Hands on with Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare

Our first impressions of Rockstar's cowboy zombie DLC

The tone of Undead Nightmare has an undeniable B-movie flavour, but at the same time it plays things completely straight. The zombies in the game are the real deal — inexorable, gruesome and terrifying. This ain't no Treehouse of Horror-style lark, that's for damn sure.

There are four main types of zombie in the game, each with their own unique powers and abilities. 'Undead' are your regular shuffling variety — while easily avoided, they can overwhelm the player in packs. 'Bolters' are quick 'n' nimble cadavers that pursue the player on all fours (they're fierce, but easy to gun down). 'Bruisers' are tank-like zombies that lumber after the player with huge, club-like arms. And finally, there are the 'Retchers': exploding corpses who attempt to bog the player down with projectile vomit. Charming.

Red Dead Redemption Undead Nightmare
A zombie, yesterday.

After visiting Seth, we were charged with clearing the graveyard at Coot's Chapel of zombies. This is one of the new challenges in the game — it involves setting fire to coffins with the undead trailing in cold pursuit. While partaking in this challenge, we got to try out some of the new weapons in the game. The blunderbuss is definitely our favourite: this immensely powerful gun uses hunks of zombie meat for ammo. A single shot can wipe out a handful of cadavers — sweet!

Red Dead Redemption Undead Nightmare
In Red Dead's world, coffins are surprisingly flammable.

Other new items in the game include holy water (which sets zombies on fire), zombie bait (which works like regular bait) and boom-bait (a booby-trapped explosive). Your flaming torch also has a mellee attack which sets enemies on fire. Once we had cleansed the graveyard of zombies, the weather became less gloomy. This acts as a visual cue to let you know the area is temporarily safe.

The next challenge that Marston faced involved saving a besieged town from an army of approaching zombies. We were given the option of fetching ammo caches for the beleaguered townsfolk, or eliminating the threat ourselves. We went for the latter approach, natch.

Red Dead Redemption Undead Nightmare
Marston has a whole "Ash-from-Evil-Dead' vibe going on here. We approve.

As you can imagine, the combat is completely different to the original game, which frequently involved taking potshots at hiding enemies. The zombies don't use cover, but they are far more numerous and a lot harder to kill — even when armed with a Gatling gun. Head shots are absolutely essential to success, particularly because ammo is scarce in the game world.

Meanwhile, it only takes a few swipes of a zombie's claws to kill your character, so you need to constantly stay on your toes. Eventually we delivered the town's salvation, but the battle was grim and bloody.

Red Dead Redemption Undead Nightmare
Redemption > heroism.

Marston can also track down stranded survivors in exchange for goods and ammo. Rather cleverly, the bounty posters from the first game have been retconned into 'Missing Persons' notices. The concept remains essentially the same, but instead of killing or hogtying a victim, you invite them onto your horse and lead them to safety. Unlike the bounty missions in Red Dead Redemption, the enemies don't give chase, but getting the survivor out alive is significantly more challenging: take too long and he'll become zombie food.

Red Dead Redemption Undead Nightmare

If this demo is anything to go by, Rockstar Games has gone to pains to provide an all-new gaming experience. Like a digital Dr. Frankenstein, the company has stitched together the best parts from previous zombie games. You've got the stronghold sieges from Nazi Zombies, the hapless survivors from Dead Rising, the assortment of different zombie types from Left 4 Dead and the ammo conservation from Resident Evil. All these elements are tied to a compelling narrative with the original voice actors in tow: not bad for 15 bucks!

Red Dead Redemption Undead Nightmare

In our original preview for Red Dead Redemption, we said that if the game wasn't a success, we'd eat our cowboy hats. Well, if Undead Nightmare isn't a success, we're going to eat your brains. Braaaaaaains!

Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare will cost AUD$15.95 on the PlayStation Network and 800 Microsoft Points (Xbox LIVE). The pack will be released some time in the Spring.

Related articles:

Zombie protestors infest Sydney to support violent video games

Red Dead Redemption review

A History of Video Game Zombies

Resident Evil 5

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