Saturday, December 04, 2010

Review - RDR: Undead Nightmare

Yup. It’s a zombie game. I need another beer.

Some corporate executive at Take-Two made a trip to Toronto one day and attended our annual zombie march. (And yes, Toronto has a zombie march. We cannot be the only city doing this!) He saw the hundreds of people painted and dressed in full creeper/geek attire and decided that people will buy anything zombie-related, regardless of how bored and exhausted the rest of the populace feels about the walking undead. Hence, we got a Borderlands DLC pack about zombie versions of all of the old character sprites, and now a Red Dead Redemption pack that’s about the same shtick. I dread the impending Civilization 5 pack where nations must unite against the new undead tribe, with its “graveyard” building and new unit types like “zombie” and “running zombie.”

The good news about Undead Nightmare is that it very quickly dashes off my zombie fatigue by being very, very self-aware over the matter. There is nothing about this game that is meant to be taken with a straight face. John Marston, having just been reunited with his wife and kid, is faced with the immediate threat of a zombie plague and must respond as only John Marston can. Which is to say, John Marston responds with a fistful of sarcasm. He quickly accepts that the dead are rising and has no problem getting a few kicks out of it. Many characters from the game’s campaign return, living or otherwise, and the game offers plenty of great new cutscenes, complete with a mini-Vincent Price send-up. Really, the best reason to buy Undead Nightmare is to just get more Marstonisms.

To the best of my knowledge, zombies don’t know how to operate firearms, let alone any weapon more elaborate than teeth. The gameplay is thus a natural tweak of Red Dead Redemption’s duck and cover fiesta. Gone are the days of safely crouching behind a barrel, picking off outlaws at your leisurely pace. Now the game is about scrambling to nab headshots and running-the-f***-out-of-there. Since only headshots will redeaden the undead, and some zombies have no problem crawl-running towards you, the net result is many really tense combat situations. You will use Dead Eye as a crutch in this game, and some zombies are too fast for even that!

This is especially true in the very first missions, when ammunition is scarce. What I would constitute to be the game’s primary goal involves entering a settlement and filling a “town safety” meter. Doing this involves, naturally enough, killing zombies, but you also have to help the locals by giving them ammo. Since bullets have become scarce in this part of town (perhaps on account to a rising Canadian influence in the area), you have to find treasure chests filled with bullets to distribute to the townsfolk. These treasure chests tend to be surrounded by zombies. Perhaps you see the dilemma here. Your first few Town Safety missions are freaky as hell as a result. But since the reward for finishing a town mission is usually more ammo and better weapons, you’ll quickly find yourself gifting bullets as presents to the locals, then cleaning out the ammo chests after the zombie threat has perished.

The biggest crime that Undead Nightmare presents is that it doesn’t quite offer anything else more interesting than Town Safety Community Service. All of the missions involve either rescuing a town, killing everything in a graveyard or fetch questing within a purple circle on the map. I had heard, during a popular video game podcast of giant size, that the game does more than zombies. The golly individual mentioned something about seeing sasquatch and the horses of the apocalypse, and I was intrigued. Unfortunately, that is about the extent of the supernatural behavior displayed. There is a sasquatch-hunting mission, and you can indeed tame and ride the four horses of the apocalypse. But that is all of the absurdity the game divulges into; I would have loved to see some more horrors unleashed within the world.

How much you decide to play Undead Nightmare will depend on how much you get invested in the more menial tasks. There are more Survivor challenges, including ones that have you hunting undead animals. The game does indeed have an undead bear. There are many settlements that need rescuing from zombies, and some of them will need to be re-rescued from time to time. Otherwise, the game lacks the really great, diverse series of missions that the main campaign offered.

But if you can get invested in the more redundant tasks, then there’s a decent amount of playtime here. I spent about 4 hours finishing the game, which is a decent length for a $10 pack. It’s not a great expansion, and it doesn’t quite compare to the Lost and Damned pack from Grand Theft Auto 4, but Undead Nightmare makes a good, plausible excuse to revisit one of the best games of 2010.

1 comments:

Nice review, I though Undead nightmare was really good to be honest, but then again RDR is probably my favourite game of recent years. I liked the fact it wasn't just a bit of DLC that was cut from the original game, but was a whole different take on RDR.