What’s your favourite type of video game DLC? Are you someone who just wants a few extra maps and guns in the newest COD game? Do you like an entirely new area added to a game you love, which doesn’t rock the boat but serves to extend your time in the game world? Maybe you just want a snazzy new skin or some horse armour?
There’s no getting around the fact that downloadable content is just the norm nowadays – once upon a time DLC seemed to be something that developers made because they had a good idea late into (or even after) development and release. In 2020 it seems to just be an accepted practice that DLC is planned alongside a base game’s development cycle, and in some shadier cases is even cut from the base game purely for later release (not naming any names). It can come in many shapes and sizes, from the not-so-humble microtransaction to the fully-fledged 30-hour additional campaign. Realistically you can’t compare and contrast every single piece of DLC against every other piece of DLC – but that doesn’t stop you from picking a favourite!
Now, there’s no getting around the fact that personal choice is always going to be an element in choosing the best of anything. If you don’t like Skyrim then you’re not very likely to get a kick out of any of its DLC. Equally, no one has played EVERY single video game, though I’m sure there are people out there trying. As such, when I say that I think Undead Nightmare might be the best piece of downloadable content ever released for a video game, you’re more than justified in thinking to yourself ‘yeah, whatever’.
For those unaware, Undead Nightmare was released on October 26th 2010 as an expansion for Rockstar’s Western triumph Red Dead Redemption, which itself had only been released 5 months previous. Upfront I should tell you that, until a couple of years ago, Red Dead Redemption was my favourite video game EVER. In the time since its release, I’ve only ever considered a handful of games to, potentially, be better than it, and only one game has truly surpassed it in my eyes; its 2018 sequel Red Dead Redemption 2. As such, perhaps my own bias leads me to the conclusion I’ve put forward. There is another DLC I’ve played for the first time very recently which is in contention, but we’ll come to that a bit later.
What is it about Undead Nightmare that really sets it above everything else for me then? Well, my first point would be that it feels like an entirely separate game and story which has been built on top of the already existing RDR. It’s not a new map, a lot of the same characters appear and so there’s an immediate familiarity to it upon loading it up. The big difference, of course, is that instead of outlaws and cougars, your biggest worry is a zombie apocalypse, which leads to towns and cities full of zombies, survivors on the roadside in dire need of assistance and fictional and fantastical creatures, such as Bigfoot and the 4 horses of the apocalypse, all running around the map for you to deal with.
To further build upon this, it’s worth pointing out that the expansion could also be bought and played as an entirely separate and standalone game – yeah, theoretically there could be people out there who bought Undead Nightmare who never even played a second of the base game! Its also true that there could be people who played the DLC and loved it whilst having no affinity towards Red Dead Redemption itself!
My second point is this: Red Dead Redemption already had the potential to be creepy and make the player uneasy at times, even if it chose not to capitalise on these moments frequently. A slight musical cue whilst wandering the desert, the sound of wolves howling in the night an indeterminate distance away, or even something as simple as John Marston wondering ‘what happened here?’ upon discovering an abandoned location on his travels. There are many who genuinely believe the town of Tumbleweed to be haunted to this day, even though the evidence doesn’t particularly support it. Heck, there’s a random event in the game wherein a Nun can appear out of nowhere and just walk towards you unwaveringly – depending where you are and how you react, this alone can feel genuinely terrifying! (To be fair to the Nun, she just wants to thank you for your kind-hearted charity at an earlier point in the game, but she could certainly go about it in a less ominous way).
Perhaps then, plonking zombies and monsters and an eternal darkness onto the game was inevitable and almost feels…right? There are graveyards scattered across the Western landscape which don’t serve a massive purpose in the base game, yet in Undead Nightmare they become focal points for zombie activities which you need to put an end to. Towns and cities are overrun with zombies which you’re gonna have to clear out if you want to feel safe – contrasted with the feeling of excitement of finding a new town in the base game, in the expansion there may be an anxiety at what you’re getting yourself into. As previously mentioned, animals like bears and cougars (which already presented a terror factor in RDR) return as zombified versions of themselves and prove to be just as scary when they manage to creep up on you unawares.
Of course, it’s probably worth taking a look at a couple of the expansion’s drawbacks. At the time of the DLC’s release, it’s fair to say zombies were already starting to feel quite tired as a horror entity. In 2020, it feels even more the case that zombies are greeted with a collective eyeroll from the majority. I’ll throw my hands up and say I hate zombies; I think they’re pretty boring. They are an omnipresent threat within this game of course, and whilst I do love the change in gameplay they bring and do find them genuinely creepy, I still find them pretty dull. Not everyone does of course, and to be honest I don’t think there’s anything else that would fit quite as neatly as them, especially in the vast numbers and frequency with which they appear.
Truth be told, it’s also worth pointing out that as fun and exciting as the gameplay is when you first pick up Undead Nightmare, it can run stale by the time the game is over. The gunplay remains brilliant and a much higher impetus is placed on getting headshots, but there’s only so many times you can clear a new town of the undead before it starts to get a bit samey. It’s also true that the main and side quests aren’t as long and varied as you may be used to from the base game, and so the monotony can potentially set in quickly – then again, another way of looking at it is that the game doesn’t outstay its welcome and its shorter time lends itself far better to that lack of variety.
All in all, though, I still think Undead Nightmare holds the crown for me. There’s almost definitely an element of nostalgia attached to it nowadays, but even stripping that away shows an expansion that just really works and feels fun to play. I mentioned earlier in this piece that I’ve recently played a DLC for the first time which may equal or even surpass this one. This would be the Blood and Wine DLC for 2015’s The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, a game I didn’t get around to until earlier this year and am now completely enamoured with. I won’t go into it too much, but this was a huge expansion, adding hours of new content from questlines to monsters and all set within a huge new area called Toussaint. That’s the only other DLC that’s ever come close, as far as I’m concerned.
What do you think of Undead Nightmare? Do you agree that it’s one of the best pieces of video game DLC ever, or did it leave you underwhelmed? What else do you think is in contention for the top spot? Let us know!