Version tested: Xbox 360
United Front's open-world Hong Kong crime thriller wasn't exactly shy about borrowing from the Grand Theft Auto playbook when Sleeping Dogs launched back in August, so it's not that much of a surprise to see the developer taking inspiration from another Rockstar hit for this single-player add-on chapter.
Just as Red Dead Redemption looked to the darkness for its Undead Nightmare spin-off, so Nightmare in North Point drops a big bloody slab of horror into the neon sprawl of Hong Kong.
It would be a mistake to call this a zombie game though. Although the monsters that have suddenly populated the streets are technically the undead, they're actually Jiang Shi, creatures from Taoist myth that are as much vampire as zombie.
They don't behave like western zombies either; they hop after you like kangaroos and rise to their feet as if on strings. Fans of cult Chinese movies such as Mr. Vampire or Close Encounters of the Spooky Kind will be thrilled to see accurate elements of this mythology faithfully brought to life, right down to the way that you must stick a paper scroll to their foreheads to halt their rampage. Such devotion to a little-known cultural archetype is refreshing - but it ultimately adds little to what proves to be an anaemic and undercooked expansion.
The story starts simply enough. Wei Shen, our undercover cop hero, has just been to see a corny Hong Kong horror movie with his girlfriend when a bizarre cat-masked ghost appears out of nowhere and kidnaps her. It's an opening right out of Double Dragon, and that's basically the tone this download is aiming at.
What follows is a disappointingly short run through a handful of missions, all set around the North Point area of the map. You go to each mission marker, fight the monsters there, and that's pretty much it. Old foes and allies are resurrected, but what could be an interesting way of making Shen face up to his sins feels more like a way to reuse as many graphical assets as possible.
Each mission completed adds a couple of demonic infestations to the map, but these are simply more brawls against the same enemies. The Jiang Shi are easily defeated by grappling them while stunned and only pose a threat if you let them grab you. Even the more imposing Yaoguai demons that pop up are hardly a challenge. You'll need to build up your Face meter or grab a peach wood sword before you can damage them, but once your blows connect, they go down in a few flurries. As horror goes, this simply isn't scary or even all that gruelling.
Those are the only new enemies on offer, so the episode pads itself out with a couple of half-hearted fights against more traditional gangland foes as well as a brief bit of scripted gunplay for no real reason. You can literally rattle through both the story missions and all the secondary tasks in less than two hours, and the story being told does little to add meaningful context to the thin gameplay.
In terms of crossover with the main story, you seem to inherit all the unlocked abilities from the primary game but none of your vehicles. You get a cash reserve of around 30,000 dollars, but since there's nothing to spend it on other than the usual stat-buffing food items, that seems remarkably generous. There are also 10 "Hell Shrines" to find, each of which increases your chances of setting enemies ablaze with heavy combos. Since they're incredibly easy to kill already, there's no incentive to root them out.
"There's nothing wrong with a gameplay experience that lasts only a few hours... The problem with Nightmare in North Point is that it's over before anything has really happened."
This DLC is thin all over. Fulfilling secondary objectives grants you costumes which offer no gameplay benefit and a couple of vehicles, but since none of the missions require fast cars it's a fairly useless gift. Nor does Nightmare in North Point offer much to take back with you. Your reward for battling through these limited scrums is a Jiang Shi hat that you can equip in the main story mode. It offers absolutely no benefits and leaves you wondering why you bothered.
There's nothing wrong with a gameplay experience that lasts only a few hours, of course. The problem with Nightmare in North Point is that it's over before anything has really happened. You run through a couple of fetch quests, fight a couple of reanimated sub-bosses, then head off to the showdown with Smiley Cat. He's no harder to defeat than any of the other enemies, and the conclusion is little more than a narrative shrug.
There's the bare bones of a really interesting story here, using cultural myths that are underexposed in the West. The idea of honouring the dead, even for gangsters, and the Taoist understanding of the afterlife, should all have combined to create an offshoot that offers clever new perspectives on the main story - just as Read Dead Redemption's Undead Nightmare took the thematic death of the frontier and made it literal.
Instead you get less than two hours of gameplay consisting of a few repetitive fights, and all you get to show for it is a new hat. Hardly worth getting out of bed for, let alone rising from the grave.
4 / 10