There is no getting away from the immense pressure that Redfall has been under leading up to its launch. It’s the first drop of blood extracted from the purchase of Zenimax in 2021, the first game that has been mostly developed under the purview of new owner Microsoft. Xbox has been struggling with a lack of strong exclusives to compete with Sony’s high-quality outings and Nintendo’s established names. And surely with Arkane Austin on development duties, Redfall should be a home run? No. Despite being about vampires, Redfall has no fangs of its own. The only thing it shares with the undead blood-suckers is that it’s lifeless.
Redfall doesn’t make the best first impression, introducing its world via shifting images rather than full animation. Unfortunately, this isn’t just a stylistic choice and every other major story moment will be shown in the same way like a clip show with a few moving parts. It does, at least, lay the foundations for a cool world: the town of Redfall has been taken over by vampires who have somehow blotted out the sun and pushed the sea back before freezing it in place, cutting Redfall off and trapping everyone. The Vampire Gods rule now, and under them are Cultists who are more than happy to serve their new overlords.
The cool premise of the game’s storyline, though, is ruined by its lacklustre presentation. The early trailers for the game showed off fully-animated cutscenes introducing each of the four playable characters, but in the actual game, you get static cutscenes, heaps of readable materials and even psychic echoes where blue outlines stand around and dialogue is piped in. It’s the kind of presentation you wouldn’t mind in a much smaller game that couldn’t afford fully animated cutscenes, but in a triple-A title from Arkane and Bethesda, it’s far harder to forgive. The most frustrating thing is that the trailers for the game gave the impression that there would be properly animated cutscenes, and yet there isn’t a single one to be found in Redfall.
But forgive it I could if the writing itself was decent. Sadly, that’s not the case. Your own playable character, chosen from a roster of four, is a poorly defined shell, while the few others you interact with have almost no discernible personalities. They appear briefly in the static screens when you choose a mission and then return to standing around in their designated spots. And on mission completion, you typically won’t hear from them, creating a disconnect between what you are doing and the people you are meant to be helping.
Perhaps the best example of Redfall’s complete lack of presentation skills is found in the base you are forced to venture back to in order to get another mission, rather than triggering them in the open world. There are two main bases in the game and each one has a collection of characters who hang out there to sell you new guns and medical supplies, and occasionally dish out a dull side quest. But they’re static. They don’t move around, except for when you aren’t there. When you come back to base they may have magically teleported in order to have a discussion with another character, and once that’s done they’ll stay there until you leave the base again.
That same sense of cutting corners exists in the two open-world maps you explore in Redfall, the second one opening up about halfway through the game. The only NPCs that you can encounter outside of enemies are tied-up civilians, and when they are rescued they’ll run behind a nearby wall and just vanish into thin air. Other corner-cutting tricks include almost no proper dialogue between your character and anyone else, presumably to keep costs down by not having to record separate performances for all four playable characters.
The only interesting aspect of the narrative is the lore itself. Arkane Austin has crafted an intriguing world, one that I think could be much more deeply mined. Much of the explanations behind the story’s events are to be found in collectables and audio logs. Audio logs, mind you, that you can’t listen to while moving around – nope, you have to stand there like an idiot listening to a tape recorder on a table. It’s a tape recorder, it’s meant to be bloody portable! Without these entirely optional chunks of exposition the main story missions only offer a barebones explanation for what’s happening, and presumably hope that players won’t question any of it. It’s so frustrating because when you look around you get a sense of something cool, and yet the developer never manages to use it to its fullest potential.
Even the four playable characters don’t get an explanation as to why they have supernatural abilities when nobody else does. They start the game with none, and then slowly gain them when levelling up. Jacob has a ghostly raven that can mark enemies. Why? Dunno. Why does he have a spectral sniper rifle as his ultimate ability? No idea. Layla can call in her vampire ex-boyfriend and summon up a magical umbrella that deflects attacks. How? Not explained, nor is the fact that her ex is seemingly the only “friendly” vampire in the whole game. Extremely vague hints get dropped in the main story, but that’s as close as the game ever gets to justifying the existence of your powers. At least the other two characters, Remi and Devinder, have technological explanations behind their skills.
In other words, every aspect of Redfall’s narrative falls flat on its face. Its main characters are generic, its NPCs are as lifeless as the undead vampires you kill and the overall storyline keeps hinting at potentially cool things that are never investigated properly and are conveyed through shitty cutscenes. As for the villains of the piece, the Vampire Gods now lording it over Redfall, they barely get any screentime until you face off against them and have fairly bog-standard motivations.
But surely Redfall should make up for everything in its gameplay. Arkane has crafted incredibly immersive-sim sandboxes that have delighted players by offering up heaps of cool powers and mechanics that bounce off of each other. Dishonored 2 is a masterclass in this, giving you access to incredible abilities and then combining it with some of the best level designs ever seen in a videogame. The result was massively replayable because you can tackle objectives in so many different ways. Even Deathloop, which was a much more streamlined version of Arkane’s prior work, gave you some cool tools to work with.
Alas, Redfall does none of this. During the opening mission you’re told that objectives can be tackled in different ways and then indicates this by saying you can assault the fire station by the front door, the back door or by going through the roof. And that’s the formula the game repeats for every other generic mission where you travel to a location, find an object and maybe shoot a few vampires. I say maybe because there are missions where I strolled across most of the map without running into anything, completed the objective and then fast travelled back. The game might block your progress using a locked door, which in Dishonored or Prey would be the cue to start scouring the environment for alternative routes or a cool way to use your powers to progress. The answer in Redfall is to take two steps to the right, jump up and then go through the hole in the roof.
A couple of fairly bland powers are at your command – I mostly played as Jacob so I could turn invisible and mark enemies – and you can sneak around, but there are no incentives to do anything other than going straight in and gunning everything down. It doesn’t help that Jacob’s skillset seems to delight in being useless. 20% extra headshot damage on humans? Well, that’s useless because they die in one shot to the head anyway. Or how about an upgrade that makes Jacob’s magical raven not just mark enemies but attack them? That’s dumb because the idea of the raven is to spot enemies so you can sneak through, but now the raven automatically attacks them, instantly putting them all on alert. Or how about improved melee damage? Again, useless because human enemies die in one gentle elbow tap from behind regardless, and that’s the only time you ever melee anything. This is the trend across all four playable characters: bland powers and dull upgrades that often don’t make much sense.
Redfall itself is split into two maps, the second coming about halfway through the game and also featuring much better mission designs, though that isn’t saying much. Both maps are largely empty zones for you to trek across, which does at least make sense thematically: you can’t expect a county taken over by cultists and vampires to be lively. However, from a gameplay perspective, it does make Redfall kind of boring to stroll through – there’s little of interest to find, nobody to interact with, and almost zero reason to explore anything that isn’t marked on your map.
The AI in Arkane’s past games has always been a little on the wonky side, but that’s been forgivable because the likes of Dishonored 2 provided so much creativity in its gameplay that the daft enemies felt more like playthings for you to experiment on. But Redfall doesn’t have that freedom to tackle every situation in a myriad of ways, which in turn throws the utterly stupendous stupidity of its AI into stark relief. These feckless idiots appear to need glasses as they’ll fail to spot you a few feet in front and off to the side of them, ignore their mates being gunned down, run backwards into combat, ignore cover completely, jog back and forth in the middle of the road and merrily run into the fire like they believe Vampire Jesus is going to save them. Fighting them is dull.
The vampires aren’t much better. They certainly cut imposing figures, often lurking on rooftops or levitating in the air. They have a peculiar habit of speaking to themselves though, which does somewhat take away from their mystique, especially since the game’s subtitles will often reveal them long before you can actually hear them. The standard vampire you face attacks using simple swipes, and either sprints or teleports to close the gap. Unfortunately, they also have a rather odd weakness: walking backwards and slightly to the left throws off their aim, for some reason. It’s a bit comical. But I do like the idea that once a vampire is wounded enough you have to get close and stake them in the heart, otherwise they regenerate health. It makes dealing with a few of them at a time more challenging.
In terms of vampire variants, there are only a few. There are Shrouds which are annoying to fight because they surround you with an impenetrable fog; there are Anglers which can grab you to drain your lifeforce; and there are Siphons which have rotating shields. All of them can be most effectively dealt with using the overpowered stake launcher weapon which can turn a vamp to dust in just one or two hits. If you opt for a more traditional shotgun or sniper rifle they can take a bit of punishment before going down, but otherwise don’t offer any interesting tactical situations – just find ’em and shoot ’em until dead. Well, deader.
There’s also the Rook which you might remember from the early previews of Redfall. This chunky vampire will come for you whenever you anger the vampire gods, which is to say by killing special vampires, completing missions and so on. The Rook is presented as this incredibly powerful foe who can summon bolts of red lighting, but in reality, he’s a big dumb brute with a few attacks. To kill him, you just shoot him a few times, like every other vampire in the game. That’s it. He’s easily cheesed by standing across from him behind a table or other object, so the only time he’s truly dangerous is when he turns up while you’re in the middle of something else.
Oh, and I have to give a special mention to Watchers. This type of vampire perches on the edge of rooftops and will alert nearby vampires of your presence, potentially ruining all of your stealthy creeping about. At least, that’s the idea. You see, Watchers emit a very narrow, very easily spotted beam of light from their eyes and the only way for them to spot you is for you to walk straight into that light. You can dance around the light directly in front of a Watcher and they will not see you. It’s stupid. It’s mind-blowingly stupid.
Okay, so combat is clearly crap. On the default difficulty, enemies can be taken out with one or two shots, the vampires aren’t very interesting to fight and the abilities you get are boring. Turning up the difficulty helps a little but it does nothing for the brain-dead AI except make them capable of absorbing a few more bullets. And the gunplay could at best be described as okay. But what about stealth? Does that make the game more enjoyable?
Sneaking around is as basic as it comes, right down to the lack of an actual take-down animation – you just smack ’em in the back. But to the game’s credit, it does get a little better in the second area because Redfall suddenly gets a few sparks of Arkane’s brilliance. A couple of missions have larger compounds that offer a couple of objectives and a few alternate routes. These glimmers of something better are the highlights of the whole game and I actually found myself having a little bit of fun during them, and during a couple of other visually cool sequences that play into the horror elements. But those sparkling moments also serve as a reminder that Arkane has done so much better, and can do so much better.
Redfall fancies itself as a bit of a Borderlands clone, dishing out a steady supply of rainbow-coloured guns boasting all the typical stats like damage, accuracy and rate of fire. Everybody and their nan seem to have been packing an armoury of firearms that would make most militaries jealous. While dead enemies don’t explode into gunfetti like the Borderlands games, there’s still plenty to be found, but the systems governing guns are weirdly designed. The typical idea is that you start by finding boring grey weapons and then as you level up you begin finding green, then the rarer blue, maybe some purples and then finally the legendary items that boast unique perks and look freaking awesome.
That’s the typical idea, anyway. Redfall goes about it a little differently, though, by chucking all manner of colours at you from the very start. In the first hour, I already have a few purples, legendary and more greens and blues than I knew what to do with. The only difference is that “rarer” guns have a few bonus perks, all of which are bog-standard stat increases. Other than this, rarity means almost nothing, and with just a couple of weapon variants it’s best to equip whatever has the bigger numbers.
Playing in co-op does at least offer something more enjoyable. Up to three other people can join your game, teaming up to stake vampires and loot everything that isn’t nailed down. There is some fun teamwork to be employed here, like one player petrifying a vampire with the UV gun while another smashes them into pieces. Or you can use Layla’s ability to create a magical lift to bounce another player up onto a roof so they can sneak in through a window and unlock the front door for everybody else. Again, it’s glimmers and glimpses of something better, and I do think that if you can get a few people together on Game Pass there’s some fun to be had in Redfall.
There are a couple of serious issues with the co-op though, mostly around how it handles progression, or how it doesn’t. Only the host’s mission progress will actually carry over. Everyone else will retain any weapons and experience they pick up, but any missions they complete won’t be remembered when they get back to their own campaign. That makes it very difficult for a group to properly play through the game because you have to negotiate who is going to be the host, or everyone has to agree to only play together.
You also can’t allow friends to just jump into your game at will. Whenever you fire up Redfall you have to choose between playing solo or co-op instead of a more seamless experience like other games provide.
It’s also worth noting that each character is separate in terms of progression, so if you want to swap over you have to start from the very beginning of the game again. I would have much rather had progress carry over, but that’s probably because the idea of playing through the 8-12 hour campaign three more times is not very appealing.
Glitches are fairly rampant in Redfall, with plenty of people reporting serious issues such as crashing. The good news is that it never crashed during my time with it. The bad news is that there were plenty of other bugs and issues, some funny and some downright bloody annoying. At one point an NPC back at base became haunted by a second model of himself floating just behind him stuck in a T-pose. That’s pretty fun, but what wasn’t funny was the same character also having an optional mission icon above his head at all times regardless of whether he had one or not, as well as a variety of mission icons getting stuck on my map even after I had completed them.
I’ve run into plenty of enemies stuck inside walls and other scenery, making them impossible to kill. On top of that, I found mission items that I couldn’t interact with, forcing a restart to get them working. And even then one of them had its interaction point several feet away from where it was sitting.
At one point the sky turned into incredibly bright white fog that made it difficult to play. If I climbed upwards even a little I would pass the event horizon and be completely blind.
Console players are having a far worse time with performance because they are capped at just 30fps, even on the Series X. An update enabling 60fps is promised for some nebulous time in the future, but for now, it seems to be struggling to maintain even 30fps with frequent drops and performance hiccups damaging an already feeble experience.
I opted to play the game on PC because I’m a selfish bastard and didn’t want to ruin my initial experience with Redfall. I intended on trying it out on my Series S but never did get around to it because I wasn’t having a good time already and didn’t see much point in adding to my gripes with the game. On high settings, my venerable 1080 ti actually handled it pretty well, though random frame drops did occur. Tweaking the settings didn’t seem to mitigate those drops, but they were never serious enough to really bother me. The options Redfall offers, though, are the barebones Unreal Engine 4 ones which aren’t really good enough. While smaller developers can get away with this, a triple-A title from the likes of Arkane should be offering a lot more in their PC ports.
The other issue console players face is trying to use a controller. You see, the vampires duke and teleport constantly, and when you aim down sights with a controller you lose a massive chunk of aim speed, making it hard to actually keep up. There’s very little aim assist to help out, and there’s no option to adjust the aim-down-sight speed in the menu. The result is this weird, clunky feel where you try to fire from the hip and miss or try to aim and miss anyway because the vampires are moving so quickly. The only option is to turn up the overall sensitivity, but that doesn’t really help especially when you take into account the sizable deadzone on the controller. Oh, and swapping between weapons is a pain in the arse on a controller because you have to cycle through the three weapons you have equipped. Heaps of other games on console have tackled this issue, like Destiny using a long press of the swap button or a radial menu like in Arkane’s own games.
I’ve come down hard on Redfall, but truthfully I don’t think it’s a terrible game. Some of the reviews out there seem hyperbolic, awarding scores that would usually be reserved for a game that straight-up doesn’t work or literally sets your machine on fire. No, it’s not that bad and there is fun to be had. But arguably Redfall is something worse: it’s dull. From its generic mission designs to its rote gunplay, from its static cutscenes to its lifeless characters, Redfall is a completely mediocre game from a company that has done so much better in the past.
And why is that? Arkane’s games have been critical darlings but they’ve always struggled to be financial hits. Deathloop felt like them trying to keep the idea of who they are as a studio alive while also making a more approachable game. Redfall seems like the next step, tapping into a more mainstream co-op looter-shooter, but sadly that seems to also mean squashing everything Arkane is known for.
Like a vampire sucking the blood from your veins, playing Redfall is a draining experience.
2 Comments Add yours
They can trash this game as much as they like, but the fact that you’re not forced to buy it and it’s on gamepass and me being playing the game for 58 hours thus far, is enough to say that it’s not as bad as some wants to make it out to be. Yes there’s some issues but after a recent patch there’s been a fair amount of improvement since. Most of the issues that some are complaining about I’m not experiencing at all, had two crashes over the past 2.5 weeks I’ve been playing and that’s it. In the mean time the total overreaction about this game as if it’s the only game with issues on launch date is insane. This is only a game and in the mean time we have people dying in a war between Russia/Ukraine omg.
Yeah, I’ve got like 8 hrs with Devindar, the world is barran. Phil has said Arkane Austin wants to support this game, I’m guessing there will be large updates on this, plus I wouldn’t be surprised if they add dlcs to it, expanding the world a little bit more, adding new missions, new world bosses etc