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Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare brilliantly fuses cowboys and zombie to create a single player adventure in its own right. It twists the world in dark ways that were fun, even though I didn't like how it made me feel.
I loved Red Dead Redemption. It was an affectionate, surprising and compelling adventure that genuinely transplanted me to the Old West. The vast play space gave me a sense of freedom that I hadn't experienced from a virtual world since Second Life.
I loved the land, the towns and the people. The game offered well-drawn characters that you cared about. This grounding in reality made Undead Nightmare a real shock for me as the world lumbered from the living to the undead before my eyes.
As a rule I don't tend to play scary games, just like I'm not the world's biggest horror movie fan. I don't particularly like gore and I find both game and movie markets saturated with unimaginative takes on zombies, vampires and ghosts. When Undead Nightmare was announced I was in two minds about it. I loved the original game, but find zombies repulsive and a little boring.
My love of Marston and his adventures got the better of me in the end and I bought the disc. Within a few moments of playing I was transfixed. The lands of Red Dead are now covered in brooding, dark skies. Wind howls, rain lashes and the moon looms large. You learn of the zombie plague when Uncle, a character from the original, comes home and tries to murder your family (ed: friendly). Once you've shot him in the head, you realise that this is the world of Red Dead like you've never seen it before.
This was what I found most shocking. The world I loved from the original was mutated and dark.
Blackwater is almost deserted save for the fires, a few survivors huddled on rooftops and, of course, roaming undead that want to rip you apart. This was what I found most shocking. The world I loved from the original was mutated and dark. It's dual nature of familiarity and dissimilarity unsettled me to my core. I was having fun, but I wasn't sure I really liked the experience. It was like watching a car crash, I wanted to stop watching but couldn't make myself look away.
Beyond my emotional response, the rules of the game work well. Things are simpler here than in the main game, get on a roof, make sure you have plenty of ammo and go for the head shot. This was true of every town in the game, meaning there's little variation when it comes to saving locations from the undead. It's an enjoyable play mechanic just not very diverse.
Linking these encounters is the storyline of Marston trying to figure out what is going on. Meeting familiar characters in these strange times further unsettled me. Although there was plenty to do beyond this central thread - new hunting, treasure seeking and survivor missions - I didn't feel like grinding once the story was over. The narrative had gripped me through to its slightly disappointing open ended conclusion, but once that was finished the apocalyptic world wasn't a place I wanted to stay.
In the end this was a step too far into the dark realities of life for me.
Undead Nightmare's gore-splattered thrills and atmospheric mix of the undead meets the old west is a powerful combination. For a while I found the transformation of Red Dead Redemption's beloved world and characters simply too uncomfortable, but as I continued there was enough to enjoy about the experience to keep me going.
There is something unearthly and disturbing about seeing a familiar place fall prey to such a pointless death. I can't deny I had plenty of fun, and appreciated a reason to return to Red Dead one more time, but in the end this was a nightmare world that I was happy to ride away from.
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