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Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare DLC review

Sage Knox

With spooky narration and a silent John Marston riding through the evening rain, "Undead Nightmare" opens with an unsettling reintroduction to the protagonist's sleepy rural ranch. The reformed outlaw is still in the relatively quiet moments before Red Dead Redempion's memorable final act, but not all's cut-and-dried on the homestead. In fact, thanks to an outbreak of animated corpses and an onslaught of cannibalism, things are more along the lines of cut-up-and-bloodied for the Marston crew.

Gallery: Red Dead Redemption - Undead Nightmare (10/7/10) | 6 Photos

With Clint Eastwood now old enough to technically qualify as a zombie himself, John realizes he's the only cowboy capable of fixing this mess and ventures into the city of Blackwater to find a cure for the infection. When the townspeople aren't wandering about more aimlessly than usual, they've taken to running every non-infected citizen up buildings and ripping out their neck meat. To make things worse, ammo's become scarce and the bloodless wretches can only be downed using headshots or fire, which got pretty frustrating for ham-handed shots like myself.

Eventually, as with nearly every piece of zombie-related fiction, shotguns became the murder-machine of choice to counteract the narrow "headshot window." Annoyingly, the most effective Zombie Guacamole Maker (patent pending) wasn't issued until the latter half of the episode (it's a blunderbuss that uses zombie bits as ammo, go figure). A bit more firepower in the story's infancy would have been a welcome alternative to a quick escape on a friendly zombie-horse every time the ol' pea shooters ran dry.

These suckers don't mess around with their human munching habits.

Thanks to Undead Nightmare's emphasis on survival, I found myself opting for stealthier routes to my objectives rather than engaging the vile creatures. It was an unexpected approach to a Rockstar-branded third-person action title, but consciously determining my course of action based on my perceived odds of success forced me into a deliberate, methodical pace that felt wholly different from the "rush in with pistols blazing" approach I opted for in the main game.

Though the action was well constructed, the overall tone of the five-hour story falls into an awkward crevasse somewhere between Shaun of the Dead's lighthearted re-murder and a grittier, harsher take on the zombie apocalypse, ala The Walking Dead. These suckers don't mess around with their human munching habits, and the narrative raises some moral dilemmas involving hard choices about the fate of infected loved ones. However, the overt and clumsy incorporation of current social issues into the story (such as immigration, taxation and racism) seemed like a rookie attempt at relevance rather than a humorous satire of modern America's problems. Sorry, but pasting "THINGS ARE DIFFERENT" and "INVADE MEXICO" on saloon walls is neither subtle social commentary nor intelligent irony in my book.

Perhaps the best endorsement I can give Undead Nightmare is that it changes the way Red Dead Redemption plays in a dramatic, interesting way. Although the additional multiplayer modes aren't exactly inventive or interesting ("King of the Hill" and "Horde"? Really?), such a conscious effort to mix up the game's single-player formula while still retaining its charm sets a strong example for other downloadable content.

Also, overused or not, zombies make things better. Get over it, people, it's science.

This review is based on the Xbox Live retail version of Undead Nightmare provided by Rockstar. Note: Joystiq does not provide star ratings for downloadable content reviews with the understanding that the quality of the core game's experience is unchanged from the retail release to DLC add-ons; see: Red Dead Redemption review.

Sage Knox is a freelance writer and associate editor at Crush! Frag! Destroy! You can follow him @SageKnox on Twitter.

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