After more than 20 hours with Arkane Austin's latest Redfall, I came away incredibly frustrated and disappointed. From its earliest moments, Redfall fell flat with me. From the uninspired world building to the lackluster gunplay and brain-dead enemies, almost every aspect of Redfall was a miss.
Redfall is Arkane Austin's latest, and while it doesn't really fit neatly into one genre or the other, it really seems to want to straddle the line between immersive sims and co-op looter shooter. Taking place in the eponymous Massachusetts town, Redfall is swarming with Vampires and cultists after an experiment gone wrong literally sees the rich feed on the poor. It's a premise that feels at home in an eerie New England setting, and while initially I found the town charming, over time its cracks started to show.
Redfall's opening sets an impressive stage, despite the slideshow placeholder cutscenes, with the player waking up on a ferry that was meant to escape the new domain of the Vampire Gods. Walking off the boat and seeing the ocean parted around me in an impenetrable wall was a cool first impression, but it didn't do much from there to continue that early momentum.
As I mentioned in my review in progress last week, I really liked the coastal Massachusetts setting, but that Salem/Blair Witch vibe doesn't hold up once I realized just how empty and bland the two settings were. From empty houses that didn't really look like much care went into creating a realistic living environment to indoor settings that felt too small for the close quarters combat Redfall was trying to sell within those walls, the town makes me wonder why anyone stayed there - human and Vampire included.
Taking the role of one of four characters, Redfall sets you on the path of trying to uncover what exactly went on to cause the Vampire Apocalypse and, if possible, save the town from the Vampire Gods that now rampage its streets. It's a premise that from the very first trailer I was hooked on - I loved the character design and the powers they all seemed to exhibit.
I was particularly drawn to the aetherial umbrella and elevator lift that Layla would conjur in those trailers, absorbing projectiles and zapping Vamps. Jacob's suped up phantom sniper rifle is also a really cool ability that feels in keeping with his shadowy, recon character. However, in the moment to moment gameplay, none of these abilities felt all that impactful.
The umbrella was a dud more often than not, making me wonder why I would spend the animation frames using it time and time again when just firing my gun was much more effective. This is compounded when I think about my gameplay as Layla and realize I probably only used her incredibly lackluster ultimate ability fewer than five times. It just never felt powerful.
And honestly, the way enemies would respond to fights, I should have felt more powerful. From the Vampires that are pretty much one note in terms of how they attack to the cultists that never heard of cover tactics, Redfall's enemies are some of the dumbest performing I've encountered in a game. Shooting down whole swathes of Cultists takes nothing more than just running and gunning, never quite putting up a huge challenge.
There also isn't a real penalty for dying, either. Throughout the game I would find myself building up large quantities of currency which can be used to buy weapons (if they were worth it), refill ammo, or grab supplies like lock picks or med kits. Upon dying some of that currency gets taken, but there isn't a real death penalty like a reduction in stats or something to force a change in tactics. Instead, I would oftentimes find enemies in the same spots with their health exactly where I left it - damage dealt before death persisting after a respawn.
Redfall attempts to inject its Arkane immersive sim DNA into the open world co-op shooter, but it never quite stuck the landing. At first it was fun and novel to try to come up with alternate ways I could approach a house or situation. Seeing firepots and other hazards littered around the map would provide a new way to take out enemies that didn't always feel one note.
But the more and more I played, the more it felt hamfisted. Instead of the beautifully curated and handcrafted levels that offer so much freedom in games like Dishonored and Deathloop, Redfall just feels like a paint by numbers of immersive sims. This house has enemies, and those enemies just happen to be next to all the hazards this game can throw at me. Instead of it feeling organic to get the jump on a group of Cultists or Vampires, it felt routine, and after a while I just stopped looking for alternatives to running and gunning.
And it's a shame too, because the gunplay, while serviceable, just doesn't feel as good as other Unreal Engine powered shooters. Guns sounded flat and one note, and for a world with a ton of paranormal activity, the lack of real gun variety really let me down. Apart from the Stake Launcher and UV gun, everything was simple pistols, rifles, shotguns - where are the weird and wacky weapons like Prey's Glue Gun?
Loot itself never felt too impactful either, as the guns I'd pick up would just be marginally better than the last, just maybe at a different rarity. Simple and standard gun mechanics, such as the ability to hold my breath while lining up a sniper shot, are absent altogether - this is something video games solved over a decade ago.
None of the weapons ever felt like they had any weight to them, and I still for the life of me can't understand why I'm punching Vampires instead of staking every one I see? This is a huge let down, especially if I wanted to try my hand at the almost nonexistant stealth gameplay. Sneaking up on enemies is infinitely easier when those enemies are oftentimes too dumb to notice I'm there, even when I'm right in front of them.
There is so much left on the table here as well that could fuel the Vampire slayer fantasy. Shoving a stake through one of Redfall's Vampires is contextual and only pops up when a Vampire gets to low enough health. For a town ravaged by the beasts and with the ingenuity to build a gun that launches stakes at the creatures, why hasn't anyone bothered to just pick one up and use it? How cool it would have been to sneak up on a special vampire and stake it in the back, seeing the creature shrivel up in a shower of sparks and ash. Instead I just punch it in the back and more often than not the Vampire just doesn't know how to deal with it.
The only time the Vampires themselves felt like they were a threat was during the various Vampire nests that, while visually interesting, are just linear corridors of a few vampires protecting a heart. Deestroying the heart is a simple matter of interacting with a few points around it - something that gets old fast and kind of takes the spectacle out of the experience. it would have been so much more impactful to have to fight a boss vampire here versus just "destroying" a few tortured souls that are powering the heart by holding down a button.
The silver lining here is that there is always some great loot to be had. But even that starts to fall flat on its face as Redfall presents a timer to escape the collapsing nest, making it seem like there is some great penalty if I don't escape, such as losing the loot just gathered or dying altogether. However, I learned rather quickly there is no real penalty at all - and after a while I would just not care about the timer. I just looted until the world collapsed around me.
Redfall ultimately feels like stepping back in time. Visually, Redfall does not deserve to demand the level of hardware it is for Pc players. It looks thoroughly like a game pulled from the early 2010s, with Arkane's distinctive art style not helping here. NPCs look plasticky and fake throughout, and while the Vampires initially were interesting, after a while the general lack of variety is disheartening.
However, Redfall's biggest visual letdown is the town itself. From aggressive and distracting pop in so close to my field of view that it would see whole hedgerows pop in five feet away to the outrageously low resolution volumetric fog and lighting, Redfall misses on pretty much every visual mark. The shadows themselves are particularly offensive, with a constant flicker and stutter across the screen at every turn.
Redfall is also a stuttering nightmare, from traversal stutter that plagues the experience to framerates that just cannot stay stable.
I mentioned in my review in progress also that one of my biggest pet peeves of a game is if I feel like it's wasting my time. Redfall is a particularly big offender here. While it's definitely meant to play co-op, only the host player progresses any story, so while you might keep your items and experience gained joining a co-op session, if you have any plans on playing your own game on that character you'll be starting over. It's asinine that progress isn't shared - again, it's a co-op feature that has been solved already. How Redfall imposes that restriction on its players has to be down to the fact that Arkane either didn't have the time to implement this feature, or they are expecting players to replay this game as multiple characters.
Another huge time waster for me is the fact that once you progress beyond the first map you cannot go back to it even if you still have things to do. This forces a decision: continue the story on the new map, or willingly stay behind until everything is done. There's no real reason why you can't go back, either, other than just artificial gating of content. It makes me question why the two maps are made separate at the beginning, other than just limiting the load of the open world design I guess.
Functionally, there isn't anything really different between the two areas other than just the size of the map. Neighborhoods are still liberated by unlocking safe houses and doing the two missions that felt recycled throughout. Killing a Vampire God is also unlocked the same way, by gathering Underboss Skulls and unlocking that Vampire Gods domain. The boss fights themselves are nothing to call home about, either. The first boss was so laughably easy, especially with attack patterns that could be blocked by simply standing behind the indestructable pillars in the room, I just could not believe it in the end.
All of this is to say simply: Redfall is a bad video game. It's one that feels both underbaked and unfinished, releasing in a visually poor state loaded with bugs, lackluster gameplay and just a boring, empty world. Its redeeming qualities, from the diverse cast of characters to the initial premise of a trapped town swarming with Vampires, feel so underutilized when put up against the game's faults. I cannot recommend anyone spend time with Redfall, especially with Microsoft charging $70 for the title on Xbox or PC, and even on Game Pass I'd reccommend simply playing Arkane's other titles like Dishonored or Prey.
Full Disclosure: A copy of this title was provided by PR for the purposes of this review. Reviewed on PC.