Republished on Monday, 31st October 2016: We're bringing this article back from the archives to celebrate Hallowe'en today. The original text follows.
Originally published on Wednesday, 29th October 2014: It's no secret that I hate horror. I don't read horror, I don't watch horror, and I certainly don't play horror. I'm not entirely sure why, but I just don't see the appeal in scaring myself stupid. That said, Hallowe'en has always interested me – not because of its modern relation to ghosts and ghouls and gore, but because of the mischievous and strangely spooky atmosphere that it brings every year. There's just something brilliantly unsettling about a dark and windy All Hallows Eve.
And it's a feeling that Red Dead Redemption's Undead Nightmare DLC captures superbly. It's an expansion that takes cues from a time when horror movies weren't just about blood and cheap scares, instead focusing on creating an incredibly creepy atmosphere. With just a few relatively subtle changes to Red Dead Redemption's dusty, Wild West world, developer Rockstar managed to transform it into something that was perhaps even more memorable.
Gone were the blue skies that hung over the vast countryside, replaced with an ever-present moon wrapped in a green glow. Townsfolk vanished, and zombies took their place, shuffling about the small settlements in a distressingly realistic manner. No longer would lead character John Marston stumble across fellow wanderers on the road; instead, he'd find distraught survivors of the undead apocalypse, still struggling to come to terms with the fact that they'd ventured out into the dark, dangerous wilderness to escape their now zombified friends and family.
Speaking of which, Red Dead Redemption's wilderness was already an often unforgiving place in the main game. It was packed full of things that liked nothing more than to brutalise you, from the roaming banditos to the utterly terrifying cougars. In Undead Nightmare, it was even worse. Hordes of walking corpses populated the main roads, and every animal now possessed red glowing eyes and were missing most of their skin.
It genuinely felt like a world gone mad – a hostile environment that had been plunged into even deeper despair, and everyone had lost their minds because of it. Again, it was all down to atmosphere. Rockstar had taken an era that was about as far away from a zombie outbreak as you could get, and applied the relevant changes anyway. After all, who could possibly argue with the concept of cowboys versus zombies?
Graveyards were incredibly freaky, too. Armed with a torch and limited ammunition, it was John's job to purge the dead's resting place of those who clearly weren't content with the afterlife. Lightning would crack in the sky, and you'd watch as corpses started popping up out of the ground one after another. There was a constant fear that, at any time, a shuffler would find a way into your blind spot, and suddenly, you'd be surrounded, unable to move as the creatures clawed you to death. Terrifying.
There was a story behind it all, of course, but I always found myself far more enamoured with the changes that had occurred to an open world I had already spent hours upon hours exploring. In that sense, I simply couldn't look away from the horrors that had unfolded – I was completely engrossed in the feel of such a disturbingly eerie sandbox.
I'd actually feel relief when I made it back to a safe haven – a fort out in the middle of nowhere that survivors now called home. I'd make my way up to the rooftops and look out over the landscape with a sniper rifle, my imagination gripped by the thought that countless zombies were casually stumbling around just feet away from the walls of this supposedly safe structure.
As it stands, I struggle to think of a better slice of DLC than Undead Nightmare. It somehow managed to turn an already fantastic title into something with an entirely different feel, just by forcing a sudden, spooky scenario into the game's world. It's a perfect fit for Hallowe'en, because it harnesses that same atmosphere – that same sense of everything being a bit... odd.
Like its title suggests, the expansion was certainly a nightmare for the characters involved, but for myself, it marked the first time that horror had ever truly captivated me. Not that I'd ever want to do it again, mind.
Is Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare the greatest add-on of all time? Return to the Old West in the comments section below.