After multiple delays, and the somewhat controversial decision to launch on current-gen consoles at a locked 30FPS, Arkane Studios has finally managed to get Redfall out the door and into the hands of Xbox Game Pass players. This is a game we’ve been really digging the style of from what we’ve seen in pre-release footage, with its Stranger Things/suburban gothic vibes and the same unique look to characters and landscapes that runs through all of this studio’s previous releases. But now that we’ve spent a bunch of time blasting through its campaign, how does it actually play?
Well, as an experiment in melding genre types, Redfall is certainly a bit of a mixed bag. Arkane is renowned for its exquisite world-building; for its ability to flesh out characters and scenarios through environmental storytelling and the endless lore scattered throughout its carefully crafted worlds. That stuff is here — present and correct — if slightly watered down from what you’ll find in the studio’s usual single player fare. It’s obvious and expected that a balance needed to be struck to successfully introduce the co-op looter shooter side of proceedings – the side of proceedings we’d wager most players are excited to dive into with Redfall.
And so this game finds itself in a balancing act which isn’t always successful, as it tries to give you Arkane’s world-building, story beats and fleshed out characterisations, whilst also ensuring that there’s no major downtime or slowing of the pace as up to four players dive into combat against an array of vampiric and human foes.
It’s in the first half of the campaign’s roughly 20-hour running time that the struggle to maintain this balance is most keenly felt. That’s especially true if you’re playing solo, where the opening hours can feel strangely quiet and rather unchallenging as you deal with small groups of enemies and a smattering of mini-bosses in between ransacking locations and exploring the open world for loot and scraps of lore. It was in these opening hours that we were least convinced that what Arkane was attempting had panned out. However, stick with it; beat the game’s first proper boss and graduate to the second area in the game – yes, there’s more than one world map here – and things pick up considerably, with tougher enemy types, larger groups of foes and more in the way of a challenge to give you and your pals a workout in co-op.
But let’s rewind a little here. Redfall gives you a roster of four heroes to tool around with at launch, each one roughly adhering to a co-operative shooter stereotype. You’ve got Jacob and his raven who can mark out enemies, cloak the entire squad in camouflage and take to rooftops to ping enemies from range with his ghostly sniper rifle. Devinder brings the technical gizmos with a teleportation device, lightning javelins that react with water to create obstacles for foes and a UV Blacklight ultra that petrifies vamps for easy takedowns.
You’ve also got Layla, with her vampire ex-boyfriend who can be called in for assistance when her ultra gauge is filled (by killing baddies) and a handy telekinetic umbrella that acts as a shield. Layla can also summon psychic lifts that the entire team can use to traverse environments. Finally, we’ve got Remi, the support build who’s able to draw the attention of enemies, throw down C4 charges and create a healing space for the group to rally at as they battle.
All in all, they’re a fairly standard bunch, providing plenty of fun banter with no real surprises in terms of their abilities, but Redfall’s main focus isn’t really on exacting teamwork anyway. Sure, you can mix things up by combining powers in some fun ways — like using Layla’s lifts to boost Jacob to a sniping point or utilising Jacob’s camo to hide the entire squad — but honestly, the co-op here feels like it’s mostly for the vibes, for the banter and the camaraderie of just experiencing its open world and story with friends in tow. Indeed, playing with a couple of friends sees you earn trust between characters, which in turn opens up further dialogue and gives you more backstory into each of the available heroes, and there’s no limitation on having multiples of any hero in a party, giving the fusing of powers a further push into the background.
With regards to weapons, there’s a decent enough array of pistols, shotguns, assault and sniper rifles to tool around with and these are joined by UV guns and stake launchers that make for fun ways to dispatch your undead foes. As per usual, guns come in various rarities from common to legendary and the most powerful pistols and rifles can even straight-up kill a vamp, saving you from needing to down them then drive a stake through their heart – although we do still prefer this method when we’ve got the time for it. This pool of weapons is the same for every character with no restrictions on who can use what, again feeding into that laid back vibe that’s focused much more on the fun of rampaging and exploring together rather than who’s got which gun, exact positioning or timed recharging and deployment of skills. Forget all that – Redfall’s about chilled co-op shooty shenanigans more than anything else.
You’ve also got a nice big skill tree to unlock for each character with boosts for reviving teammates, longer lasting skills, quicker cooldowns and all the sort of stuff that you’ll be well used to from other shooters by now. You can also equip various trinkets in the form of blood and vampire god remnants that give you different perks and boosts. There’s nothing surprising in any of this and, honestly, it’s in the loot, and particularly in the guns that you’ll find scattered around environments and after big boss battles, that we were most dissatisfied with Redfall. They’re not a bad mix of weapon types; punchy enough to use and satisfying in the heat of the moment, it’s just that it’s all a bit pedestrian, and there’s nothing you’ll find, certainly in your first run through the game, that stands out as a really special gun that’s worth the hassle.
This is a looter shooter that shifts away from the careful micro-management and weapon fetishization you’ll find in Destiny or The Division to a more laid-back approach, it also sits well away from the full-on horde rampages of the likes of Left 4 Dead. You’ve got space to breathe here, to explore and take in the many delightful sights of a surprisingly weird and warped world that feels very much like a mix of Deathloop’s Blackreef, Dishonored’s Dunwall and Prey’s Talos 1 blitzed with Buffy and Stranger Things. If that sounds like a tasty combination to you, well, you’re likely to have a good enough time here.
In terms of enemies and activities, Redfall again doesn’t really fit the mould of previous looter shooters as it attempts to meld its storytelling and exploration with action. You’ve got a decent variety of vampires to battle – with Shrouds who plunge the world into darkness as you fight them, Anglers who can reel you into their arms for huge damage, exploding Bloodbags, plenty of vampire god mini bosses and a handful of showpiece bosses who make up the main villains that drive the narrative forward. However, these foes are thrown at you in a relatively restrained way. You won’t be constantly overrun, you can choose to sneak around fights or get busy causing chaos with the game’s many environmental tricks and traps – gasoline slicks, exploding cannisters, pools of water and the like. There are also multiple human enemies, with several cultist groups and the security forces of Bellweather to take on, and it’s nice to see these various groups fighting each other in dynamic battles as you skulk around and manoeuvre to your next objective.
Besides main missions that see you work to piece together the motives of the game’s main vampire villains before taking them on in battle, you’ll also indulge in fairly bog-standard side missions that see you retrieve items, destroy enemy encampments and so on. You’ll need to scour the entire map to find and unlock safe rooms and historical monuments that act as fast travel points, and safe rooms come with their own missions to keep you busy as well.
More interesting than the vanilla side missions are vampire nests which see you enter twisted psychic spaces where you’ll need to venture forward and destroy a central heart before nabbing a bunch of loot and escaping before the nest collapses. It’s in these activities that Redfall feels most confident, when it gets trippy and lets the atmosphere and artistry of its world overtake the action. And herein lies the game’s biggest issue. It tells a decent tale, it’s got decent action and it’ll provide you and your pals with a decent time as you jump in to discover its many secrets, collect all of its trinkets, discover its lore and defeat its vampire lords. However, in fusing its FPS shooter action with slow paced exploration and story-telling, both sides of the equation lose out slightly.
Redfall isn’t laser-focused on any one thing and so its narrative falls short of the likes of Deathloop or Prey. Its shooting and powers, tricks and traps can’t match those found in Dishonored, and you’re left with a game that sits in a space that’s really most successful when you approach it as intended, in an almost chilled out manner. Take in the sights, revel in the atmosphere, take the time to play the story in solo first so you can drink in the details before introducing friends to the mix and there’s a decent time to be had here. However, hardcore, strategic-minded shooter fans will be left wanting, as too will solo players who’re mentally prepared for Arkane’s usual narrative majesty.
Of course, we can’t end this review without some discussion with regards to the controversial decision to deploy the game without a 60FPS performance mode and, well, in the end we didn’t find the locked 30FPS experience to be a huge problem. The action here feels slick and punchy for the most part, certainly not held back in any huge way by its frame rate, and although we’d prefer to play at 60FPS this will do nicely until that patch arrives. This isn’t going to appease the 60FPS diehards, we realise that, but if you can make peace with it, the quality mode does a reasonably solid job for now.
We say “reasonably” because there are a handful of occasions when that 30FPS struggles a little. These issues didn’t arise often for us, but in a few bigger encounters the stuttering did become noticeable. We also had other technical issues, with characters running on the spot when we were stood still, and we even had to reload our game at one point as our crouch button decided to stop working, so there are rough edges and bugs to be ironed out down the line for sure.
More egregious than any of this stuff, however, are weaknesses with the game’s AI. You’ll spot human enemies getting caught up in a loop of trying to find cover which sees them running around with their back to you rather than fighting, and they sometimes take far too long to notice your presence. For a game that starts off by detailing how you’ll need to stealth carefully through environments, this stuff is a bit disappointing. Overall the AI does do a decent job in battles — it’s serviceable — but there’s no shortage of incidents of confusion, non-interaction and moments that see multiple foes lost in scenery or unable to keep up with your use of camo tactics or simple flanking manoeuvres. Vampires fare much better, but there’s work to be done here overall.
These issues aside though, and if you come at it looking for a stylish and uniquely chilled bit of vampire slaying with pals, we reckon Redfall just about succeeds more than it fails. It’s not a fully successful experiment by any means, but it’s a fun enough one; one we’ve enjoyed playing through solo and in brief excursions of co-op. We look forward to jumping into it all over again with a few pals for a nice chat and a bit of vampire hunting in the unlockable hardest difficulty over the coming weeks, and, with more characters and content due to be added down the line, this feels like a solid base for Arkane to add to and work from in the future.
Redfall sees Arkane experiment with melding genres, to mixed results. There’s plenty of flashes of the style and narrative flair we’ve come to expect from this incredible studio as you explore the town and face off with its undead inhabitants. However, the mixing of FPS action and story beats with open world exploration and a relatively relaxed pace leads to a balancing act that may leave hardcore shooter aficionados and Arkane super fans alike wanting more. If you come at it looking for a chilled out bit of vampire hunting there’s still plenty to enjoy here, but some irksome AI issues and a lack of clarity over what it really wants to be leave it feeling a little lost in a limbo of its own making.
- Looks and sounds great with tons of lore and secrets to find
- Arkane’s signature style ensures Redfall is a place that feels worth investigating
- Nice mix of human and vampire enemy types make for fun battles
- Guns and powers feel punchy
- Works just as well solo as it does in co-op
- Surprisingly big campaign and a solid foundation to build on in the future
- Feels a little caught up in trying to do too many things
- Not hardcore enough for seasoned looter shooter fans
- Arkane fans will likely be left wanting more from the core narrative
- Loot isn’t particularly inspiring
- AI issues hurt some of the game’s firefights