Rating: ★★★★★

Red Dead Redemption is easily the game of the year. Excellent writing, memorable characters, a wondrous desert landscape and generally great gameplay make it a step above the competition. Recent downloadable content has been limited to multiplayer add-ons, but then developer Rockstar Games announced Undead Nightmare, a play on this year’s love affair with the unholy zombie apocalypse sure to be upon us any day now. And, just like both add-ons for Grand Theft Auto IV left me in awe, Undead Nightmare does not disappoint.

Pure Rockstar, one could say. After throwing great characters into a giant, well-known environment (after playing through the regular campaign of RDR), something happens that throws these characters –staples like John Marston and family, Marshal Johnson, grave-man Seth and plenty of others – into a seemingly impossible situation: the dead rise up, and they’re hungry for brains.

The company’s promotions for the add-on pack use a conniving, dark tone that ridicules 80’s horror films, because they know no one should take the situation seriously. The story of RDR is a serious one: John Marston has to track down and kill his old friends to save his family. Funny moments pop up, and it’s certainly not a drama, but the tale is of a moral man making right. Undead Nightmare follows a similar path: Marston’s wife is bitten, and she in turn bites their son, and in John’s manly way ties them both up and leaves to find a cure to their “ailment”. The difference here is that it’s the funny moments that override the larger plot, and the fast-paced combat that keeps players on their toes.

In fact, Undead Nightmare is far giant step away from what players should expect considering RDR. Combat is almost the opposite. Instead of gun battles taking place behind cover and aiming for any hit, zombies run at Marston and any still-alive townsfolk without abandon. Shoot them and they’ll keep going. Only a precise shot to the head will put them down, or better yet, something that blows them up entirely. This sort of combat has its advantages: some areas zombies can’t reach because they’re too high or barricaded. Most can’t shoot you, so distance is a player’s greatest ally. But he game engine was originally built for gun battles, not the first person shooter knee-jerk response typically found in zombie games. Combat can be very awkward. Fighting from a horse was always difficult, but accuracy at high speeds is next to impossible.

Even with such a dramatic change, shooting at hordes of zombies is pretty darn fun. The pace is devilishly different, but Dead-Eye, the in-game bullet time mechanism, is enhanced and becomes so useful that it could make a Mastercard commercial. A variety of zombie types, as well as mission types involving staying in the confines of certain areas keeps combat challenging without getting stale, though after completing the full game, I certainly had my fill of the undead.

The craft and care put into making Undead Nightmare is absolutely visible. Every aspect of the game has changed in one way or another. From undead wild animals to towns under attack to packs of zombies scattered around both Texas and Mexico (and congregations near local cemeteries, of course), there is almost nothing in the world that remains unchanged. Only the personality of finer characters, like Mr. Nigel West Dickens, remain constant, even in the world’s darkest hour.

Dozens of new missions, both following the main plot and surrounding subplots, are included in Undead Nightmare, many of which are hilariously disturbing. There is easily a dozen hours of gameplay available, and more for those who actually search out secondary missions and travel on foot (as opposed to teleporting between cities). For just $10, this isn’t a great buy, it’s a steal. Anyone who owns Red Dead Redemption owes it to themselves to immediately, and I mean immediately, download the Undead Nightmare pack or buy the Undead Nightmare Collection in-store, on its own disc, for $30. That includes all of the multiplayer add-ons and Undead Nightmare, without requiring the original RDR disc. Heck, what better way to spend the holidays than keeping the world safe from a zombie invasion?

James Pikover

Spawned in the horrendous heat of a Los Angeles winter, James was born with an incessant need to press buttons. Whether it was the car radio, doorbells on Halloween or lights, James pushed, pressed and prodded every button. No elevator was left unscathed, no building intercom was left un-rung, and no person he’s known has been left un-annoyed.