Zombies are everywhere. They’re in movies, television, comics, and video games. It’s getting to the point where you can’t turn around without seeing something branded with a new zombified version. When Rockstar announced their first single-player campaign DLC for Red Dead Redemption was going to include zombies, I wasn’t skeptical. I was excited. No matter how many games have included a zombie mode, none of them have been open-world titles. This was going to be the first sandbox game where zombies would roam the Earth. If there’s any one developer to have faith in when creating a game where the zombie apocalypse is happening in real time, it’s Rockstar. Complete with hours of new story missions, two new multiplayer modes, and a new score, “Undead Nightmare” is a great addition to an already excellent game.
“Undead Nightmare” picks up towards the end of the regular story of Red Dead Redemption. John Marston has just been reunited with his family, and is making his way home after a day out doing work, but something is amiss. It seems that Marston’s old friend Uncle hasn’t returned home yet, and a terrible storm is brewing. John’s wife questions where Uncle is, when suddenly, the old man returns. His clothes are a mess, he’s ranting indecipherably, and he’s got blood all over his face. Uncle attacks John’s wife before John has a chance to shoot him. The son comes running out to see what’s happened to his mother, but she bites him on the neck. Both family members have now been turned into flesh-craving zombies. Marston ties his family up, locks them in his house, and heads to Blackwater to find some answers. The game takes a wild turn for the supernatural, and it appears the whole nation is overrun with this plague. Or curse. Or Mexicans. You see, nobody really knows what’s going on, and everyone is blaming the zombie outbreak on some ridiculous cause. Instead of creating an overwrought drama, Rockstar flips conventions on their heads, opting for more Shaun of the Dead than Dawn of the Dead. Zombies play poker and the violin. Taking the time to poke fun at the genre, and playing on attitudes of the time, “Undead Nightmare” takes you on a bizarre, and uncompromising, journey through the Weird West. Zombie whores take zombie gentlemen callers. It’s all tongue-in-cheek, and when compared to how seriously every other game takes their zombies, it’s quite refreshing.
Not much has changed about the way the game is played, but there are some nice additions made to make “Undead Nightmare” stand out. Though you could save in any town you wandered into before, you must now save a town from being overrun before you can save your game. Every town you visited in the regular game has been taken over by zombies, and it’s up to you to single-handedly save each one. While there are a handful of survivors in any given locale fending off the hordes, they’re pretty ineffective in stemming the tide, leaving much of the heavy lifting to you. It can become a bit tedious considering how many towns there actually are in the game, and even more so when those same towns fall under siege a second or third time. However, it’s not necessary to save every single town, so you really only have to rescue those which you feel most necessary to your survival. There is no saving the game out in the wilds. There are far too many zombies lurking in the darkness. Bounties have been replaced by Missing Persons, though they effectively work the same way. You grab the poster, and head to a location to claim the person listed. Sometimes you’ll have to shoot your way in, but overall, they’re much easier than Bounties ever were since you don’t have to deal with the hassle of men on horseback chasing you down.
Random encounters and Stranger missions return, both only slightly modified by the zombie apocalypse. Most random encounters will have you saving someone from the roaming undead, or perhaps giving someone a ride back to a free town. The zombies turn in real time, so if you’re not able to save someone quick enough, they will rise as one of the undead. It’s a little feature, but how well it works is quite impressive. The Stranger missions will have you hunting Sasquatch, or perhaps even wrangling zombies for a movie shoot. Some of the unique encounters are extremely disturbing given the humorous nature of most of the rest of the game. I found myself riding past a man on the ground whose wife had been eaten. As he contemplated suicide, she rose from her slumber and tried to attack her husband. He shot her, then overcome with reality of what had just occurred, shot himself in the head. There will be times when you have to clear a cemetery of the undead, which means setting a bunch of coffins on fire, then fending off wave after wave of recently risen rotters. This is probably my least favorite part of the new campaign, as some cemeteries take forever to clear out. Unlike the town cleansing, this portion isn’t optional.
Horse wrangling returns as well, only this time, you’ll be tracking down the four horses of the apocalypse. War, Famine, Pestilence, and Death all have a unique look and ability that make them more than worth the effort of taming. There’s even a fifth special mount to find, but it’s extremely rare, and may take you a while to find. All of the wildlife in the game has been replaced with a zombified version. Bears, coyotes, regular horses, goats, and whatever else roams the West have all been taken over by this horrible disease. There are few things more terrifying than a zombie bear trampling after you down a snow-covered mountain. The human zombies come in a few different flavors. There are regular walkers, which are easy enough to avoid as long as you don’t get swarmed. Hunched-over zombies are much faster since they’re running on all fours, and as a result are much harder to target. There are also fat zombies that charge you, and a fourth type that spit acid. Headshots are a must, as ammo is at a premium, and blowing out a zombie’s brains is the only way to kill it for sure. The few new weapons you get are really fun to use, particularly the Blunderbuss, which uses zombie parts for ammunition, but I often found myself relying on my Winchester and LeMatt more than any other gun.
The two new multiplayer modes, as well as new character skins, are pretty cool, too. Undead Overrun pits you and a few of your friends against wave after wave of zombies across a few different maps. You’ll have a time limit and limited ammo to start, but by opening coffins at the beginning of every round, you can earn more of each. The farther you progress the more zombies there are that spawn, but you’ll also earn new weapons to help counteract being outnumbered. I’ve played the mode extensively, and have yet to make it beyond “Wave 10.” It gets extremely hard to stay together, especially when each of your teammates is being swarmed by more than a dozen zombies. The other multiplayer mode, Land Grab, is zombie-less, but equally fun. It’s sort of an objective-based multiplayer mode, where you’ll be vying for control of different locations across the map with an opposing team. I had fun playing this mode since I love control-type multiplayer games, but I found myself spending way more time in Undead Overrun simply because the action never stops for one second. Just when you think you have a moment to catch your breath, the horde is upon you once more. Both make for excellent additions to an already robust multiplayer experience.
“Undead Nightmare” follows in the tradition of “The Lost and Damned” and “Ballad of Gay Tony” giving gamers more than their money’s worth when it comes to things to do. There’s about five or six hours of story content, in addition to the wealth of hours you’ll spend with the new multiplayer modes. If there’s one bad thing to say about “Undead Nightmare,” it’s that the only thing I want Rockstar to be working on right now is a full-fledged open-world zombie apocalypse title. In the meantime, I’ll just have to get by with one of the best expansions for a game released this year.