I often look back on Dishonored, Prey, and Deathloop with varying degrees of adoration. Each of these titles takes concepts from the immersive sim genre and applies them to different contexts with differing execution. Dishonored’s stealth, Prey’s exploration, and Deathloop’s creativity are all examples of what Arkane Studios is able to achieve. Therefore, it’s very disappointing to see that Redfall lacks almost all of these aspects, which this review will cover.
Redfall tasks the player with ridding the titular town of its current vampire hosts and the humans that serve them. You can do this alone or with up to three other players in co-op. This is Arkane Austin’s attempt at a cooperative shooter after Arkane Lyon’s Deathloop introduced invasion-styled PvP. In comparison, Redfall’s cooperative gameplay is surprisingly basic in execution, and it’s only the first of its many problems.
To start on a more positive note, Redfall definitely kicks off in the right way. A lot of its immediate aesthetic is clearly borrowed from 80’s B-movie horror flicks. Just take a quick look at the game’s logo, and you’ll see some immediate similarities to John Carpenter’s Halloween. Redfall generally takes a more whimsical approach to its horror than anything serious, though. In fairness, that works very well and plays to Arkane’s strengths. This visual aesthetic is maintained throughout the game’s interface and presentation.
The basics of Redfall’s story are fairly simple to explain. Vampires have invaded the small town of Redfall and bewitched or imprisoned most of the townsfolk. But Layla, Devinder, Remi, and Jacob can fight back and make use of mystical abilities to deal with the bloodsuckers. The narrative goes to interesting places but doesn’t delve into the nature of the vampire invasion enough for my tastes. Redfall’s story instead feels like basic set dressing for a vampire hunting romp. There are moments where Arkane’s immersive sim background plays into enriching the story, like with notes and journal entries scattered around as well as conversations you can have with the townsfolk, but none of it is particularly interesting.
To progress in the story you’ll undertake main quests that you can tackle in whichever order you want. But don’t expect there to be much depth to the narrative. Redfall is clearly trying to go for a more basic gameplay-driven experience. So, from that point of view, it makes sense that some other aspects are a bit thin to compensate. However, that extra focus on the gameplay leaves the game’s problems with nowhere to hide. So, let’s start digging into the gameplay.
How do you like your stake
Redfall gives you the choice to play one of four characters: Layla, Devinder, Remi, and Jacob. Each character comes with their own set of abilities and small skill trees that allow you to flesh out their build. For example, Layla is a character with lots of mobility thanks to her Lift skill. This conjures a magical elevator that functions like a bounce pad. This gives her an easy way to get right up close to her enemies and climb up buildings for better views of the area. Then there’s Jacob, who is a stealthier character that can turn invisible and can conjure up a magical sniper, so stealthy play is more his style. On paper, this all sounds pretty good, but its execution is an entirely different story.
On first impressions, the gunplay is punchy and feels good, with fast movement allowing you to traverse the environment quickly. But Redfall’s combat is not deep or interesting enough to make each character’s play style feel all that special. No matter who you pick, you’ll likely play the game the exact same way by running up to enemies and shooting them in the face. The only real difference from character to character is the shiny special ability you’ve got access to on the left and right bumpers. Stealth isn’t even an option since there is no sneaky takedown for unaware enemies. And suppressed weapons don’t seem to work as they should half the time, meaning you’ll be forced into combat for nearly every encounter. Good gunplay can only take you so far, and every other element here simply doesn’t work well.
The skill trees for each character are really boring to work through, too. By killing enemies and completing quests, you’ll earn skill points to spend here. But each upgrade offers a tiny buff to what these abilities can do, so even if you unlock everything, your character doesn’t feel much different.
As far as weapons go, Redfall gives you the usual affair of handguns, shotguns, assault rifles, and sniper rifles. But there are some unique weapons, too. To specifically deal with vampires, you can use stake launchers, UV Beams, and Flare Guns. These are all relatively fun to use in their own right and the gunplay does have a punchy kineticism. Unfortunately, there is a Destiny-styled loot system at play here. White weapons are on the bottom end of the scale, while yellow signifies an “Unrivaled” status. Weapons also have a level attributed to them, which just mimics whichever level you currently have when you acquire them. This forces you to chuck away older weapons in favor of higher-level ones. And of course, each weapon you find has its own set of statistics with numbers that ultimately don’t mean very much.
The loot system tries to bring a lot of depth to a part of Redfall that doesn’t necessarily need it. The interesting parts of the game lie in Arkane’s unique level design, storytelling, and ability-centric gameplay that puts the player into unique situations. These are still relatively strong pillars in Redfall, albeit far weaker than the studio’s previous titles. Regardless, this loot system feels like an unnecessary element that’s been tacked on to that core experience, and it, unfortunately, drags the game down a lot.
I also have to mention the cooperative experience, which was extremely lackluster. Each character is clearly designed to support the others in some way. However, none of the abilities available to us proved to be useful. Then there’s the fact that the host is the only one that earns quest progression in the game. Other players will still gain weapons and experience, but they’ll have to start the story all over again if they want to go it alone. This makes the cooperative part of Redfall more annoying than fun. It doesn’t help that co-op also introduces a slew of extra glitches into the game.
Meet the vampires
Alright so the gameplay isn’t brilliant, but how about the vampires; they must be great right? Conceptually there are some cool ideas here, but those are quickly ruined by boring designs and baffling decisions. Enemies generally feel like limp, lifeless puppets wandering around on the streets. In the open world, you’ll sporadically encounter very small groups that never pose much of a threat. And when you find groups of larger enemies, you’ll quickly notice that the AI is struggling to take you on.
There aren’t even that many enemy types to fight against. And the differences that exist between these types amount to little since they can all be dispatched with a couple headshots. In a faster-paced FPS, this would be fine. But Redfall tries to present the vampire threat as overwhelming and extremely dangerous. It gives you tools to even the not-so-overwhelming odds, and encourages you to buddy up with other players to make the experience more complete. But that all just serves to undermine the threat even further.
On Dusk—which Redfall considers to be the normal difficulty—most run-of-the-mill enemies go down in two or three shots, which would be fine if the AI or enemy variety could still make them a threat. But the AI really struggles to be anything more than a walking, talking punching bag. And this poor AI makes vampires a non-issue. Vampires are able to deal more damage and conjure special abilities like shields while teleporting around the place. This technically makes them a bigger threat, but not enough to make them intimidating or all that fun to fight. They also go down very easily like every other enemy, and it makes you wonder how these guys could have taken over an entire town. Redfall does have some interesting boss encounters, but these are few and far between the rest of the game’s poor enemy design.
But above all else, the biggest problem I have with Redfall is its level design. This is an open-world game with two large areas to explore. But all the depth you may expect to find has been stretched thin across the game’s two maps. For the most part, you’ll be walking around on big empty roads with a handful of houses in which you can find loot. And when bigger enemy bases show up, they’re all extremely simple areas with barely any meaningful navigation or choice. There was one mission that gave me the option to go guns blazing or take it slow and blend in with the locals, but going slow still resulted in a firefight thanks to the struggling AI. And since enemies pose little to no threat, there’s no point in taking a different route in these areas anyway.
There’s plenty of other content to do in Redfall that range from side missions to simple exploration, and it all rewards you with new weapons and money to restock your supplies. But that core loop is never all that satisfying, so engaging with that side content and dealing with the mediocre gameplay makes it all feel like a chore. Unfortunately, Redfall’s gameplay commits a far bigger sin than any vampire could hope to make, and that’s the crime of sheer boredom.
Redfall’s technical problems are worth mentioning as well since my gaming PC is by no means the best in class (Intel i7-7700, RTX 2070 Super, 32GB DDR4 RAM). But it’s not a machine that struggles to run most games released to this day. For comparison’s sake, Dead Island 2 ran almost perfectly for me at all times. Redfall does not run well at all no matter what graphical settings I chose. This could be resolved by a patch post-release but it’s still a sign of some serious optimization issues. Since plenty of other aspects in Redfall seem to have been extremely rushed, it’s sad that the PC port’s overall performance may also have felt these effects.
It’s a bizarre problem as well since Redfall is by no means a gorgeous game. Character models vary wildly in quality. The player characters look good, but everyone else looks like they were sculpted with cheap plastic, and it hurts the overall look of the game. Then there are issues with pop-in, blurry textures, and a frame rate that constantly dips below 30. All in all, Redfall is not a great looking game, which usually means it should at least run fairly well. Somehow neither the graphics nor the performance is good enough.
Apart from bad peformance, Redfall is also prone to crashing and likes to kick me out of multiplayer lobbies. It’s also worth mentioning that the co-op experience made the game’s performance far worse at times. And that, combined with the AI’s inability to deal with more than one player, plus the dozens of glitches throughout, make Redfall a true mess. You’re sure to have fun with a friend if you like broken cooperative experiences, but that smile will likely fade away quickly.
A disappointingly dull experience
After playing Redfall, it’s hard to have much to say about it that reads positively. But there are brief aspects that work well. The trademark style of its developer, somewhat satisfying weapons, and a world that you can mess around in with friends for a handful of hours are what it delivers. Of course with that main course, you’re also getting sides of an underwhelming story, glitches galore, and multiple gameplay systems that don’t add much.
Redfall is a tremendously disappointing affair from Arkane Austin. This is especially sad to see from a developer that has constantly evolved its craft through a series of successful releases. It’s sad then that this is perhaps Arkane Studios’ least impressive title to date. At best, it’s a boring shooter that you can liven up with three other friends. But at its worst, Redfall is a mess of generic ideas that never coalesce into anything appealing.