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Red Dead Redemption falls under a blanket of necromancy in the upcoming 'Undead Nightmare' DLC...
Zombies are everywhere these days. No! Don't Panic! No need to grab your shotgun and rush to the roof of your nearest shopping mall just yet; they're only in games. And movies. And err... classic Jane Austen novels. Perhaps you should stock up on Zombrex just in case. You never know who might get infected next.
The latest victim of the undead plague sweeping across the entertainment landscape is Rockstar, who've hopped on the Zombie stagecoach with Red Dead Redemption's incoming DLC, 'Undead Nightmare' (Rockstar's first DLC for the title to include dedicated single-player content). Apparently brains are the new gold in the frontier and it's up to John Marston to find a cure before everyone gets caught in the rush. At a recent event in Rockstar's top secret London offices, TVG had a taste of the new gameplay on offer.
The game begins near Marston Ranch with a cut-scene that sees grave-robbing lunatic Seth sat down to a friendly game of poker with his chum Moses - especially friendly given that Moses is now a zombie and isn't yet chewing his face off (although he doesn't seem terribly interested in the game either). Seth explains that it might be worth clearing out the infection at source, in the graveyards, as a start towards stemming the undead epidemic. Setting a waypoint on our map (which now features a blood-red San Luiz river) and whistling for our undead steed, we set off across the barren wilderness towards the nearest chapel. Zombie horses are quicker than the normal variety and have more stamina, but they're unruly beasts, and occasionally disobey your commands. It doesn't matter though, because before long we stumble across one of the game's new 'Mythical Creatures' - War - one of the four Horses of the Apocalypse. War not only obeys all of your commands, but also has the handy side effect of setting nearby zombies on fire, as we discovered while nonchalantly trotting through a town caught in a pitched battle with the zombie horde. Of the other three Horses, Famine and Pestilence are invulnerable to zombie attacks and have infinite stamina, while Death guides the approaching undead to their final repose by making their heads explode.
Approaching the chapel at nightfall, the rain picks up and the weather takes a turn for the worst; weather in the game reflects the severity of the infestation in the current area, so clearly a thunderstorm lashing the hills near a graveyard is a bad sign. Graveyards are the Undead Redemption analogue of gang hideouts; there are five of them in the game, and it's important to clear them out in order to keep the local zombie population down. Taking out your torch and setting fire to a nearby coffin causes the graveyard mission to begin, and zombies start popping out of the ground. The standard undead look like mindless shuffling apparitions from afar, but will chase you down like 'infected' if you get too close. Thankfully the torch is useful for setting them on fire. Zombies take a lot of punishment, so headshots are the order of the day if you want to conserve ammo; bullets are hard to come by since the shops have shut down (as they tend to during bank holidays and Zombie holocausts), but you can harvest eyes and ribs from the fallen undead to use as fodder for your Blunderbuss - a one-shot-kill musket that makes Zombies explode in a fine red mist of raining flesh. After torching a few coffins, and fending off the horde for a while, a boss zombie appears; kill the boss to complete the mission, restoring order to the local weather system.
In addition to the standard shambling undead, the game includes the expected selection of nastier specimens, including a nimble, leaping 'Bolter' Zombie, a rotund 'Bruiser' that knocks you to the ground with a trundling charge, and a 'Retcher' that spits toxic bile at you and explodes upon dying. Expect to see undead versions of Red Dead's wild animals roaming amongst the wilderness as well, including grizzlies and cougars with a taste for human flesh.
While exploring the landscape, you'll often come across towns under siege from the undead hordes. It's up to you whether you choose to help or mosey on by, but should you manage to fend off an attack successfully, you'll be granted a safe-house at which you can save your game and fast-travel between locations. These sections are an interesting exercise in risk and reward; you might be eager to gain a safe-house so that you can save your game, but taking on the army of undead poses the risk that you may die before you get a chance. Fortunately you have a variety of crowd control tools at your disposal: there's Bait, which distracts nearby undead with its scent, making ripe pickings for a dead-eye blunderbuss massacre or a well placed stick of dynamite; Holy Water, which is an area affect fire attack (sort of like a molotov cocktail for zombies); and Boom Bait, which adds an explosive aftertaste to your standard undead catnip. Assistance is also on hand from the townsfolk; hand over a few supplies - some shotgun shells perhaps - to the local resistance leader, and the cavalry come marching in to save the day.
Not all towns fall prey to the zombie horde however, some places, like the highly militarised Fort Mercer, are infection free 'clean zones', which have sufficient defensive capability to withstand the advances of the undead. It's here that you find 'missing person' posters; optional missions that have you set off to rescue a stranded survivor and return them to the clean zone. Multiplayer is also promised, so look out for our impressions of that soon.
'Undead Nightmare' is shaping up to be a fun spin on the familiar Red Dead Redemption formula, and we're looking forward to checking out more of what Rockstar's got in store for the game's new theme. Perhaps cowboys vs. zombies will be the new pirates vs. ninjas?