Before we get into our Redfall review, it’s worth noting that Arkane Studios is well regarded for making inventive games that push boundaries. Arkane Austin’s previous game was Prey, a bold sci-fi immersive sim. But with Redfall the studio has really pivoted. It’s not just Arkane’s pedigree that sometimes makes me think Redfall would’ve been better if it were more like its previous work; many moments in the game itself prompt that same thought. But Redfall is still a good time, despite some bugs and too much emphasis on looter shooter shenanigans.
Despite being a triple-A game, Redfall’s narrative presentation is more than a little scaled back. Most of its story is told via still-frame cutscenes with no sense of bombast. The plot begins with your choice from four lead characters waking up on a wrecked ship, only to be abducted by a vampiric creature known as The Black Sun. What follows is a story about hunting powerful vampires and unraveling their involvement in the events that led the New England town of Redfall to be overrun with the undead. I adore vampire stories, but this one didn’t really do much for me, nor did the game succeed in making me care about its characters. It’s all just a bit basic.
Redfall’s gameplay and structure are what you might get if you combined Dying Light and Borderlands. You run around two open maps while establishing safehouses and finding markers that let you fast travel. Main missions are acquired from a table at your base and mostly consist of finding items or killing things. Completing the two side missions at each safehouse will clear the neighbourhood of the area’s head vampire, and you’ll need their skulls to gain access to the lairs of even stronger vampires. It’s extremely videogamey and doesn’t make much real-world sense, but it lets you know what to expect from each mission.
Each character has three unique abilities that they all learn by level five. You level up by collecting experience awarded from defeating enemies and clearing missions, which grants you skill points that are mostly used on skills that enhance character abilities. Each character also has a few unique skills that don’t make much difference. The first two abilities go on cooldown for a short while when used, while the third requires special energy dropped by vampires and occasionally by the human cultists that fight on behalf of the strongest vampires. You’ll obviously be using this sparingly, so it often feels more like characters have just two abilities.
This doesn’t leave much room for them to distinguish themselves, and while your abilities do become more potent as you pump in skill points, gameplay doesn’t change that much. That’s especially true as enemies scale with your level. Compared to Dying Light, the sense of progression just isn’t all the way there. This leaves it to the shooting to pick up the slack, which it mostly accomplishes; Redfall is a solid first-person shooter and the weapons are decently varied, punchy, and impactful.
You’ve got various versions of the usual suspects such as pistols, shotguns, assault rifles, and sniper rifles, but there are also more specialised weapons, including a stake launcher, UV light gun, and flare gun. These anti-vampire innovations lend your arsenal some personality, but some of them just aren’t that useful. In terms of damage, the stake launcher wildly outclasses the UV and flare gun, which are more situational but also feel underpowered. For instance, the UV light gun is a theoretically useful crowd control tool that stuns vampires, but its effects are far too brief to be useful in practice.
Human enemies will go down without much hassle. Vampires, on the other hand, enter a weakened state when their health bottoms out, requiring you to stake them to actually finish them off. When you do, you’re treated to a fantastic visual effect of their bodies burning up as their flesh turns to ash, putting me in mind of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Blade. It’s very satisfying to unload shotgun rounds into a vampire before impaling them.
Strangely, you can’t just carry stakes around. Shotguns and assault rifles have stakes mounted on them, but you’ll need to switch to them to deliver the coup de grâce. The stake gun will also do the trick, as will fire and electricity, but it’s odd that your character – a vampire hunter – can’t just hold a stake. This is more limiting than it might otherwise be as you can only equip three weapons at once and, as Redfall is always online, you can’t pause while you switch between them. You have a melee attack, but it feels like you’re not even hitting anything when using it, nor are there any cool takedown animations for one-shot stealth kills on human enemies, unlike Arkane’s previous work.
If that seems a trivial complaint, the enemy AI is a bigger issue. It’s laughably bad. Humans will often barely react to your presence at first; you can just run up to them and hit them with a point-blank shotgun blast and not be in any danger of getting shot yourself. The game’s rudimentary stealth system is so effective that you can be crouched in an enemy’s peripheral vision and they won’t see you. You can even shoot one of their buddies in the head and they might not even react. But the funniest thing is that vampires will just run up to you if you’re standing in a UV light and get petrified. The enemies are simply braindead.
You’ll constantly be drowned in loot while playing Redfall, which combines with a commodious inventory to require many lengthy cleanout periods for you to salvage all your now-useless low-leveled crap. You get scrap for this that you can use to buy things, but there’s not much reason to do so, as you’ll frequently find what you need by exploring. You lose 10% of your scrap upon death too, which means you might end up losing a ton if you’re playing solo.
On that note, the world in Redfall feels at odds with its always-online, co-op friendly billing. You’ll find books and documents to read all over the place, but since you can’t pause the game while solo and no one in a co-op game session has ever been happy to wait for someone else to read things, I’m not sure when you’d be meant to do this. It’s like Arkane wanted to flex its immersive sim chops in world design, but the combat is clearly built around co-op, especially when it comes to a boss fight. Characters can’t take much punishment, suggesting a co-op-oriented need to revive your teammates, so solo players won’t be experiencing the game as it should be played. But the missions themselves often require players to scour environments for key items, which doesn’t gel all that well with the action, especially when you’re meant to stand around and listen to glorified audio files.
I feel like Redfall would have been much better if it didn’t try to focus on co-op in the manner it did. Dying Light did an excellent job of offering a single-player campaign that worked fantastically with co-op. If this were an immersive sim with more depth and less of a focus on numbers, I really think it could have been something special. I still enjoy the game, but it doesn’t compare to Arkane’s other, more focussed work.
I got hit by several serious bugs during my time with the game. Sometimes I couldn’t interact with key items, which required me to restart missions. On multiple occasions I’d get stuck in geometry too. For a lot of the game, a sidequest marker hovered over the head of an NPC whose lone sidequest had already been completed. And even if you’re playing solo, any disconnection from the internet will kick you to the menu and make you repeat mission progress. Since a player has to host, and you can seemingly only play with friends and not randos, this is yet another strange choice. I also experienced some choppy performance, with the fps dipping rather low, especially in the first map.
It took me about 15 hours to complete Redfall’s main story and most of the major sidequests. I skipped the unnecessary copy-pasted safehouse missions and some of the repetitive vampire nests. Once you beat the final boss – a little underwhelming, as you don’t even directly fight them – your character automatically moves to a new game plus, so there’s no endgame and you can’t just explore to your heart’s content. You also have to start a whole new game to switch characters.
It has many small frustrations like these, but I still like Redfall. It does the core stuff well enough to be worth a look if you want to stake vampires with friends. But it won’t replace Dying Light or Borderlands in your rotation, and it’s left me wondering, in a disconsolate way, about the immersive sim vampire game Arkane could’ve given us without these strange, discordant steps into the multiplayer action genre.
The Redfall release date is later today, and it’ll be coming to Game Pass.
As long as you don’t mind the truly daft AI making things a bit mindless, Redfall is a good-enough co-op action game, but it makes me sad for the vampire-hunting immersive sim Arkane could’ve delivered.