PC, Xbox Series X
May 2, 2023
The latest offering from Arkane Austin, known previously for the Prey reboot, has arrived in the form of Redfall. This open-world, cooperative FPS puts you in control of one of four characters as they fight back against a vampire uprising that has plunged the town of Redfall into a blood-stained and cult-worshiping hellscape. After checking out the game in a limited preview capacity, it was safe to say Redfall topped our anticipation list with its renowned development team and super promising concept. Now after spending some proper time in the world of Redfall, I can safely say it does not deliver on that promise, with lackluster missions wedged into a glitchy and at times barely functioning experience.
Redfall is a concept driven by imagination. Not quite close enough to any game that came before it to draw strong comparisons, the title tries some new things in both the gameplay and storytelling departments. Whilst the novelty of the game is worthy of praise, the execution comes up short in just too many ways to forgive it.
The game paints the picture of a town under lockdown by a set of vampiric gods. That lockdown manifests quite literally, with towering waves locked in stasis surrounding the island of Redfall. These gods all bring about their own catastrophic capabilities and unforgivable backstories. It’s in this area that Redfall is at its strongest. Learning about the person who sacrificed their family to make themselves stronger, who used new technology to turn themselves into the blood-sucking beast they now are. Or the vampire god who literally blocked out the sun like some kind of cartoon villain. Uncovering those backstories and having these gods introduced to you one at a time keeps you on tenterhooks, helping the game maintain a level of intrigue even when its other systems crumble around it.
“…some clear concessions made in order to facilitate a cooperative experience.”
The lore in Redfall is strong and that’s backed up by further environmental storytelling that manages to suck you into this world. You’ll frequently find yourself stumbling into buildings and painting a picture of what happened here by the corpses, blood trails, and messages etched into the walls. There’s some strong design to the world and visuals that manage to cut through the game’s weaker elements. An overall narrative is present as well as some character moments, though these are not Arkane’s strongest effort, with some clear concessions made in order to facilitate a cooperative experience.
Our four heroes are Jacob, Remi, Devinder, and Layla. Each has a striking design and their own suite of abilities that range from a crow who scouts the area to an ex-boyfriend vampire who can be summoned to help you fight. These characters pop in trailers and look so cool in theory, but don’t have the pizazz needed to maintain interest for the game’s runtime. There’s just something so generic about the interactions between the characters, the way voice lines repeat, and some of the quite dull scripting associated with our protagonists. It falls notably short of this developer’s previous efforts and raises questions about whether Arkane can make a successful, multiplayer, narrative experience.
The character abilities are quite fun but there’s a notable difference between coop and solo play here. When in coop, you get to see quite a large range of abilities that can be used dynamically to traverse the world and approach combat sequences. But playing solo, your range of abilities is limited and doesn’t satisfy every need and every situation. It’s clever that each character has some capacity to support the rest of their squad, and when all cylinders are firing, it becomes an engaging and varied experience. The same can’t be said for solo play.
Redfall’s gunplay feels good with a range of weapons each responding differently and a set of aforementioned abilities that can be upgraded through levelling up that help to support that gunplay. However, there’s not enough variety in the combat to make you feel in control of the action. Cultist enemies go down without breaking a sweat whilst vampire foes can put up a hefty fight. If a regular vampire is chasing you, there’s not much to do other than shoot, run away, turn around, and shoot again. Rinse and repeat. One noticeable missing feature is any noteworthy stealth mechanic. You can crouch and enemy AI is dumb enough for you to be very close without getting immediately spotted. However there’s no takedown, so sneaking up behind an unsuspecting enemy achieves very little as you hit them with an almost hilariously weak thud from behind.
Combat varies wildly from way too easy to strangely hard. Serious balance issues plague Redfall and it’s hard to pinpoint why. Vampire enemies in particular can feel like absolute bullet sponges at moments, requiring you to simply load rounds into them in order to finish them off.
Special vampires come with different properties including one that shrouds the area around you and heavily reduces your vision, or another that drains your health as you fight it. These are interesting mechanics that do make the encounters more special and dynamic, though you’ll see them repeat over and over and over again. Even named bosses tied to story missions will just be a rehashed special vampire, heavily reducing any feeling of novelty and surprise. Vampires also must be staked through the heart to kill them (or set on fire), yet only certain weapons have a stake attachment, limiting your loadout options and frequently resulting in awkward weapon switching as you try to find a weapon that can finish off the enemy. It’s just… strangely limiting, with seemingly no rhyme or reason for doing so.
“Serious balance issues plague Redfall and it’s hard to pinpoint why.”
The game’s open world is a playground of lootable buildings and cultist hangouts. In the game’s opening hours, this world feels particularly empty. Enemies spawned infrequently enough that it made me question whether it was intentional design or a glitch. With very few combat sequences, you’re left to loot, explore, and complete quests. The problem is, looting feels quite underwhelming, with your inventory filling with mostly tat. Exploration is fun at first thanks to the game’s quite good visual design and environmental storytelling. Though even this quickly dries up as missions take you back to the same areas time and time again.
The mission structure of Redfall is frankly abysmal. Each of the game’s areas has a central hub which you’ll return to after each main story mission. Here you get to refill your ammo, sell your weapons (which happens painfully one at a time), and accept your next quest. After a small cutscene, you then return to the open world to complete said quest. The problem is that you can only accept one mission at a time, and these missions are often very shallow, boring, and quick to complete. A standard Redfall gameplay loop became fast-travelling to a point on the map, quickly doing a nearby story mission, then fast-travelling back to the central hub to accept the next quest.
Some quests are better than others. In the first area of the game, a trip to the mansion of the vampire god known as the Hollow Man provides a reprise from your typical fetch quest or hold the area missions. Here we get to see a beautiful melding of gameplay and narrative as you uncover this vampire’s backstory through echos of the past, all whilst hunting down the next key item through the many rooms and corridors of the building. Amazing moments of visual design were found within this mission, proving that Arkane has the capabilities. However, not all missions are built as equals. And it’s times like this that just highlight what you’re missing for 99% of the experience.
Beyond quests, the game’s open world has safehouses for you to liberate and vampire nests that you can destroy. The nests look amazing with elements of the real-world stuck inside the surrealist landscape. They also have an interesting mechanic allowing you to destroy the heart at the centre, triggering a countdown timer and forcing you to escape in time. Powerful loot can be found in these nests, so what you’re essentially doing is looting to a time limit as you desperately try to find an escape. It works well and creates excitement as you frantically search your surroundings or plot your path to victory.
Despite the initial excitement of nests, even these begin to grow dull. Destroy one nest and a new one will pop up elsewhere almost instantly. Do a few nests and you’ll begin to see repeated elements of visuals and designs that take away any feeling of uniqueness and intrigue. Nests become yet another piece of endlessly generated fodder for the open world. Pair that with repeated quest types, repeated enemy designs, repeated structures, and missions that take you back to the same areas time and time again and you’re left with a game world that just feels so uninspired.
Some of Redfall’s design decisions may be confusing, but where the game is truly unacceptable is in the number of bugs, connectivity issues, and performance problems. Playing on the PC with specs above recommended, my squad and I all experienced trouble with Redfall at most stages of our play sessions. The issues we ran into include seeing coop partners sliding around, glitching in and out of the floor, and t-posing. Multiplayer sessions not launching and getting caught in infinite loading screens. Crucial game mechanics straight-up breaking such as not being able to melee enemies, finish off vampires with a stake, and use your flashlight. Loot not appearing or unable to be interacted with. Visual effects such as player abilities or quest markers either not appearing or maintaining long after they should have disappeared. Getting caught on terrain and awkwardly fumbling through the open world. Cultist AI glitching about, pathing very peculiarly, or just acting very stupid. And of course the constant battle against the game’s biggest foe – framerate.
I experienced fewer issues playing solo than I did playing coop, so much so that solo became my preferred method of play for that reason alone. Even then, the frequency with which I experienced these issues and more went beyond tolerable. Redfall needs more development time and once again it’s the players being punished for supporting a game as an early adopter.
- An interesting and unique take on the vampire backstory
- Some great visual design, especially wihen the game leans into the supernatural
- Some superb moments of storytelling interwoven with gameplay
- Boring and repetitive mission structure
- General gameplay loop is not engaging enough
- The open world lacks in variety and substance
- Way too many glitches and performance issues
Redfall is an interesting concept with some valid ideas, some cool lore, and some great moments driven by solid visual design and a knack for leaning into the supernatural. But with a vapid and dull open world, bad mission design, constant backtracking, and a plethora of performance issues—this release ends up sucking the life out of you one glitch at a time.