Halloween has been and gone...
I spent it (mostly) killing zombies, not literally, though had that been the case this would be one of those weird post-apocalyptic reviews, posted from the last internet source on the planet. I'm talking about Rockstar's brand-new undead themed side-story/alternate for Red Dead Redemption, which deserves GotY 2010 if you ask me.
Set during the 'home' period of the game and costing a reasonable 800 msp for the 360, or £7.99 on the PSN. Undead Nightmare is the story of a world gone mad, of one man's stalwart battle to survive a true zombie apocalypse in the west. The story is punchy and doesn't take itself too seriously - often having a B-Movie feel to the cut-scenes which suit this rendition perfectly.
It's great to ride out again as John, who is by far the best protagonist that Rockstar have created for a game, so far. Watching how he interacts with a world turned upside down is as interesting as playing the game. Simply put, John's wife and son contract some deadly zombie virus that spreads like wildfire across the west and Marston rides out to find a cure.
His first stop is the Town of Blackwater, which has come under assault by the living dead. The story lasts between 6-7 hours and provides an interesting capstone to the DLC and some curiously alternate endings to Marston's journey as he goes in search of the cure.
What Rockstar have done is provide a substantial DLC here with a subtle redressing of the game's core mechanics and feel. They have taken RDR and made it new again; putting zombies in the west and making it feel like a natural fit. Of course I love the pen and paper RPG Deadlands, so seeing zombies in the west was an even bigger pull for me in this DLC.
For a start, mechanics aside, they have redressed the whole world and turned the already post-apocalyptic feel of the desolated Wild West into something else. The colour palette for the game has been changed and everything has been tweaked. The world feels sick and the map takes on a bio-luminescent green/yellow tint with red splotches. The sun doesn't quite shine through the clouds properly even on a good day.
The landscape is torn and littered with dead animals, carts and coaches. The towns and cities of the game are rag-tag battle worn points of light in an ever-spreading darkness, burning with fires from the residue of their last battle. As the game progresses you'll see more and more of the walking dead as they amble around, collecting in great amounts in places close to graveyards and population centre safe-zones.
It is impossible to hard-save in the game at first; you must ride out and defend a town from zombie assault. This means getting your hands on a gun and some ammo, ammo is scarce and you can try and scavenge some of the undead that have ammo belts, good luck though since the walking dead tend to be stingy with their corpses. You can talk to the lead survivor and find out they need ammo, give the survivors ammo and you can cut down the waves of undead that come at the town. Or you can go in guns blazing and kill every zombie that walks or crawls until the town's safe.
Once the town's safe, it'll be a safe zone for a while and you can get to a bed, change outfits, fast travel to unlocked safe houses (there's several new costumes that are unlockable) and more importantly save the game. The game does a good job of handling saving though, with auto-saves and so on so it never feels like a chore, just a race to survive. Fortunately the town's folk are happy you rode in to save their hides and you'll get a shiny weapon as a reward.
If you do die, you'll be given an option to reload a save or restart at the nearest town. The ammo you lost won't be back, but you'll keep your survivor state and mission completion progress.
There are quite a few towns to save and you can save them all, some of them will also come under attack again and again as you play through the story. Riding out long distance has its perks as well, you'll encounter dozens of new undead themed events and there are new zombie versions of animals too. From the zombie wolf to the zombie cougar (they're mean) and the zombie bears, the sickness has reached new heights. If your horse dies expect it to return as a zombie too, zombie horses are more trouble than they're worth - but hilarious at the same time.
There are also graveyards to clear, where Marston must use one of the game's new weapons, the torch - to burn coffins and cleanse the area. This usually results in a frenetic battle around the graveyard, torching all the coffins you can at high speed and then facing off against hordes of the undead before the boss shows up and tears out of the ground.
Fortunately the torch isn't the only new tool of the trade for errant zombie hunters.
Undead bait: later on you'll get this and it acts to draw the zombie hordes into an area so you can blow them sky high. Once you get it, you'll learn how to make it and you can make it at any time after that.
Boom bait: much later on you'll also get access to this, which is essentially dynamite shoved into a bottle of Undead bait. It comes in very handy for detonating whole groups of the buggers though.
Phosphor rounds: These coat your bullets and let you set the zombies on fire, they burn up pretty quick.
Holy water: The undead don't like the taste of this holy hand grenade (Monty Python would be proud) and burn up really well.
The Blunderbus: Once you get access to this gun you'll find that you can blow zombies into tiny bits with it. Ammo is created by scavenging the undead for zombie parts, which are loaded into the gun and fired - any zombie blown up by this weapon can't be scavenged though, so make sure you get some regular kills (shoot them in the head, that's the only way) or you'll have no ammo for it.
If you have the previous DLC (Liars and Cheats, Legends and Killers) you can use the weapons from that too, so there's a little incentive to get them.
There are also four Legendary Horses of the Apocalypse to find and break in the game, each one appears as a blue circle on the mini-map and they're not too hard to break if you're used to the horse-breaking mini-game.
Famine: This horse is a thin bugger and moves really fast.
Pestilence: This horse is very hard to kill.
War: One of my favourites that sets enemies on fire. It is very useful if you go out riding in the dead west in the dark.
Death: Death is the last horse you're going to see in the game, takes a while to get to but it is totally worth it. Death pops the skulls of the undead as it rides on by; any deader that gets in the wake of this one is going to expire messily.
There are other secrets to Undead Nightmare, rewards for completing the various challenges and new outfit challenges - but I'll let those remain a secret.
The game takes a decidedly eerie turn at night, visually and audibly. Rockstar have spared no expense in getting the atmosphere of this zombie apocalypse just right and their audio is top quality. From the welcome return of some favourite characters from the core game like Seth and Bonnie, to some surprises, it's all done really well. The new music is suitably creepy and fits in very well with the overall theme.
Basically, this isn't just some thrown-together cash-in package of DLC hoping to get a few extra pounds out of you. This is fully fledged and stand-alone DLC that is DLC done right.
There are new zombie themed characters for multiplayer, new modes like Undead Overrun where you cooperatively try and survive against waves of the dead. Land Grab, which is kind of like King of the Hill where you have to try and score high by taking a flagged area and it all fits into the package seamlessly, it's all great fun and for the price, you could say that it's probably the best priced DLC out there. Rockstar has even patched the game to allow the Friendly Free Roam lobby, along with the Hardcore (for those who hate Casual or Normal aiming) and Normal lobbies.
Friendly is just that, no player killing outside of the dedicated modes. So you can get on with the task of shooting some bad guys or playing various strongholds without someone taking your head off in spite.
Good news for those of you who don't have LIVE or can't get online, Rockstar are putting out a stand-alone Undead Nightmare disc for release on the 26th of November that packs in all of the DLC to date and all of the Free Roam modes. Perfect for LAN related system-link craziness!
The disc is going to cost £24.99 and I heartily recommend it to any RDR fan.
So there you have it, Undead Nightmare is DLC done right and at the right price point, packed with extra gameplay, tweaked to near-perfection. Get it now!
Ride forever on that range up in the sky, on horses snorting fire (well at least one).