Video Game DLC Review: Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare [Xbox 360, 2010]

Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare [Xbox 360, 2010]

Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare
System: Xbox 360 (also on PS3)
Genre: Third-person shooter
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Developer: Rockstar San Diego
Release Date: November 22, 2010

Whoever came up with the idea for Undead Nightmare deserves a pat on the back. Inserting zombies into the wild western world of Red Dead Redemption? That is a stroke of genius, my friends.

What makes Undead Nightmare so great is that it isn’t just a killer concept — this is premium downloadable content. For a mere $9.99, you get access to a lengthy single player campaign (approx. 10 hours to get 100% completion) as well as two new multiplayer modes. That’s more than some full-priced retail games offer! Expansion packs don’t get much better than this.

Reformed outlaw John Marston is once again the main protagonist, and this time he is out to find a cure for the terrifying new plague that is sweeping the land, all so he can get his wife and child back to normal. The entire Wild West is being overrun with zombies, with the undead rising from their graves all over the area.

Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare [Xbox 360, 2010]

The plague hasn’t just infected humans. It has spread to animals, too, even in John’s preferred method of transportation: horses. I was horrified (yet also amused) when I whistled for a horse, only to have one arrive with half of its face missing. It must also be stated that you don’t know fear until you are attacked out of nowhere by a zombie bear.

Rockstar didn’t just include zombie animals, they also opted to entertain by introducing mythical creatures to the game. Now you can randomly come across chupacabras, sasquatches and unicorns. It’s pretty clear that the developers had a damn good time making this DLC.

As stated earlier, the single player campaign can last a good ten hours or so to finish completely. Aside from the main storyline that brings back some old favorite characters, there are also side quests and random encounters with loners out in the wilderness. Perhaps most fun are the objectives where you can clear out a whole town’s mess of zombies and let them live in peace, albeit most likely for just a few days. This brings a sense of heroism to John’s meandering adventure.

Fans of Red Dead Redemption’s multiplayer will be pleased with Undead Nightmare’s two new modes: Land Grab and Undead Overrun. The former is a free roam feature in which you attempt to hold onto a piece of territory for a certain amount of time, all while fighting off any attackers. The latter mode is my personal favorite, as it is basically a Horde mode against increasingly difficult waves of zombies. Even with a good group of players, this mode can get pretty damn crazy. There were times when I was the last survivor and had to run for my life against a seemingly endless onslaught of zombies. It beats the hell out of Call of Duty’s Nazi Zombies feature, that’s for sure.

Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare [Xbox 360, 2010]

While Undead Nightmare offers an impressive amount of content, it isn’t quite perfect. I ran into some weird glitches, including one particular annoying bug in which I had cleared out the zombies in a town except for one that remained somehow stuck in the walls of a building. I couldn’t get to the bastard, so I had to restart at the last checkpoint and save the town again. Not a huge deal, but an inconvenience nonetheless.

Glitches be damned, this is still a fantastic expansion for those looking to continue the wonderful Red Dead Redemption experience. It is a shame that more developers do not create such engrossing DLC as Undead Nightmare, as this really is one of the best that I have come across. Every now and then this expansion goes on sale for $5, but even at its $9.99 price it is more than worth purchasing.

9/10

Video Game Review: L.A. Noire [PS3, 2011]

L.A. Noire [PS3, 2011]

L.A. Noire
System: Playstation 3 [also on Xbox 360]
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Developer: Team Bondi
Release Date: May 17, 2011

The first thing you should know about L.A. Noire is that this is not a traditional Rockstar game. If you come in expecting a Grand Theft Auto-style adventure, you will be sorely disappointed.

Having said that, L.A. Noire is pretty damn brilliant in its own right.

Set in 1947 Los Angeles, the game places you in the role of Cole Phelps, an LAPD Officer who is trying to work his way through the ranks after just coming home from World War II. In a world filled with crime and shady characters (as in the classic film noirs that this borrows heavily from), Phelps is one of the rare few who seems interested in doing the right thing. Phelps doesn’t believe in covering up evidence or tampering with crime scenes; he does his job strictly by the book. This is a refreshing change of pace from previous Rockstar titles in which the lead character basically has free reign to wreak havoc in the game environment.

L.A. Noire [PS3, 2011]

Cole’s job is to investigate crime scenes and to figure out exactly what the hell happened at them. This involves inspecting areas for clues, examining dead bodies, chatting up witnesses and interrogating suspects. While maintaining the open-world environments found in other Rockstar games, L.A. Noire is much more linear overall. You are given case after case to solve, and outside of some side missions that usually involve shootouts or chasing after suspects, there isn’t as much to do in the game world. This is not a problem at all, however, because the cases are long and extremely engrossing. It’s hard not to get caught up in the particulars of certain cases, especially while working in the homicide department. Many of these crimes are based on true stories, which adds even more to the game’s authenticity. In terms of creating 1940s Los Angeles, this is pretty f’n incredible.

The gameplay plays out as something like a hybrid of Heavy Rain’s detailed theatrics and the old point-and-click PC adventure titles prominent in the 1990s, with bits of action sequences sprinkled in. But really, L.A. Noire has developed its own unique style that sets it apart from other titles.

While the action sequences are fun — ramming suspects off the road or chasing them on foot over rooftops never gets old — the most intriguing part of the game is when you interview potential suspects. L.A. Noire’s big developmental feature is the use of a new MotionScan technology that uses astounding facial accuracy to make the characters truly come to life. Seriously, L.A. Noire has the best facial expressions ever seen in a video game. This is absolutely crucial to the gameplay as well since you are required to study the faces of suspects, witnesses and anyone else you talk to. When someone answers one of your questions, you are given three choices: “truth,” “doubt,” or “lie.” It’s up to you if you believe the person of interest or not, but if you believe they are lying then you have to show some kind of proof. If you are unable to accurately determine if they are telling the truth or not, you will be penalized and this can change the outcome of the case. It is possible to send the wrong person to jail in some cases, so it is extremely important to study character reactions.

L.A. Noire [PS3, 2011]

The aforementioned MotionScan technology is made of even greater use by employing real actors to play out the in-game characters. The game borrows heavily from the cast of Mad Men, as more than a handful of the popular TV show’s actors have been used for various roles (including Aaron Staton aka “Ken Cosgrove” as Cole Phelps). The combination of outstanding facial animations, authentic acting and an immaculately-detailed LA game environment makes this one of the better looking games on the market today. Throw in some phenomenal voice acting and 1940s radio and you have a fantastic work of art.

For all of its brilliance, however, L.A. Noire is not perfect. The game offers 21 cases in total to solve, but they start to grow repetitive around the final third of the campaign. This happens after the homicide chapter, which is so good that it would have been really hard to top. Considering the way the story goes, it makes sense to have it in the middle, but it’s almost like Team Bondi gave away its main event too early. Outside of this, there are some occasional annoyances that hinder the gameplay such as idiotic pedestrians who have a habit of running like maniacs directly into your car’s driving path, as well as some occasional glitches and slowdown. Late in the game, I stumbled across one of the most bizarre glitches I have ever seen: I was driving to a crime scene and cut through someone’s backyard. Not a big deal, but apparently the game randomly decided that their yard was made of quicksand and my car slowly started to sink into the ground, tail-end first. The game jolted Phelps and his partner out of the car while the vehicle proceeded to tilt straight up, with just the front half of the car remaining above ground. It was definitely a strange sight to behold. I got a kick out of it, and this will probably not happen for too many people, but I couldn’t help but to share this weird little story.

In essence, L.A. Noire is pretty damn incredible despite its flaws. This is a game unlike any other, and it is one that will surely spawn its own copycats in the future. There is room for growth, which I am sure the inevitable sequel will expand upon, but this is still an engaging experience for anyone interested in detective fiction and film noir. As long as you don’t expect a wild action ride like GTA, chances are you will enjoy L.A. Noire as much as I have.

8.5/10

Video Game Review: Grand Theft Auto IV [Xbox 360, 2008]

Grand Theft Auto IV [Xbox 360, 2008]

Grand Theft Auto IV
System: Xbox 360
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Developer: Rockstar North
Release Date: April 29, 2008

In a series rife with over-the-top entries such as Vice City and San Andreas, Grand Theft Auto IV takes things in a new direction: gritty realism. This time around you play as Niko Bellic, an Eastern European immigrant who has arrived in Liberty City in pursuit of the American Dream (and I’m not talking about Dusty Rhodes). Upon arriving, he gets caught up in the criminal lifestyle found in other GTA games, eventually racking up countless murders and other violent crimes. Along the way, he meets a colorful cast of characters (some brilliant, some annoying) who help push the story along by providing new missions.

The core sandbox gameplay found in previous titles is largely the same, but everything is more realistic, beginning with the driving controls. A lot of people were instantly turned off to the game due to its vehicle handling, which is drastically different from years past. Cars are a little more difficult to handle, at least at first, and it’s a little too easy to lose control while traveling at high speeds. The learning curve will bother some gamers, but I found the controls to be satisfactory as I grew more comfortable with them.

Grand Theft Auto IV [Xbox 360, 2008]

Another aspect that tries to make the game more “real” is the heavy reliance on Niko’s cell phone. People are always calling Niko. If they aren’t telling him about new missions, they are wanting to hang out and go bowling, play pool or go get some drinks. Going out with friends is, unfortunately, a necessity if you are looking to do everything the game has to offer. This means that in between missions you will often have to call some friends (or potential girlfriends), pick them up, go out and do something, then drop them back off. While hanging out to sustain relationships is realistic, it’s more of a nuisance than anything in video game form.

The game’s main missions are pretty much what you would expect — meet with someone, drive to a location, kill some people, outrun the cops and then pick up your reward. This is the basic formula that encompasses the majority of the missions, although every now and then there is something unique to liven things up. My personal favorite involves participating in a bank heist gone bad and then having to shoot your way out; it reminded me a lot of the Michael Mann classic, Heat. While there is some redundancy involved, the occasional spurts of different tasks keeps the game fresh.

Grand Theft Auto IV [Xbox 360, 2008]

Unfortunately, the game’s mission checkpoint system still feels like it is in the stone age. This is a major issue for me, as it can be unbearably frustrating to start a mission, drive all the way across the city, complete a task or two and then end up dying before completion. If you die or get arrested, you are screwed. You can’t restart at the point you died; instead, you have to start the entire mission all over again. Times have changed, Rockstar. This shit does not fly anymore.

Another thing that can be grating is the clunky combat/shooting system. While certainly improved over past entries in the series, GTA IV’s combat still does not feel natural. The new cover system is a good idea in theory, but sometimes it can be difficult to actually get into cover and remain there. This can lead to being left prone for enemy fire. The new targeting system is improved, but again, it still leaves something to be desired. The appropriate steps have been taken, but Rockstar just isn’t quite there yet.

Grand Theft Auto IV [Xbox 360, 2008]

Really, even though all of these gripes are perfectly justifiable, Grand Theft Auto IV is an impressive video game, hands down. It’s not perfect, but I have never played a game that has created such a massive, living and breathing city like Liberty City. There is just so much to do, and you can play the game to your liking. Liberty City feels like the sadistic little brother of New York City, with its own distinct areas modeled after real life locales. Quite frankly, the game’s world is beautiful in its own dark and grimy way. The graphics are slick, and even breathtaking at times (I love driving on the bridge with the skyline in the background). The soundtrack is as great as ever, and even the hilarious satire news stations are back.

Grand Theft Auto IV is a major technical achievement in the video game industry, and it really is something to behold. Even with its flaws, GTA IV is a great experience that is worthy of the many, many hours that so many gamers have invested in it.

8/10