The game's internal economy has been stripped down to its bare essentials. "Worth more than gold" mutters John as he uncovers another chest of ammo, but it's not as sparse as you might think. Provided you're prudent with your shots, and keep fulfilling challenges and optional objectives, you quickly amass not only ample ammunition but also a seriously powerful arsenal as well. This is just as well, since you don't get to inherit any of the goodies you earned in the main game.
It's a shame Undead Nightmare never really demands that you make full use of this array of weaponry, though. Since one headshot from any gun will put the undead down permanently, it doesn't really matter what weapon you use. Crowd control is the only situation where you'll be thankful for the new blunderbuss, which fires harvested zombie parts into an explosive blast, but for the most part your firearms are interchangeable.
The same is true of the undead wildlife. I was pretty much cacking myself at the prospect of facing zombie bears and cougars, but like their undead human kin, they keel over with one bullet in the head from any gun. My reaction to this discovery fell somewhere between abject relief and slight disappointment.
It's also hard not to feel a little disappointed at how often the game looks to Left 4 Dead for inspiration, with a trio of special zombie types that mirror the established patterns and threats of Boomers, Hunters and Jockeys. There's even a backup item which serves to attract your shambling foes into one spot, Boomer Bile style. For a pioneering developer with such a distinctive voice, it's a little weird to see Rockstar so openly taking obvious inspiration from their peers.
Mostly, however, Red Dead Redemption's elegiac tone knits incredibly well with the arch Gothic horror. This was always an apocalyptic game in many ways, concerned with the metaphorical end of the world for grizzled old gunslingers like Marston as gentrification crept into the west. Flipping that scenario upside down in favour of the literal end of civilisation proves a surprisingly satisfying continuation of the original game's melancholy themes.
Undead Nightmare also strikes an appealing balance between sardonic silliness and honest pathos, held together by Marston's taciturn demeanour and a script that really understands the soul of its characters. Few game characters could have a conversation with a Sasquatch and manage to turn an inherently ridiculous scene into something rather sad and poignant. If nothing else, Undead Nightmare certainly proves that Marston is one of gaming's great characters, a fully-formed creation who is nonetheless flexible enough to reflect the player's own intentions, able to express genuine performance through a shift in posture or the twitch of an eyebrow. It's a genuine pleasure to spend another five or six hours in his company.
As for the other additions, the Undead Overrun game mode is a straightforward survival scenario, pitting four players against wave after wave of zombie enemies. A coffin offers new weapons and power-ups with each wave, but the game's slightly clumsy control is more problematic here than in the single-player mode. There's also Land Grab, a King of the Hill offering which – in a nice twist – can be played by people who haven't downloaded Undead Nightmare, provided the game is hosted by someone who has made the purchase.
This is, frankly, how DLC should be done. Persistent and minor issues with the game engine aside, Undead Nightmare offers a generous amount of polished AAA-grade new material and finally gives fans of the single-player game a compelling reason to dust off their spurs and head back to the ranch.