Thursday, October 28, 2010

Video Game Review: Read Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare (by Dave Machado)

I love zombies. Anyone reading this who knows me knows this is a true statement. I also love Red Dead Redemption. After playing through it this past summer (I take my time with games I love, as I don't want them to be over), I realized it was easily my favorite video game of all time. So it may surprise you to know that when I first heard that Rockstar Games would be releasing an add-on to Red Dead Redemption that would feature zombie play, I was skeptical to say the least. But as word slowly came out that it wasn't just throwing zombies into the landscape and having you run around to kill them, but an actual separate story taking place in the Read Dead universe, I began to warm up to the idea. By the time Undead Nightmare was released, I was officially hooked and couldn't wait to reenter the world of John Marston that I loved and missed so much. Now that's I've spent a few hours playing it, I can say for sure that Rockstar made the right choice and have created one of the most fantastic examples of downloadable content for a game I have ever seen.

I was hooked into Undead Nightmare right from the opening cut scene. Acting as if the final few missions of Red Dead Redemption didn't happen, we see John's wife and son waiting for him to arrive from some errands late at night. He arrives without fanfare, though they are all a bit concerned that John's uncle has not returned home yet. They decide to wait until the morning due to the storm and head off to bed. We then cut to the middle of the night and John's uncle, now in zombie form, bursts into the house, attacking John's wife Abigail before John is forced to take him down. Abigail is seen bleeding from being bit in the neck and John calls his son Jack outside to help his mother. Abigail then proceeds to turn and bite her own son, causing John's family to become raving zombies. After securely tying them up, John head's off to the nearest town to find a doctor and hopefully a cure for his very sick family. Welcome to John Marston's Undead Nightmare.

I really love the idea of Rockstar not treating this as a sequel or feeling the need to shoehorn the real ending of Red Dead Redemption into the beginning of this story. That this game stands on its own as a separate universe. I would love nothing more from Rockstar than to have this be the beginning of a franchise of one-off games that take the characters from Red Dead Redemption and place them into different stylized genres. Who wouldn't love to see John Marston taking on alien invasions or solving a whodunit murder with Noir undertones? I would easily pay $10 every 4-6 months if it meant a new alternate-universe adventure with the characters I have come to love.

Everything from the original game has been slightly tweaked in order to create a true horror atmosphere. This leads me to believe that the makers are true zombie fans and not just cashing in on the current craze of adding zombies to preexisting games. The big difference between what Rockstar did and what others have done before them is that they did not simply drop zombies into the world of Red Dead Redemption. Instead, they took the characters and settings of Red Dead Redemption and dropped it into a zombie apocalypse. Everything is different, towns are left in post-apocalyptic ruins, everything has a rotting green tint to it, and even the soundtrack has been given an upgrade, giving it a late-Hitchcock era feel, complete with piercing violins.

The laws of zombies are held pretty much in tact. If you want to take down a zombie for good, you better aim for the head, otherwise you may just knock it off its feet.  It will buy you some time, but it's going to pop right back up and keep coming after your delicious flesh. Also, if you are too late in saving a fellow survivor and they become zombie food, don't turn your back on their body. As long as their head is intact, they quickly rise back from the dead as well and will attack. The only other way to take them down is by using your new torch, which will roast their bodies until their brains are burnt to a crisp and they topple over with a satisfying "Thump." Whenever you come upon a horde of the undead, it becomes a fun challenge to take them all down properly using only the few weapons at your disposal. 

Most of the undead hordes you find will be attacking the familiar towns from the original game. There will be a few survivors helping you "cleanse" the town and once that is done, you are rewarded with ammo, guns, and other fun items to help you later on in the game. It's worth noting that money and the honor system have both been done away with. What good are money and honor in a world where the undead walk the earth? Now, killing an innocent, living survivor purely for his extra ammo holds no more weight than blowing away one of the nasty undead. It's a fun and believable exclusion from the original game that really helps create the illusion that you are now playing in a new kind of world.

Luckily these typical zombies are not the only new villains. There is also a few more "evolved" creatures that will take a bit more thought putting down. Zombies such as the Boomer, Charger, and Hunter... oops, wrong game. I meant to say that zombies such as the Retcher, Bruiser, and Bolter add an extra challenge, usually when you least expect it. While I joke about the similarities between these super zombies and the ones in Left 4 Dead, it was still a good addition from the folks at Rockstar as a way to keep the player always on their toes. I would have liked for something more original but to be fair, the new zombie types are only similar in a very generic way, as none of them are exactly the same.

One other thing to look out for while trying to save the world are the new breeds of zombified animals. So far I have encountered undead bats, boars, bears, and bwolves (I couldn't think of another "b" animal I saw yet). They don't seem to behave much differently than before (though bats are a new breed in Red Dead to begin with) but it's still cool to take them down. There are some other mythological surprises as well, best of which being the dreaded Bigfoot! I've yet to see the creature myself but I have run into a crazy old man shooting in the woods telling to me be on the lookout. While none of these animals have an impact on the main storyline, it is just another way that Rockstar has gone out of their way to make the world of Undead Nightmare the best I've ever seen in a video game.

I doubt you need me to tell you explicitly at this point, but if you own Red Dead Redemption, you need to buy Undead Nightmare. It is such a great expansion to an already perfect game. Priced at only $10, it makes for one of the best deals you can get. Even if you don't own the original yet, now is the time to pick them both up. You will not regret it. I'll give a quick update once I complete the game (I'm only a couple hours in at this point) but I just needed to sing its praises now to help get the word out. I love zombies.

You're Welcome,

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