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Review

Redfall Review

Red comes before the fall

For all the mystique and confusion surrounding Arkane Studio’s Redfall in the months leading to its release, the game is astoundingly straightforward. From the critically acclaimed minds behind intricate and considered first-person action titles like Dishonored and Prey emerges this open-world FPS that feels almost entirely out of step with its predecessors. A disjointed experiment in melding the house style with modern open-world tendencies and multiplayer leaves Redfall in an uncomfortable flux. Lacking the raw mechanical satisfaction of its contemporaries and somewhat abandoning what makes Arkane games so special in the first place, Redfall is more of a beige stumble.

Redfall casts you as one of four characters who must survive the plague of literal capitalist vampires that have isolated and conquered the town of Redfall. This idyllic coastal slice of America is Redfall’s answer to Racoon City – a pastiche locale with a mysterious pharmaceutical company masking nefarious dealings behind its unassuming charm. Rather than a zombie outbreak, however, the citizens of Redfall have been subjugated by a new ruling class of wealthy, largely waspy folk. Asserting themselves as gods and amassing violent cult followers, these vampires have turned Redfall into a feeding ground and it’s up to your overly-stylised character to save the day. It’s not a terrible premise by any stretch, even if the evils of capitalism in corporate art schtick was old back when The Outer Worlds tried it in 2019.

You can stand under my umbrella

The bread and butter of Arkane’s work has long been the studio’s borderline unmatched penchant for mechanical refinement and aesthetics that could keep pace. Redfall reflects little of this pedigree, giving it a razor sharp comparison that cuts deep on a game that for any other would be forgettable, but for Arkane feels heartbreaking. Redfall is teeming with familiar systems, lining up the who’s who of Ubisoft’s open-world progression tool box but failing to make any single one enjoyable enough to warrant the investment seemingly required here. Redfall is designed to be played a lot, with your friends ideally, as you run the campaign over with its different characters, tinkering with colour-coded weapons and watching small numbers become slightly bigger numbers. Use your skill points to unlock incremental improvements of your chosen character’s three unique powers. Liberate neighbourhoods. Purge vampire nests. Help the locals by doing side quests. Play the Video Game.

I’m being a reductionist, but Redfall is a game of reduction. Its loops are laid bare, with no style obfuscation or honeyed encouragement, just a raw look at the cogs turning. Guns are your primary method of engagement, ranging from standard pistols and rifles to more inventive UV light blasters and stake launchers. These are saddled with a rarity coding and additional passive perks, and doled out rapidly as you’re likely to find them just about anywhere in the game’s lootable locations. Shooting isn’t entirely unsatisfying, especially the special weapons, but for the main thrust of the experience, they feel oddly weightless. Aiming responsiveness drags and when combined with how quickly vampires move around you, it creates a frantic tracking situation that frustrates more than anything else. The 30 FPS lock doesn’t help this of course, a largely unnoticeable compromise while exploring, but an undeniable shackle when things kick off and the game struggles to hold it together.

The four playable characters are also equipped with unique powers that feel as if a whole has been splintered into individual builds. I played as Layla Ellison, a young woman kitted out with purple telekinetic powers that allow her to summon a damage absorbing umbrella, a spectral elevator for jumps, and can call on her vampire ex-boyfriend for a special attack. These powers look neat, Layla’s neon purple blasts brining a burst of colour and life to the game. Each of these abilities had a supporting skill tree that would allow my umbrella to recharge faster, or my no-good ex to pick me up if I went down in combat to name a couple of perks, but a solid half were designed to support co-op play and were functionally useless to a solo experience. Which is fine if the game were billed as a primarily co-op one, but it has been marketed (and previewed no less) as being a fully-fledged Arkane single-player ride if you want it to be, but the game is largely unenjoyable if you engage this way. Conversely, there is some fun to be had rolling with a squad of mates, combining these characters back into a whole while working as a unit to take down vamps. It’s not the freshest experience on the market but it’s a known quantity that will keep the lads in check for a weekend.

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Redfall’s environments are pleasant at a glance but lack defining characteristics 

Redfall’s world design is also actively hostile in the worst ways, a Hollywood studio backlot of a town with little to do outside of sparse gun fights and the endless loot grind. The occasional striking setpiece aside (seriously that giant water wave is fantastic), Redfall is too empty, devoid of signs of life beyond cult camps you can run through and the occasional vampire nest – a large glowing blue area that boosts enemy power and requires a discrete, small dungeon to remove. You can awkwardly mount walls to reach higher locations, maybe finding a window entrance to avoid a locked door or watchful guard. But that lock can be just as easily picked by holding down A for a few seconds. And that guard is going to be called into the fight the moment it begins regardless. Otherwise, you’ll be sprinting long distances to objective markers, unable to meaningfully change the pace of movement or exploration. Arkane are masters of craft when it comes to both traversal and interior design, but Redfall is neither fun to move through or interesting to even look at most of the time.

Balancing is the worst of it though, as the game’s difficulty swings wildly depending on how you’re playing. Alone, I often found myself entirely overwhelmed by the scale of combat encounters – standard human foes are easy enough to pick off, and a single vampire is manageable, but the moment these elements combine, or multiply, the systems buckle as sluggish shooting and broken AI collide. The game ostensibly gives you the choice of stealth, but this method feels incomplete at best, with no discernible means of gauging your detectability and enemies that will switch on a dime between obliviousness and pre-eminent sight. The stealth kill isn’t even an animated prompt, you just let loose a standard melee attack into the back of a foe’s knee and they fall dead.

Death often means rolling back to the latest discovered fast travel point, sometimes requiring minutes of uninspired map backtracking to return to a fight, on top of the currency loss that hits your wallet every time you fail. Currency is refilled by scrapping guns and loose items, but the rate at which you lose it upon death, paired with it being your means of accessing ammo refill stations, leads to a disjointed and punishing system. It all coalesces into an experience that feels fundamentally fractured, unable to fully realise any of its components and collectively lurching because of it.

Some cool weapons fail to make up for Redfall’s combat woes

Redfall’s storytelling and world design, both masterclasses for Arkane, are equally flat. There are two explorable maps, the second slightly larger but filled with the same mission design you’ll have played in the game’s opening hour. You’ll often find safe houses to form a safety network with the hub location, out of which you’ll nab new missions and the like. Here, one-dimensional characters endlessly grumble about wanting to save the town and occasionally show up in cutscenes, static images with a coloured filter and disconnected voiceover to tell you where to go next. The voice acting is working overtime on a shaky script but Redfall is both light on narrative and uninterested in building out its world beyond the broadest of strokes.

Final Thoughts

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It’s difficult to know where to go with Redfall, a game that an entire console narrative is pivoting on and a swing at something new from a studio that has well and truly earned a good faith stinker. It’s an overstuffed, unsatisfying array of mechanics and storytelling ideas that have been dated for a good while now, and without any of the flavour that makes this studio’s work so appealing, the game finds itself without much of an identity. Redfall feels like someone fed Arkane prompts to an AI and I can’t think of anything sadder.

Reviewed on Xbox Series X // Review code supplied by publisher

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Redfall Review
Red you for filth
A disappointing take on open-world first-person shooters, Redfall has none of the flavour or mechanical finesse that we’ve come to expect from Arkane Studios.
The Good
Cool premise
Some creative and fun weapons
Better with mates
The Bad
Uninspired core gameplay loop
Empty, unengaging world
Unbalanced and poor enemy AI
Grating writing and storytelling
4.5
bummer
  • Arkane Studios
  • Bethesda Softworks
  • Xbox Series X|S, PC
  • May 2, 2023

Redfall Review
Red you for filth
A disappointing take on open-world first-person shooters, Redfall has none of the flavour or mechanical finesse that we’ve come to expect from Arkane Studios.
The Good
Cool premise
Some creative and fun weapons
Better with mates
The Bad
Uninspired core gameplay loop
Empty, unengaging world
Unbalanced and poor enemy AI
Grating writing and storytelling
4.5
bummer
Written By James Wood

One part pretentious academic and one part goofy dickhead, James is often found defending strange games and frowning at the popular ones, but he's happy to play just about everything in between. An unbridled love for FromSoftware's pantheon, a keen eye for vibes first experiences, and an insistence on the Oxford comma have marked his time in the industry.

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