Bethesda was kind enough to invite PCGamesN down to its London studio to take Arkane’s new FPS game, Redfall, for a spin. As the doors swing open I am greeted by pools of blood-red light – everything is bathed in crimson but for the recesses it fails to reach, where ominous shadows lurk. Some of the best gaming PCs in the business purr menacingly as huge virtual vampires examine me from the projector screen across the room. It sets quite the tone.
Arkane Austin’s studio director Harvey Smith gives us a short but sweet introduction to the town of Redfall, a once-quaint island getaway that has been transformed into a living hell by a series of failed medical experiments. We learn that one Dr Addison is the man behind the mayhem, and that the now-immortal bloodsuckers his tests spawned were once a part of the town’s elite one percent. Take from that what you will.
My task is to find out more about Addison, now a warped and twisted vampiric entity known as ‘The Hollow Man.’ To do so, we need to breach his inner sanctum (aka his battered old mansion) and snoop around. Naturally this goes off without any complications and Redfall turns out to be a cute point-and-click adventure in which a bunch of plucky teens learn lots about New England architecture before discovering the ‘vampire’ is just a grumpy old man in a mask.
Just kidding; we kill things. I spawn in the Redfall fire station, which serves as the game’s hub area, and hosts myriad NPC vendors offering a vast array of weapons, medical supplies, and more. My personal favourite is Redfall’s local reverend, a heavily tattooed woman who sports the traditional black priestly garb with an oversized crucifix as an accessory. This encounter alone gave me a feeling that I’d really, really like this game.
But forget the NPCs; who did I choose as my virtual persona in the world of Redfall? There are four different characters to choose from. There’s the highly superstitious Devinder Crousley, sassy half-vampire Layla Ellison, sharpshooting sniper Jacob Boyer, and hardy combat veteran Remi de la Rosa. While Devinder’s playful personality and obsession with the occult probably speaks to me the most, I opt for Layla, and I don’t look back when I discover that her ‘ultimate’ ability summons her vampiric ex-boyfriend to fight for her. Cringe? Potentially. Quirky and smirk-inducing? Absolutely.
Layla is one of Addison’s failed experiments, and while she’s no bloodthirsty monster she does retain some of the vampires’ telekinetic abilities. She can summon a spectral violet umbrella that shields her from attacks and, if triggered again while open, lets out a huge shockwave that stops enemies in their tracks. She can also conjure an old-timey lift that’s reminiscent of Tower of Terror, the iconic Disney theme park ride that lets you freefall hundreds of feet while your stomach mysteriously seems to float where you left it. Given my affinity for all things ’20s, this is absolutely one of my favourite abilities that I’ve ever seen in a game – it’s beautifully animated, genuinely useful, and enables you and your teammates to chain together abilities to create some truly sickening combinations. Ding ding, the elevator’s here; now let’s kick some ass.
And then, of course, there’s Layla’s ex – how could I forget. You can summon her vampire lover to help you out if things get a little dicey, and he’s an absolute gamechanger. You can reposition (or straight-up flee) while he draws enemy fire, or use the distraction to pin them down and stake them.
All in all, Layla’s kit feels well-balanced and offers plenty of potential to tailor it to your playstyle via an extensive skill tree. While I did have some teething issues with getting her umbrella to fold away so I could get back to popping heads, I enjoyed the experience – Redfall’s combat feels very clean. Switching weapons is easy, and there’s plenty to choose from; it’s the tried and tested, gritty Far Cry 2-style FPS mechanics we’re all used to.
While it doesn’t really innovate on the shooting, the vampires themselves are fierce. They can teleport behind you, have different powers depending upon their class, and are agile and nimble: everything a good bloodsucker should be. Taking on one is challenging, never mind three or four, and when you throw in the brainwashed Hollow Man cultists who to fill out the numbers in a fight, the difficulty increases exponentially.
I experienced this first hand trying to clear out a nest, a hive of vampiric activity akin to Far Cry 2’s guard posts (laterally outposts). I got absolutely slaughtered during my first attempt because I wandered into a room with two feisty fiends that darted around me as if playing with their food, and only found the gaul to return after finishing the core mission. Then, now adept at using both the elevator and umbrella, I managed to liberate said hellhole in style. These vampires are no shiny Twilight boys; they’re the real deal.
Despite all of these positives though, I leave my solo experience feeling not-quite satiated. I only caught a glimpse of the main storyline in my mission, which while intense and exciting (no spoilers here, don’t worry) left me wanting more. I did die a few too many times because of the umbrella refusing to close, too, which quickly became very frustrating – especially because I spawned back at the firehouse and had to run all the way back to the Hollow Man’s mansion at the opposite end of the island. While the scattered safehouses will negate this in the future, it was pretty annoying and felt like a huge, meaningless time sink.
I think the bigger unscratched itch, though, is that I was solo. I think Redfall will really come alive with a group of players. The intention of co-op combat, of a ragtag group of heroes shouting excitedly at each other, seems to lurk beneath the entire world and its combat encounters. It already feels reminiscent of the good old Left 4 Dead multiplayer days, or even its spiritual successor Back 4 Blood. While the story is intriguing, it seems to frame the combat more than define it.
I don’t mean to suggest the story is bad – don’t eat me alive, I’ve had enough of that in-game. In fact, the snippet that I saw was moving, jarring, and rage-inducing. I want to see more, I want another bite, but until I get to try the multiplayer it feels like Redfall is missing just that little sprinkle of stardust that could transform it from a good game to one of the best PC games of 2023. Arkane seems to feel the same way – the teamworking aspect even takes centre stage in the game’s trailers – so I was a little surprised to discover this trip was single-player only. I liked what I saw and of course I’m glad Arkane wants this to work as a single-player game, but it doesn’t feel like, deep down, that’s what it’s really for.