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If you played a lot of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, you may remember some of the weird internet rumors that dogged the game. If you looked hard enough, some said, you could find anything from Bigfoot and Jaws to ghosts and zombies lurking around its seemingly endless wilderness and creepy abandoned buildings. That a few choice rumors actually turned out to be true – like the glitchy “ghost cars” in Back o Beyond – only made the rest seem more plausible.
Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare feels a lot like a reaction to San Andreas’s so-called “myth hunt;” Rather than wait for players to start speculating wildly about what sorts of monsters are lurking in the dark corners of its world, Rockstar has brought them out into the open, infesting its once-vibrant Old West with ravenous zombies, and casting a dark pall over the sprawling landscape. And naturally, it’s up to reformed outlaw John Marston to set things right again.
Undead Nightmare opens during the “home” portion of the game, near its end but not quite there. After spending an eerie, stormy night at home, the Marstons are awakened by their grizzled old Uncle, who’s wandered back from town with a bad case of undeath. Uncle bites John’s wife Abigail, who in turn bites their son Jack, and after blowing poor Uncle’s skull apart, John trusses up what’s left of his zombified family and leaves them with some half-hearted, bizarre instructions (“Abigail, teach the boy right from wrong”). Then it’s off to Blackwater to find a doctor.
If you’ve ever seen a zombie movie, you already know what happens next: Blackwater, like the rest of the West, is deathly quiet and seemingly abandoned… until the first zombie pops out in a terrifying (but unsurprising) reveal. And at that point, suddenly the entire landscape is crawling with the bastards. From there, your objectives quickly become clear, and they’re completely different from what you’ve already gotten used to.
Did you finish Red Dead Redemption with a huge cache of firearms? Kiss them goodbye. Your “real” Red Dead save won’t be affected – as far as saving’s concerned, Undead Nightmare is a separate game that has nothing to do with your progress in the main adventure – but your starting arsenal will be reduced to a Cattleman Revolver and a double-barreled shotgun. The rest, you’ll have to earn by clearing towns or completing story missions and challenges.
You won’t be able to buy ammo, either, so prepare to spend the beginning of the adventure running scared with very little of it. Instead, you’ll be reduced to scavenging whatever you can from downed zombies or treasure chests in towns. When things get dire, you can fall back on your torch, which can set zombies ablaze (as well as frighten them for a few seconds), but its usefulness is pretty damned limited if you’re being swarmed from all sides by a Left 4 Dead-style mob.
With ammo so scarce, it’s important not to waste any – which can be tough, now that the only way to kill the majority of your enemies is with a direct headshot. And headshots can be tough to score, given how erratic most zombies move. Close-up executions are a good solution, but they won’t work on all four types of zombies you’ll encounter, so be prepared to fall back on your slow-motion Dead Eye ability a lot.
As for what you’re actually supposed to do, you’ve got three main objectives: the first is to travel to each of the game’s graveyards and purify them by torching a series of coffins, and then mowing through waves of the undead until a zombified version of a familiar (if minor) character rises up and attacks. Once he or she has been put down, the graveyard is officially resanctified.
Second, you’ll need to free the game’s towns from zombie infestation, something that always plays out the same way: zombies are everywhere, and the survivors are perched on high ground, picking them off. You can then attempt to clear the hordes by yourself, or you can speed things up by talking to the survivors and offering them ammo. Just bear in mind that, for whatever reason, the zombies will always gravitate to wherever Marston is.
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