I was concerned when I heard that Red Dead Redemption 's new add-on content was going to have a zombie theme. Rockstar's western game is one of my favourites this year, and I'm a sucker for pretty much anything with zombies, but it seemed to me that trying to introduce high fantasy into such a gritty world was a recipe for disaster. Plus, given how the game ended, I couldn't see how there was any room for an undead apocalypse in our ex-outlaw hero John Marston's life.
Of course, I underestimated the talents of Rockstar's scribes. The living dead-as well as mythical creatures including a sextet of sasquatch and the Four Horses of the Apocalypse, if you can believe it-have been cleverly woven into the final chapter of the boxed game, though just how I won't spoil here.
And the dialogue is just as sharp and witty as ever. Marston runs into many of his old acquaintances, including Bonnie MacFarlane (who, upon learning that her uncle had become a zombie and needed to be put down, laments, "I wish I could say he died doing what he loved, but he never was one for eatin' folks"), as well as some kooks who try to blame the raising of the dead on everything from the government to the "Jewish Catholic homosexual elite."
But while the story pleased, I found I was unexpectedly disappointed with another aspect of the game: Combat.
Here's the problem: The undead don't shoot back. They just charge at you-and slowly enough that you can outrun them, for the most part. As I've said before, I generally dig this sort of zombie, but there still has to be some sort of challenge, and this is where Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare fails.
We are informed early on that bullets are a commodity in this expansion, and that's true enough; you can't buy slugs, but instead only find them. Plus, the only sure way to take a zombie down with certainty is with a headshot. However, our ability to slow down time makes headshots a piece of cake. It also means that we never waste much ammo. And if you do happen to be running low on bullets you can just fall back on a new arsenal item: An inextinguishable torch that burns and impales the living dead with great efficiency.
I don't want to harp on the combat too much; picking off zombies like fish in a barrel isn't entirely without gratification. And there are a few zombie types that add a bit tension to the action, including burly ones that knock Marston over and speedy ones that run around on all fours. It's fun; it's just not quite as satisfying as fighting living, intelligent, and armed cowboys.
Besides, there's a lot of stuff to do outside of cleaning up towns and graveyards infested with the walking dead, including plenty of little side missions that range from helping people come to grips with their loved ones' newly dead status to lassoing zombies and bringing them back to a doctor to examine. And there's a new multiplayer mode in the form of Undead Overrun, a game in which players band together to survive the undead catastrophe.
If I'm being truthful, though, I'm just happy to have an excuse to return to the beautiful open country and crystal clear moonlit nights of the Western Border States. Even with its towns burning, undead roaming the wilderness, and a spooky score filled with ominous organ chords and demented guitar twangs, this is still one of the richest and most convincing video game worlds ever made. If nothing else, Undead Nightmare is a welcome reminder that Red Dead Redemption is one of the year's most significant achievements in interactive entertainment.