just the campaign alone) is larger than just about all other DLC add-ons available, and is indeed even lengthier than some high-selling retail games seen over the past few years.
Of course quantity without quality is nothing, but thankfully Rockstar does not disappoint in this regard.
Undead Nightmare is a “what if” tale for the Red Dead franchise, and an exciting one too. It tells an outlandish, at times comically self-aware, albeit non-canonical story about what would happen if a zombie outbreak kicked off, and John Marston had to save friends, family, and at times casual acquaintances, from such a fate.
This is the first, and probably most important, plus point for the DLC, as it would have been all too easy for Rockstar to take the much less complex route of adding extra story to the end of the original. Instead they decide to go for something off-kilter, instantly taking away any “been there, done that” feelings that could have cropped up when playing a direct follow-up story.
Not only does this change make the game feel fresh storywise, but it changes gameplay drastically too. Red Dead’s gunplay was about hiding in cover, whilst taking out guys that would also use cover too – it was really all about keeping your distance for best success. Unsurprisingly, zombies don’t hide in cover (they’re not smart enough, and probably hate Gears of War too), so if you hide from a zombie in cover, you are going to get eaten.
For Undead nightmare, gunplay changes to battles out in the open, with a greater likelihood for run and gun gameplay than was seen in the main game. As a result, gameplay really is much more frantic, with an emphasis on constant movement needed to keep atop of things.
Because of this gameplay change, there are a few flaws on show though. Predominantly that John Marston still controls like he did in the first game, with his near clumsy speed of movement remaining unchanged. But the enemies are quicker now, there are more of them around at one time, and they now run violently towards you. Put all that together, and some players may feel a bit hampered as they try to fend off the hoards. This is not a dealbreaker though, as Rockstar have been clever enough to know their limits, and not throw too much your way at one time, well at least until really late in the game. But if you are used to the speed of zombie carnage seen in the likes of Left 4 Dead, then gameplay might feel a bit restricted here.
Speaking of Left 4 Dead, Rockstar most certainly drew some inspiration from Valve’s representation of the zombie apocalypse when making Undead Nightmare; chiefly that their “boss zombie” characters are similar in style to the Boomers, Hunters and Jockeys of that game. It does not necessarily feel like a rip-off though, but instead both developers embracing a concept that works. Other features of the game, such as conserving ammo, and looting zombie corpse’s to get more, could also feel like they were lifted from survival horror titles, but they are also features that work well in the world Rockstar has built. Apart from that, there is enough uniqueness going on in Undead Nightmare to make it one of the more memorable zombified games of the year – which is quite the feat in itself as a new one seems to come out every month.
When playing Undead Nightmare it always felt like I was playing a fully-realized game rather than a tacked on accompaniment to the main release, which is the greatest praise I can give the game.
The DLC is very much its own beast, and even though you roam across the same map from Red Dead, there is a slew of new stuff to see and do. This is accomplished – much like it was in The Ballad of Gay Tony and The Lost and Damned – with Undead Nightmare highlighting locations on the map not used during the course of the main game, and making them standout features in this new effort. That’s not to say the game strays from visits to old locations. In fact, it is probably at its best when referencing past occurrences and reintroducing old characters – but nothing really has stayed quite like you remember it.
Undead Nightmare is exactly what good DLC should be, something brand spanking new added to an already feature-filled game. When playing you never feel like you’ve bought into content removed from the retail release just to money-grab from you at a later point. Instead, for your money, you get a campaign of analogous breadth and scope to the on-disc release, albeit more refined to fit within shorter playtime. Apart from that, the game is filled to the brim with side missions and little extras that all match the undead theme – extras that themselves take dozens of hours to fully traverse. With all this for just 800 Microsoft Points (£7.99 / €9.99 on PSN), just four times more than a silly old bit of Oblivion Horse Armour, it is hard not to come away feeling impressed.