‘Redfall’ review: low stakes action
Redfall is a disappointment. Arkane’s latest is full of fun characters, heartbreaking tiny stories and, well, vampires. Sadly, the finished product feels compromised, not quite delivering on either the co-op shooter they’re trying to make or the solo Arkane adventure that fans of the studio might be hoping to dig into.
This doesn’t mean it isn’t fun in places. Last month, press including myself got a 90-minute preview of the game and it was a blast. However, the longer I spend with Redfall, the more its flaws become apparent.
The opening is classic Arkane. You’re on a boat full of dead people and while it’s clear what has happened – it’s vampires, the answer to pretty much every bad situation in this game is vampires – but cautiously moving around the boat reveals several details that will claw at your intestines. There are posters for missing kids, a corpse clutching a note from his vampire neighbour telling him he’s next, and the diary of the boat’s captain talking about how this is the last time he’ll come back to Redfall, but he has to try and save who he can.
His body, adorned with a little captain’s hat, lies a few feet away.
The vibe is very Buffy the Vampire Slayer, horror that isn’t too intense but has a little bite. There are plenty of tragic moments, most of them successful through the work of Redfall’s writers and design teams. Sadly, the town of Redfall often feels more like a facsimile than a real place. Arkane (both their Lyon and Austin) are the masters at creating a world and making it feel lived in, but here it feels like they had scoping issues: several doors are locked, but there are many more that are merely textures and can’t be interacted with at all. This feels reasonable for a game with the scale of Redfall, but it does feel like a compromise from the studio that brought us the brilliant, doomed, Talos 1 space station in Prey. There’s Arkane gold here, but you have to pan for it amongst identikit streets and woodlands that might up the play area.
The little nuggets are worth it though. A TV repair shop filled with the whispering voices of a vampire god is unlikely to appear in a Lonely Planet travel guide for Redfall but is a terrifying treat for horror fans. A queer-owned record store feels like the sort of place you might want to actually visit, if it weren’t for the bloodied smears. Throughout it all, there are a variety of notes to find, scrawled memos of people wondering why colleagues aren’t showing up to work, desperate folk trying to come to terms with their new reality. These are miles ahead of blooded “cut off their limbs” graffiti or voice notes of future corpses inexplicably recording their final moments for posterity.
One house I broke into to loot was vampire-safe, with UV lights securing the windows and stakes and weaponry littered around. But there were also notes written from the house’s occupant, things they wanted to discuss with their therapist. These, like many things in Redfall, were wryly humorous and absolutely devastating, as they talked about how the world was ending and they were keen to talk to their therapist about it. How they were doing their best but it seemed like the world was ending and, then, a final note saying it was time for them to give up next to a bottle of prescription meds. These little parts are where the spirit of Arkane is alive and well.
Redfall integrates verticality into the map and combat, but the only way to find your objectives within a yellow circle is with a directional arrow. This arrow doesn’t indicate elevation, so if you’re in an apartment building or any other multistory location it could be a long time before you find what you’re looking for.
“It could be a long time before you find what you’re looking for” is also a complaint that could be levelled at the game’s inventory system. As you’re picking up weapons from all over the place, you’ll constantly be trying to empty out your rucksack by holding G to dismantle weapons. This is sluggish and irritating at the best of times, but when you’ve been trying to avoid it (because it’s sluggish and irritating) and accidentally now have 30+ weapons to scrap, you’ll wish for a dismantle-all button. This sort of thing is often added in post-launch patches, so I hope this is a tweak that makes it into Redfall sooner rather than later.
The game’s structure has a lot in common with the Far Cry games, and the sprawling mission select screen that lets you attack different branches of a mystery at will and has you focusing on one ominous vampire lord at a time feels a lot like Far Cry 5 is a real inspiration. However, it does hurt the game’s Arkane-ness, as leaving each map after the story is done will bluntly tell you that there’s no way to return to where you’re currently at. This means if you wanted to focus on the story and come back to explore later that’s not going to be possible, and it was one of the biggest irritants with Redfall.
Vampires are the real villains here, but there are plenty of other baddies to get to grips with. Vampire cultists roam the streets, poorly armed and organised, largely serving as early warning devices for the multitude of different vampires. Then you’ve got Bellwether, a private security outfit that starts roaming the streets under orders to destroy all the evidence within Redfall. These guys will, inexplicably, attack you on site without any real story explanation, but after the first time you meet them you’ll often treat them with the respect they deserve, amped-up combat monsters that can shred you if you’re caught unaware.
However, the main event is those vampires. The vampires have tremendous abilities, A basic vampire can teleport to you and is faster, stronger and tougher than the player. They’re also durable, and impossible to kill with conventional firearms. To kill a vampire, you’ll have to get up close and stake them, or get them with environmental damage, whether that’s shooting them with a flare gun or shooting a nearby power box.
This is just a basic vampire. There are several variants, each packing additional abilities that make them uniquely difficult to handle. These give the combat punch, something it desperately needs. While The gunplay in Redfall is better than in many of Arkane’s games, but because there’s a lot more combat compared to, say, Prey or Dishonored, it starts to feel samey very quickly.
Shooting is fine. Many weapons lack the proper punch and while your mileage may vary I chose to tackle most of the game with a stake launcher, a long-range weapon capable of easily putting down most creatures with a single spring-loaded stake. Factor in the fact that you’re constantly chopping and changing weapons to try and find something level appropriate and it can be a challenge just to get a weapon that will kill a vampire cleanly, especially when you factor in the fact that while many of your guns have a stake affixed to the front for taking out vampires in a down-but-not-out state, certain elements of the game’s arsenal, like the pistol, do not. It’s possible to have nothing equipped that can actually stake a vampire and because the game has no pause function even in single-player, you’re in real trouble at this point.
The four individual characters all have some abilities to make them more interesting. I played as Dev, a cryptid hunter who can teleport, but mostly I just enjoyed his electric spear which has great for zapping enemies to death.
Weapon design is on point. An early shotgun has a stake mounted to the front – for the vampires, obviously – and a spent shell in the holder. These are weapons that have been use, often unsuccessfully before they reach your hands – to keep people alive. This is reflected in their design, they’re scrappy things, hastily modified to fit their new purpose. Later you get some silly bits of tech – an electric pistol that zips and zaps, or even a big UV Beam that can petrify vampires, but they all look the part. However, iron sights in the game are uniformly terrible, chunky iron bracketing that both looks silly and is hard to use to actually hit anything.
While a lot of people have fussed about how the game is launching with only a 30FPS mode, this hasn’t impacted things much. Movement feels quite sluggish in general, but considering a lot of fights are in built-up areas, it actually comes together to create a feeling of claustrophobia. This is heightened hugely the first time you stagger unaware into a vampire nest and find yourself toe to toe with 20 powerful vampires at once, which gives the game a taut survival horror feeling that is desperately missing from most of Redfall’s combat.
Also, in a bizarre turn there are stealth kills in the game if you sneak up on an enemy but rather than an actual animation, you just bat them with your elbow and they die instantly. It feels like a step back, but it also just feels cheap, like a corner that was cut. Do this to a vampire and it feels particularly odd, as you elbow a vampire from behind and they turn to dust. While it’s possible there’s a mix of holy water and garlic smeared across your elbow and you hit their pressure point, the most likely explanation is just that it’s a very poorly done stealth system, something I actively tried to avoid interacting with for most of the game’s 15-hour runtime.
I felt much more positively about the game’s character work and enjoyed most of the interactions that happened with both my playable character, but also the people you interact with in Redfall’s safehouse areas. Not everyone lands, but on the whole they all feel like pulp heroes.
I also fell quite hard for Redfall’s soundscape. Part of this is the cracking soundtrack, lots of electronic beats that capture the mood perfectly. But it’s also just how gross everything sounds, whether it’s the whispering vampiric threats, barks of the game’s more human enemies or even the wet slurping and chomping that tells you there’s a vampire somewhere getting a snack.
If we were going on sound alone, Redfall would be a straight game-of-the-year contender. Unfortunately, while Redfall’s world is rich, the experience of playing it is far from it. Short timeframes meant that I didn’t get a chance to play the co-op mode which might feel a little more interesting, but if that was the case it would merely be a bandaid slapped across the fact that Redfall simply isn’t very fun to play.
Star Wars Jedi: Survivor is out now for PC and Xbox Series X|S. This review was played on PC.
Redfall squanders the potential of its core premise and the world that has been built around it with uninspiring shootouts and a fairly formulaic structure. Interesting characters and a pulsing soundtrack help matters, but when a shooting game isn’t fun to play there’s a limit to what else you can do.
- Excellent soundtrack
- Fun characters
- It actually feels like Star Wars
- Weak shooting
- Incomplete world
- Feels like corners were cut during production
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