Redfall review: Not dreadful, but a far cry from Arkane’s

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Redfall Review Redfall Review: Not Dreadful, But A Far Cry From Arkane'S

Arkane’s vampire-hunting FPS Redfall is finally here, but can the studio take a bite out of the crowded open world game market? Luke headed to a quaint middle-American town overrun with bloodsucking freaks to find out…

Redfall is such an almost, in… well, almost every regard. It’s difficult to point to one thing that Arkane’s latest game does particularly well, and despite some neat ideas, Redfall stumbles off the starting block by relying on systems and structures that have felt tired and played out in open world gaming for some time already, meaning that it can’t help but feel rather dated from the get-go. There’s certainly some fun to be had here, with some interesting and satisfying weapons and abilities with which to wreak havoc on the toothy terrors that infest the town, but with no shortage of awkward design decisions holding it back, Redfall isn’t even close to being in the same league as the modern classics that drove Arkane towards the top of the Xbox Game Studios tier list, and that’s perhaps the greatest disappointment here — we know that Arkane is better than this.

Redfall: A far cry from Arkane’s best work

The town of Redfall feels pretty little by open world standards, and although it’s quite tightly packed with points of interest, the reason for this somewhat small map becomes apparent at around the halfway point of the game. After felling the first of the four vampire gods, you’ll set off from the Commons to continue your adventure in the outskirts of Redfall at Burial Point — a completely separate and slightly larger map, but with no option to travel between the two districts. This makes this transition a Burial Point of no return, so heading to the second map forfeits any outstanding quests, collectables, or achievements tied to the Commons, meaning they need to be picked up on another playthrough or by joining a co-op host who is still in the first area. This is such a no-no in an open world game, and while the narrative of having the crew of survivors move from the initial base camp at the fire station to the second in Burial Point attempts to hand-wave this move, there’s no reason we couldn’t return to the Commons and just have the base locked down or repopulated with generic NPCs… it’s not like the area was totally overrun or razed or anything, so the inability to go back there at all just feels totally arbitrary.

While it’s true that both maps do feel quite dense due to having a lot of waypoints and activities crammed into relatively small areas, you need look no further than the safehouse missions to see just how shallow Redfall’s exploration aspect is. To clear out each neighbourhood, you need to find a suitable safehouse location and power it up with a nearby generator (occasionally gated behind a simple task or puzzle), then complete all of the area’s optional mission. No, that isn’t a typo — each region has just one short (and generic) side mission to complete before you can hunt down and kill a nearby named mini-boss to be done with the area. With just five neighbourhoods on the first map and a few more on the second, you can have these finished in no time, not that securing an area even seems to do anything beyond unlocking the ability for the safehouse to occasionally offer an extra item for sale. This means all that is left beside the main missions is general exploration — which can lead to some neat environmental storytelling moments, but more often than not takes you to the same kinds of deserted, barren buildings with just a few bits of junk to scoop up — and the collectables, with 100 Grave Locks scattered all over the two maps, their distinctive glow and hum when you get near being the only clue you get as to their locations.

Redfall Review Xbox
That’s the idea, at least, but good luck trying to locate these things based purely on sound. Redfall is a very busy game in terms of audio, and the sheer amount of sonic clutter makes things needlessly difficult. At any given time, there’s likely some background music, creepy ambient noises, character chatter from the heroes, enemies, and nearby NPCs, environmental crackles and drones, and whatever else. With no mini-map or radar to help pinpoint enemies, this wall of noise can make finding threats a pain, and the first indication of where they might be often comes in the form of a positional damage marker when you eat a hit, which is far from ideal. Chatter is also constant, whether it’s the player character endlessly repeating their same few lines about how great they are or vampires wittering on about nothing nearby, and the former gets even worse in co-op. We jumped in for a few hours of duo play and I quickly lost track of just how many times Jacob asked Layla how she summoned her mystic elevator — quite why her powers are apparently so unusual to someone accompanied by a spectral raven is another question entirely, too. Everyone in Redfall just seems completely clueless, with Jacob surprised by the operations of his former employer Bellwether, while Layla is apparently oblivious to Aevum, the firm whose clinical tests gave her powers in the first place, and it all just feels very weird and disjointed, like these characters aren’t even really part of this world at all… pretty much the opposite of what Arkane typically does so very well.

There’s not really much to the broader narrative in the first place, which just makes our heroes having their heads in the clouds all the stranger. A bunch of scientists got greedy when researching illness prevention and life extension, bleeding an invaluable test subject dry like metaphorical vampires while also literally bleeding them dry to turn them into actual vampires… thankfully it stops short of suggesting that perhaps we were the real vampires all along, but the setup is literally that simple, and the entire game is just about tracking down and defeating these self-proclaimed vampire gods to free Redfall from their grasp. There’s a little more in terms of background and exposition as you hunt them down and find out who they used to be to learn how to beat each of them, but again, that’s largely oversimplified to just tell you that they were nasty people you shouldn’t feel bad about killing, eventually giving you a glowing MacGuffin that lets you into their lair for one of the game’s uniformly weak boss battles. The journey is far better than the destination, at least, although each is little more than a stepping stone on the way to defeating The Black Sun, the powerful vamp who blocked out Redfall’s sun, creating its largely pointless night/night cycle.

Redfall Review Xbox
There is at least a decent variety to the rank-and-file bloodsuckers, although just because they are interesting doesn’t necessarily make them all that much fun to fight. Anglers in particular are a nuisance, especially solo, and if they latch onto you while you’re reloading or switching weapons and you’re unable to hurt them enough to break their hold, they chunk you for huge damage with their bite and leave you out in the open and a sitting duck at low health, so they might as well just kill you outright instead. Siphons being able to draw your blood at range makes them another irritating foe, especially when encountered in more open areas as breaking line of sight seems to be the only way to stop them from bleeding you dry. Shrouds limit your visibility to a tiny area, leading to often getting tagged from outside the darkness that follows you around, making it extremely hard to effectively fight back… the one in the final boss encounter which has instant death drops is especially infuriating. The Rook is pretty fun to fight as he hits like a truck and has a few tricks up his sleeve which don’t feel as much like dirty play as his fanged friends, but regular vampires are quickly defanged once you realise that you can simply sidestep pretty much everything they do, trivialising any encounter unless they come in numbers or with backup of other kinds. Some enemies also get weird spinning energy shields that look like something out of Destiny and really don’t fit the vampire flavour, not to mention that they’re just as annoying here as when waiting to take your shot on a Vex Hydra in Bungie’s game.

Then you have human adversaries, and given that they probably make up the majority of the enemies you’ll be fighting, they’re especially poor. There seems little difference between the cultists taking up arms for the first time in the name of their new undead gods and the supposedly trained PMC soldiers of Bellwether, and both are equally gormless. They’ll pop off shotgun shots from a couple of blocks away, run around aimlessly waiting to get picked off, jog merrily into hazards and obvious killzones, and get distracted by other enemies mid-fight and turn their backs on you for easy kills… and all of this idiocy lulls you into a false sense of security for when they suddenly decide to have AI that isn’t horrendous and an entire firing squad tags you in perfect unison from downtown with marksman’s precision, dropping you to near-death with one unexpected island of efficiency in a sea of ineptitude. There’s not much feedback to taking damage either, so it’s easy to get quite low without even noticing, especially when one or two enemies actually show up, at which point any such spark of decent opposition will likely send you back to the nearest safehouse to lick your wounds.

Redfall Review Xbox
It must be said, though, that you do have a lot of fun toys at your disposal for chewing through the cultists, soldiers, and vamps. Each character definitely feels unique and has some useful kit, although Arkane’s claims that multiple players could bring totally different versions of the same hero to a team only really holds up at lower levels. By the time you hit the level cap of 40 (which will likely be towards the end of a second playthrough), you’d have enough skill points to fully invest in all three of your character’s abilities, meaning the only real distinction between them would be the extra minor perks they’d taken and their weapon loadouts, which we’ll get to in a moment. Many of the abilities really come online in co-op, so while Layla’s lift is always handy solo, being able to drop one for a buddy to scoop them out of danger or offer them a newvantage point or route around a hazard is even better (as is placing them in doorways or small rooms to trap allies in ceilings, should you be fond of the odd bit of trolling). We did run into some odd issues with co-op scaling, though — a higher-level player joining a lower one seemed to work as intended (moderate challenge for host, trivial for overpowered guest), but doing it the other way around appeared to set enemies to the lower level and both characters to the higher level, meaning both of us were able to stroll through densely-packed vampire nests one-shotting everything in sight, even though these dens should actually have been pretty scary, especially for poor old Tom, who was about half my level at the time.

Onto weapons now, and while types are a little limited, what’s there is undeniably fun to use and they typically feel great. Shotguns are nice and meaty, rifles are snappy and satisfying, and even handguns can come in clutch, but it’s the special weapon types distinct to Redfall that are most enjoyable. The stake launcher is a ludicrously powerful way of dealing with vampires at long distances (these can usually one- or two-tap any non-boss vamp), while the UV beam lets you petrify bloodsuckers to then shatter them for easy kills, either with a focused beam to quickly take one enemy out of the fight, or with its hip-fire spread slowly freezing a larger group. Top-end gear is here known as ‘Unrivalled,’ but that’s a bit of a misnomer — yes, some of it can roll with unique perks and some certainly feel like best-in-class options, but only for a few levels. Power creep is frustratingly fast in Redfall, meaning you might only just be getting to grips with your new favourite weapon when something less exciting drops a level or two later that manages to easily rival the Unrivalled. You can’t get too precious about these weapons when they stop being useful so quickly, although they’re hardly in short supply and are also rivalled by… well, themselves. I got three different versions of the wonderfully-named Pacific Grim special shotgun in the course of one playthrough and saw enough repeats of others that I feel like I probably saw most, if not all, of these special weapons, but it never felt good having to put one in the bin when a common counterpart dropped that outclassed an Unrivalled weapon before I’d even had a chance to try it out properly.

Redfall Review Xbox
This speedy power creep also leads us to question how this kind of light RPG/gear score-style system actually benefits Redfall as an experience — it just seems to create extra busywork and isn’t really going anywhere with no endgame to speak of beyond simply replaying the campaign or joining others to repeat stuff in co-op. As long as your gear is at level, you’ll always be doing around the same kind of damage output, so this feels like an extra system for the sake of it, even gatekeeping a lot of the power fantasy until the tail end of the campaign or later. Like so many of Redfall’s concepts and mechanics, this feels like it detracts rather than adds, and unless we end up seeing some post-launch endgame content which would actually require gearing up, it’s hard to see what merit this system really has. Similarly underbaked is the Nests mechanic, presented as a set of procedurally generated mini-dungeons popping up at random on each map to add replayability and variety. In reality, though, the pool of possible modifiers and layouts is so limited that just in clearing out the few that appear on the map when they’re first introduced, you’ll likely have seen everything they have to offer — having to tackle later ones just to prevent their expanding areas of influence buffing vampires in key missions or locations can be a chore as a result, although that final 60-second loot dash as you try and find the exit is pretty entertaining, even if there’s no penalty for failing to escape on time so you can afford to just get greedy.

Much better is the way general ‘junk’ loot is handled, deftly dodging the usual open world inventory menu full of miscellaneous trash by having everything of use that you find instantly just converted into Resources as a currency, with values depending on any given item’s scarcity and usefulness in the current crisis. If you’re used to picking shelves clean in the likes of Fallout or Elder Scrolls games, what you can actually take will seem extremely arbitrary here, with Redfall letting you loot certain objects but not almost identical ones, rummage through some containers but not the vast majority of cupboards or boxes, and so on. Inventory limits are even stranger, letting you stuff your pack with up to 40 weapons and trinkets, yet restricting you to carrying just three lockpicks. Meanwhile, any health-restoring items pilfered besides medkits are simply eaten on the spot whether you need them or not, rather than being able to save them for later or convert them into Resources while not needed. It’s just another in a string of odd design decisions in Redfall and feels like it goes against the spirit of looting everything you can to fuel the anti-vamp resistance, with our so-called heroes selfishly scoffing snacks and needlessly chugging drinks while survivors waste away in poorly-stocked basements just around the corner.

Redfall Review Xbox
We should really address the vampire elephant in the room and talk about Redfall’s lack of a Performance mode at launch. I’m not about to go full Lemongrab and screech about how unacceptable that is, but I have to say that I haven’t seen anything in the game that really justifies that 30fps cap. Redfall looks good rather than great, its maps are much smaller than those of similar games that run way better, and there are still issues with texture pop-in (often loading very late) even now. Worse, it’s not even like it’s a rock-solid 30, with dips and stuttering not uncommon, and you’ll want to sort the motion blur and sensitivity options first thing as the default settings are a wild overcompensation. It definitely felt a bit rough at first but I did adjust relatively quickly and was able to enjoy some of my time in Redfall. Still, there’s no getting around the fact that a 60fps option would be a preferable way to play something like this for many of us, so fingers crossed we don’t have to wait too long for the performance mode update to drop.

In terms of achievements, Redfall’s structure makes some of the list grim reading. That point of no return mid-game means anything you miss in the Commons (including the many collectables) will have to be done on an additional playthrough or in co-op, and there are even a raft of achievements that demand tackling certain non-repeatable missions in specific ways, with one pair in particular requiring two runs of a late mission to do both the quiet and loud approaches (as well as picking up another achievement that can only be obtained on the former path). There are missables galore here, as well as a set of co-op achievements that require you to max out your trust level with all four heroes (and another for having a full party of maxed friends) which might be a bit of a chore, especially for those only interested in going in solo. There’s definitely some interesting stuff on the list and they pop at a decently consistent pace, but limiting so many to one-off missions is going to make the completion a bit of a pain — we didn’t have access to the list while playing for review, so a lot of those incidental ones are still on my to-do list for a later run or co-op sessions, while some of the less obvious ones will likely need guides before we know which of the two areas they are in and whether or not we have already missed them. Still, everything seems to have unlocked as it should so far, so no issues on that front, at least.

Redfall Review Xbox


Redfall isn’t a bad game per se, but its lack of a clear vision or sense of direction prevents it from being anything more than just decent at best. It spreads itself too thin and overextends beyond Arkane’s wheelhouse, falling back on systems and mechanics borrowed from around open world games and beyond that don’t really gel with one another, and leaving Redfall a game confused. Enemy AI is largely pretty shocking, which stops the big multi-faction fights being as interesting or intense as they could be, and while gunplay and abilities do feel good, you’re constantly re-gearing up for an endgame challenge that never comes, upgrading to new gear simply to tread water against the same threats as before at a slightly higher level. There’s definitely a decent time to be had with Redfall (especially in co-op) in spite of some baffling design decisions, but given Arkane’s track record, it’s hard not to be deflated by what Redfall could have been compared to what it actually is.

6 / 10

* Luke spent around 30 hours staking vamps and lighting lamps in Redfall, picking up around two-thirds of the 66 achievements in the process. A review copy was provided by the publisher and played on Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S.

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