Developer Arkane Studios’ return always feels like a welcome one, packed with both anticipation and fond memories of previous titles. From Dishonored to Deathloop, we’ve understandably become accustomed to a certain level of creativity and quality from the developer. That being said, Redfall feels like a missed opportunity. It’s a world full of lore and intrigue, that fails to deliver on its potential, due to uninspired missions and buggy gameplay. I certainly enjoyed my first few hours with it, and encourage anyone to jump on board with friends where possible, but even so, it fails to make up for any sort of long term sustainability.
Taking the Town Back
Redfall takes place within the confines of its titular town, otherwise best described as a compact version of Massachusetts. Bloodthirsty vampires have descended upon the town, as you select one of four special hunters, gifted with unique powers, to take it back. Its simplistic story doesn’t necessarily get in the way, given its emphasis on the open world and four-player cooperative play, which lends itself to a more casual nature based around its straightforward mission design. Surrounding lore can be uncovered via collectibles out in the open world through general exploration, but I can’t help but feel there was potential for a more traditional single-player narrative, given Arkane’s prior success within that sphere.
Each of the four heroes available generally provide a unique way to play Redfall, emphasising either stealth, technology, agility or brute strength, even if you’re all more than likely to go in guns blazing with each of them. I sided with Jacob Boyer, or the “deadeye with an undead eye”, for his ability to send a raven into heavily populated areas to reveal enemies through walls and within buildings. Unfortunately, Redfall’s buggy nature left me feeling a little underwhelmed, as stealthy approaches prove incredibly wonky, mainly when enemies fail to notice you out in the open. While each of the four characters can be upgraded throughout the main campaign, weapon variety admittedly provides enough of a solid landing in order to fall back on its combat mechanics.
One Step at a Time
I can commend Redfall’s missions for remaining simple enough to jump into at a moment’s notice. You’ll begin the campaign by taking shelter in a local firehouse, which serves as your HQ, allowing you to select between a number of available missions. Head to a nearby building to collect supplies, turn something on or off, or simply clear the area of any impending threats. But in the same breath, these missions become incredibly mundane and repetitive, making cooperative play the only enjoyable way to approach these tasks as you soon prioritise combat and demolish waves of enemies along the way in your own unique fashion. Various side content is available out in the open world, through unlockable safe houses which enable fast travel between points. Certain collectibles like the skulls of underbosses are also usually required to progress further into the campaign, forcing you to tread off the beaten track every now and then. Besides the repetitive nature of the missions, single player gameplay suffers more so when you’re made to do these things alone.
For what it’s worth, Redfall’s general gunplay is certainly the highlight. Weapons are unique and plentiful and gunplay is punchy and responsive. The looter-shooter nature of the experience also encourages progression through upgraded weapon statistics, constantly encouraging you to try out the latest weapon, usually when it deals additional damage. Weapons are also sorted into colour- coded tiers, pointing out which weapons are common, uncommon and rare. While many games require a grind of sorts at this point, Redfall does a good job at delivering these weapons to you through general combat and exploration, or through the dedicated armoury within your HQ. Additional skills and abilities rely on cooldown timers, which feels relatively standard, but does it’s best to shake up general combat.
There are some interesting ideas at play here though. While you’ll get the chance to take on cultist soldiers from time to time, Redfall is at it’s best when it’s pitting you against its vampires. For example, a UV light weapon can be used to freeze enemies to stone, where they can be shattered with a single melee attack. Otherwise, vampires cannot be killed with normal weapons alone. Instead, two handed-weapons must be equipped with wooden stake bayonets, to be plunged into their hearts once they have sustained enough damage. Unfortunately, these ideas are simply too few and far between, wedged between that repetitive mission design and buggy AI.
Look the Part
Redfall’s art style works here, providing a minimal and angular look to character models, falling somewhere in between an edgy and light-hearted take on Buffy’s vampire designs. It’s a step in the right direction as it plays into the casual nature of an experience that’s not trying to take itself too seriously, even if environmental textures can look a little muddy at times. Lighting effects generally pay well here, with most of your encounters taking place at night, which does usually highlight some of those nicer textures where available.
Performance leaves a little more to be desired, particularly for the standard that next-gen platforms seem to be striving for. Redfall runs at 30fps, with a performance mode set to launch at a later date. This initial frame rate feels adequate, only until certain chaotic moments cause the frame rate to drop and stutter. Even if I have no issues with a game opting for a lower frame rate, I would also expect the hardware to allow that rate to be locked in.
While I had touched on it before, Redfall’s real downfall its its enemy AI. Too often do enemies find themselves caught in a trance, unable to attack you, or simply giving up in the middle of a fight as if they’re distracted by something more important. When they’re not distracted, they simply charge at you, swinging rapidly at anything in their path. It detracts from the challenge that combat presents, but more than anything leaves encounters feeling inconsistent. It shouldn’t have to resort to designated boss fights for the AI to work properly, even if those encounters are much more exciting and unique.
Redfall promised an incredible amount of potential. Be it Arkane’s impressive resume, solid gunplay or unique art style, it feels like there’s a better game buried beneath the rubble. While cooperative play certainly helps break the monotony, there’s no saving it from the repetitive design, unreliable AI and subpar performance. I’m a huge fan of the lore and larger world surrounding the town of Redfall, but can’t help wishing for an experience that was either more focused on providing an engaging story, or providing smooth and functional gameplay.
TWO AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Highlights: Intriguing lore; Unique art style; Solid gunplay
Lowlights: Wonky AI; Repetitive mission structure; Sluggish performance
Developer: Arkane Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Platforms: Xbox Series X/S, Xbox Cloud Gaming, Windows PC
Review conducted on Xbox Series X with a pre-release code provided by the publisher.