Experiencing the Horror- Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare

(This review contains EXTREME spoilers for Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare. Read on at your own risk.)

Welcome to John Marston's nightmare.

Welcome to John Marston’s nightmare.

This review should have happened a year ago.

Upon its release, Red Dead Redemption had been recommended to me by a number of folks, but although I remain a fan of Rockstar for their work on San Andreas and the Manhunt series, the prior Red Dead game (2004’s Red Dead Revolver) had failed to really capture my imagination. Besides, I already had a favorite western video game in Neversoft’s 2005 release, GUN, and harbored some doubts as to whether a western-themed open world game superior to GUN would even be possible. About a year ago, I came across a copy of the stand-alone Undead Nightmare disc on clearance at the Coralville Target and decided to gamble ten bucks on it. I fell in love with the game almost immediately- its beautiful graphics, its awesome soundtrack, hell, the game as a whole, and had a great time with it. For all of the three hours I got to play it.

Two versions of Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare. Only one of them worked.

Two versions of Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare. Only one of them worked.

After about three hours, without warning, the fans on my PS3 kicked up to the dreaded ‘fan level 3’ (aka ‘how did a jet engine end up in my living room?!’ mode) and I shut down the game for fear of the Yellow Light of Death claiming my console. For the record, I had never experienced PS3 overheating issues with any other game, and my PS3 is a standard 40gig Spider-Man 3 pack model, with the sole addition of an expanded hard drive. After rebooting the PS3 and testing it with another game (007: Quantum of Solace, grabbed because it was alphabetically the first game in my library), the fans stayed at their normal whisper-quiet level, and since I removed the Undead Nightmare stand-alone disc from my console for the last time, the issue has never recurred. After that, since I was unwilling to risk burning out a four-hundred dollar console on a ten dollar game, Undead Nightmare sat on my shelf, and since I don’t buy digital content for video games, I figured that would be the end of my experience with Red Dead Redemption.

After getting to play this for a few hours, it was a major bummer to have to quit.

After getting to play this for a few hours, it was a major bummer to have to quit.

And it was, until SpookyPanda got me a copy of Red Dead Redemption: Game of the Year Edition for Xmas, which turned out to run perfectly on my PS3. I still have no idea what the issue is with the Undead Nightmare stand-alone disc, and I’m still unwilling to pop it back into my console to find out. In the interest of fairness to Rockstar, I should add that my experience with the Undead Nightmare disc was entirely subjective and in no means universal. After some research online, it seems that there are a number of gamers running the Undead Nightmare stand-alone disc on both PS3 and 360 with no issues whatsoever. If the Undead Nightmare stand-alone game works for you, rock on- but it certainly did not work for me.

Zombies don't like fire.

Zombies don’t like fire.

All of that having been said, Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare is quite the game. Graphically, it is almost unquestionably one of the best-looking console exclusive games of this generation. The game does suffer some minor pop-in issues when moving across the terrain on horseback at high speed, but not enough to cause any serious gameplay issues.

That is not dead which can eternal ride...

That is not dead which can eternal ride…

Red Dead Redemption features a huge landmass, comparable even in size to Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, but it also suffers from one of the main flaws that plagued San Andreas; that for all the size of the game, there is comparatively little to find out there. I suppose you could pass this off as an effort at realism- I doubt there was much to find out on the plains back in 1911 in real life, either- but the game almost feels excessively empty, like there should be something more programmed to be waiting out there. The problem is exacerbated by Redemption’s random encounter system, which presents you with semi-scripted events as you explore the terrain. For example, you might be flagged down by a stranger on the trail yelling for help, and upon dismounting your horse you’ll notice he is wearing a badge. “I’m the law!” He exclaims, “But I’m not feeling so good…” He then collapses before you and, after having some sort of seizure, rises as one of the undead. Compelling stuff, but the difficulty with the system is that there are only a handful of these random encounters scripted into the game, and you’ll run across them over and over again as you explore. They’re fun the first few times you encounter them, but after you have run the scenario a few times, they quickly become a chore. They are, of course, entirely optional, so you’re better off just skipping them when they become annoying. You’ll spend most of the game in town anyway, trying to free the locals from the clutches of the undead.

Graveyards are particularly spooky.

Graveyards are particularly spooky.

More compelling over the long-term is the game’s Mythical Creature easter-egg hunt. Basically, a number of legendary cryptozoological beasts are hidden in the gameworld in Undead Nightmare, and you can hunt them down- or, in some cases, befriend them and turn them to your cause. One particular subset of the Mythical Creatures are incredibly helpful in-game, and I had a lot of fun tracking them down. Plus, one of the game’s best missions involves finding one of these cryptids, and if you followed the rumors about a certain heavy-footed hairy creature from the Pacific Northwest that supposedly was hidden in San Andreas, you’ll enjoy finding him in this mission in Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare.

I can has brains nao plz?

I can has brains nao plz?

It is interesting to note that rumors have sprung up online about the existence of a werewolf hidden in the gameworld of Red Dead Redemption. While it almost certainly does not exist in the game, it is a testament to the compelling nature of the gameworld that Rockstar has created in Redemption that gamers imagine even more creatures lurking out there, waiting to be found.

No matter how many you mow down, more will keep coming.

No matter how many you mow down, more will keep coming.

The sound design in Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare also deserves special mention; it is, in a word, fantastic. The growl of a mountain lion just before it attacks is absolutely chilling the first time you experience it. The zombies sound suitably groany, the horses are realistic-sounding, and even the NPC voice acting is good, if a bit over-the-top at points. In an absolutely wonderful turn at the end of the game, during the ride across Mexico to what becomes the game’s final showdown, a psychobilly tune by The Kreeps comes on in the background to set the mood. It’s a ballsy choice on the part of the design team; if it hadn’t been incorporated well, it would have ruined the ambiance of the scene. Thankfully, not only does it work, but it made the whole ride sequence much better.

That butcher knife in his spine doesn't even slow big boy down.

That butcher knife in his spine doesn’t even slow big boy down.

Overall, Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare is a fantastic game. I really wanted to give it my infamous ‘Golden Hatchet’ award, but I simply can’t due entirely to the technical issues that I experienced with the game. Any technical problem that renders one version of the game totally unplayable is, by any standard, inexcusable. That experience aside, Undead Nightmare is a fantastic game, and I would recommend Red Dead Redemption: Game Of The Year Edition without reservation.

Images in this review were sourced from the Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare Official Trailer and are used in compliance with Fair Use for the purposes of review. Red Dead Redemption, Undead Nightmare, and all associated materials are the property of Rockstar Games. 

~ by Redgoateerob on February 5, 2013.

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