Arkane Studios is one of the more unique AAA developers in modern gaming. A lot of their releases tend to lean more towards immersive sim experiences that allow players an impressive level of freedom and expression with extensive gameplay mechanics. The fantastic Dishonored franchise and the often misunderstood Prey remake represent Arkane at its creative and mechanical peak. Unfortunately, being unique in the gaming industry doesn’t always lead to successful sales numbers. Deathloop was noticeably more streamlined in order to appeal to more players with dumbed-down AI, less complex level designs, and a multiplayer aspect that does more to distract engagement rather than nurture it.
Enter Redfall, Arkane’s next attempt at trying to chase trending elements at the cost of nearly everything that made the studio and its games special in the first place. As a shooter, it’s janky, weightless, and systematically mundane. As a looter, it’s unrewarding, unengaging, and missing key features that are supposed to keep players wanting to come back for more. Exploring an open world riddled with cultists and vampires from Arkane themselves sounds like an amazing time to be had. Unfortunately, it’s all just drained of any life force.
What a Bunch of Suckers
Redfall didn’t have the best chances leading up to its final release. With news that it’ll launch at only 30 fps for Xbox consoles with a patch aiming to improve performance coming at a later date, the public wasn’t exactly lining up for Microsoft’s next big first-party exclusive. There’s also the caveat that the player is always required to be in an online connection even if opting to go for a single-player run. Again, with a patch coming later down the line targeting to remove this unnecessary restriction. Underwhelming gameplay previews with the general impression being “let’s see how much they patch it all up for the release date” had any semblance of hype die down in an instant. With PlayStation hitting one home run after another with their exclusive titles, Xbox is in desperate need of a hit. Something which Redfall doesn’t even come close to being.
The game is set in the fictional island town of Redfall, Massachusetts where you pick between four characters who each have their own special abilities to fight against a legion of vampires and their army of human cultists. You don’t really understand what’s going on and how everything turned upside down. You’ll be spending most of the campaign chasing down these questions and trying to unsolve the mystery yourself.
The game’s opening actually painted a very optimistic image for me to hold on to. You wake up in a crashed ship only to find out that the vampires created an ocean wall that blocks off Redfall from the rest of the world. It’s an impressive visual creation and it was something I thought was going to hold through the entire campaign. Sadly, it never reached that ceiling again.
The storytelling leaves much to be desired. With Redfall being an open-world game, there will obviously be a lot of notes scattered around. Normally, these act as supplementary material to the main narrative that is presented to the player. However, a lot of Redfall’s story beats come from these notes that can easily be missed by an average player. It also doesn’t help that when reading through most of them, there’s not a lot of interesting material to hold on to.
Story presentation doesn’t help as well. Arkane opted to go for a slideshow-type animation when it comes to Redfall’s cutscenes. You can see your own character and the customization you placed on them in these slideshows which is admittedly cool, but they lack the artistic impact that I feel like the developers were going for. Ultimately, they end up being uninteresting. A huge shame given how Arkane has already proven themselves to be masters at direct and indirect storytelling with the interesting worlds they’ve built with their earlier titles.
Gone are the moral choices of Dishonored that affect the world in subtle ways or the thought-provoking concepts Prey presented as you navigate your way through a tightly designed play area. You just have an empty town with not much else to do other than run around, kill the occasional enemy, and mindlessly spam the loot button.
I found myself feeling disconnected from the world of Redfall—something which I never thought I’d be able to say with an Arkane game. All you have to do is go to the mission board, select a main quest, go out, kill or collect something, come back and do it again. Rinse and repeat. Side missions are also accomplished in the same way. Sprinkled throughout the open world are safehouses you can “liberate” to act as fast travel points. You progress through the story enough times until you get to fight one of the Vampire bosses. That’s pretty much it.
In terms of visuals, Redfall isn’t much of a looker either. What was touted as a “Far Cry with vampires” made the entire concept really interesting. Instead of capturing the impressive visuals and satisfying moment-to-moment large-scale gameplay of Ubisoft’s infamous franchise, Arkane seemingly got inspired by the bland open-world design that has plagued the Farcry games for so long already.
Arkane has always had a very distinct visual identity when it comes to designing their game worlds. They may not be powerhouses in texture work or environmental density and detail, but games like Dishonored 1, 2, and even Deathloop had beautiful art styles that added so much character to the world. Redfall lacks any visual creativity and strength. A ton of texture pop-ins, disappearing characters, pixelated outlines and shadows, and inconsistent lighting are just a few of what you have to fight through other than the enemies themselves.
Technical performance is very much a mixed bag as well. I played Redfall on a ROG Flow X16 with a ROG XG Mobile eGPU. A beast of a gaming laptop. However, even if turning down my settings all the way to low-medium, the game struggled to maintain a stable framerate that bounces between 40-50 fps. Stuttering and geographical pop-ins were evident. This didn’t make any sense given how the visuals on display don’t really justify Redfall running at such a poor state. Clearly, this is an optimization issue and the final release needed to be pushed back for further polishing.
Not Much at Stake
Gameplay in Redfall feels weightless in comparison to other shooters. Animation quality lacks the proper personality to have each gun be its own distinct utility—which is so important given that most of what you’ll be doing in Redfall is running around and shooting people in the face.
This might be the first time I’ll recommend that you keep the “screen shake” option on because as soon as you turn that off and start sprinting, you’ll feel like your character is just gliding through the levels with no legs.
This lack of digital physicality also extends to lackluster combat. Aiming feels especially sluggish with a controller. After switching over to a mouse, the acceleration made it hard to be precise. You have to play around with the options to find your comfort. Going for a headshot is satisfying with the crunchy sound cue and high numbers floating in the air but these can only go so far. With games like Destiny 2, Modern Warfare, Far Cry, and Borderlands making shooting a gun feel so satisfying, it leaves Redfall’s gunplay feeling so much more dated than it actually is.
The very simplistic and easily exploitable enemy AI also doesn’t do the game any favors. Far too often, they find themselves tuck in the terrain, unable to go through doors, or just standing around in the open begging for a bullet to the face. I never had a moment where I needed to be creative with my skills or mechanical capabilities because combat sequences just boil down to a very simple point-and-shoot.
The vampires themselves are built up to be intimidating adversaries but then you can just spot them just standing around all around the world. They can be taken down with just a couple of bullets. The only difference they have with the normal human cultist enemies is that they sometimes teleport and you have to stab a stick through their heart to completely defeat them. The first few moments where they just hide around corners can get creepy but they easily lose their sense of presence after the first couple of encounters.
Another missed opportunity given that a lot of the special skills each playable character has are amusing to play around with. I chose Layla Ellison, a university student who can summon a damage-absorbing umbrella that she can blast enemies with, an old elevator to uplift herself and her allies into the air and call upon the ghost of her vampire ex-boyfriend to have at it with the enemies (yes, you read that right). It’s all very fun to play around with. It’s just a shame that everything else that surrounds the combat system doesn’t have the same amount of personality to be engaging enough.
For progression, you’re given a skill tree in which you can choose between upgrades whether it be active buffs to your existing abilities or a passive improvement over your utilities or health. It’s what you can expect out of any shooter RPG.
But wait, what about coop? Any experience can be made better with friends right? To a certain extent, yes. It is fun to run around Redfall with a buddy and mow down vampires but most of the entertainment comes from the technical issues that arise more than the actual gameplay itself.
During our coop sessions, we saw each other’s character models clip through the floor, get stuck on geometry which required a hard reset, and have animations that aren’t in line with our actual gameplay inputs. There’s also no drop-in-drop-out coop. You have to exit to the main menu to ready up together and then load into the world itself. What makes all of this worse is that story progression only applies to the host. If anything, this discourages coop play more than the game suggests.
Final Verdict – 6/10
Funnily enough, the game got infinitely more enjoyable as soon as I started looking at it with the idea that what if Stephen King’s “Salem’s Lot” was made by the folks behind Duke Nukem, Sharknado, or even The Expendables? It’s just a dumb cheesy 80s B movie that I can mindlessly plow through.
When enemies started taunting me with lines like “My teeth are a poison. My teeth are a cure” and “Let me have a taste blood bag,” I’ll admit that I did let out a chuckle here and there. This leads me to my main point: there is so much fun to be had in Redfall. The foundations are already there. The personality is just begging to come out but it never fully commits to the bit.
It also came to a point where I thought to myself that I shouldn’t be “forcing the fun” in an Arkane game. A studio that is known to produce quality work. For every entertaining line spoken, there’s a technical bug popping out. For every opportunity where an area can tell a story, it just becomes an empty space.
Redfall is all the more disappointing given that the entire concept of the game sounds like something I would love to play for hours on end. I know how talented the folks are at Arkane. They were easily one of my favorite studios. I absolutely adored how faithful they are to their identity and their own vision. Sure, sometimes it would create niche experiences that aren’t easily marketable to the mainstream audience, but it at least avoids creating products like Redfall which seems like it was crushed under the weight of trying to be something it desperately doesn’t want to be.
This review was made via a PC game code provided by the publisher.