Dawn of the red
Cockneys vs Zombies? Pfffh. Try wrapping your spurs around Cowboys vs Coffin-dodgers. Infecting John Marston’s sweeping Wild West vistas with scores of the living-challenged, Undead Nightmare successfully reimagines Red Dead’s combat with a quirky paranormal twist.
Twisting Redemption’s cavernous Western canvas into a ghoulish world filled with thunderous blood-tinged skies, flaming horses and yetis represents Rockstar’s most ambitious work on the DLC front. It’s an impressive feat, given the care and craft that went into GTA IV’s lengthy and excellent Liberty City Stories episodes.
Marston’s main quest was defined by a lonely sense of mournful exploration as you travelled through the dying Old West. In contrast, Undead Nightmare is as gleefully daft as Marty McFly speeding through Monument Valley in a DeLorean with a posse of Native Americans hot on his tailpipe. Forget redemptive quests to save the charismatic outlaw’s family. Here, all old Johnny is concerned with is ridding towns and outposts of the zombie menace with a gun that fires reconstituted undead spleens. May Zombie Jeebus bless you, trusty Blunderbuss.
Though your tasks are straightforward next to the multi-layered train robberies of the daddy game, the action is kept constantly fresh by the sheer pantaloon-messing chaos of combat. It’s all about crowd control and managing the space around you. Do you charge in like a madman with nothing but a song in your heart and shotty in your hand? Or perhaps you’d prefer to scale the roof of that bank and spend the next 20 minutes picking off rotten craniums with a sniper rifle. The beauty of these undead scuffles is the game is open enough that there’s always plenty of wiggle room to improvise your tactics.
The DLC add-on’s plot is wisely kept purposely nonsensical – something about loony grave robber Seth unleashing an ancient curse. It lets Rockstar return to the cutting, aloof laughs they’re known for. That said, a late, oddly touching moment mimics the first time you journey into Mexico when the gentle strings of Jose Gonzales stir in the background.
Considering Red Dead is arguably the best open-world game ever made, it shouldn’t take too much convincing to catapult you back into its captivating world. The immersive sense of time and place that defined the main campaign obviously gets shunted out of the door somewhat to accommodate the zombie apocalypse. But when you can machete undead grizzlies up the wazoo, there’s little point getting misty-eyed for authentic cattle rustling.
Hunting for unicorns or capping zombie skulls in the presence of the generation’s most compelling character is a constant pleasure. Alright, so you won’t get the gripping emotional arch or the more imaginative mission design that made Marston’s original quest such a classic. Yet Undead Nightmare still represents DLC as it should be: ambitious, value for money… and full of zombie eviscerations.