Redfall Review

Like staring at the sun

By Paul Hunter

Arkane Austin is one of gaming's most celebrated studios having created the incredible Dishonored franchise and the 2017 reboot of Prey. The team is back with Redfall, their first online four-person multiplayer game, developed for PC and exclusively for consoles on Xbox Series X (version reviewed). Does their latest game live up to the studio's incredible history? In some ways, yes, but in just as many ways, unfortunately, no. After more than 24 hours with Redfall, I ultimately walked away with a positive impression, but the entire experience was marred by baffling design decisions and dated elements that took from the enjoyment.

Let's head on to Redfall, Massachusetts, which is under siege by a legion of bloodthirsty vampires. Here are two things I liked about the game...and three I didn't.

Liked: Story and Lore

Arkane are masters at creating intriguing and carefully crafted game worlds, and while Redfall's story can't quite match the heights of Prey or Dishonored, there's enough going on in this game world to draw me in. The entire campaign takes place within the island town of Redfall which is under attack by vampires that have blocked out the sun. Unfortunately for the citizens, the entire area has been cut off from the rest of the world with the vampires raising the ocean waves half a mile high and freezing them in place. You wake up on a boat next to the ocean—and it's so cool to see the massive waves in suspended animation—only to discover you've got mysterious new supernatural abilities.

As many of you are likely aware from the game's pre-release marketing, Redfall lets you jump into the shoes of one of four heroes all seeking to uncover the truth behind the vampires and save the town. Your choice of heroes consists of Devinder, a self-styled monster hunter, Layla, a biomedical engineer, Remi, a search-and-rescue expert, and finally, Jacob, a private military soldier. I chose Devinder for my playthrough since his ability kit (which includes translocation warping and a powerful lightning javelin) was the most appealing.

Redfall's campaign is divided into two maps, the first is a modest-sized urban area filled with lots of residential buildings, medical facilities and a sizeable ocean floor zone where the water's been parted. The second map is roughly 50% larger and is mostly a rural countryside with an eye-catch carnival and Ferris wheel plopped right in the middle. What's neat from a story perspective is each of the 30+ main missions across these two maps has a personalized intro specific to your character. Devinder is an 'internet famous' celebrity of sorts and so a good number of his nicely drawn cutscenes are about how his next mission will be good for his notoriety and book writing career.

Throughout the 20-plus-hour experience, I was genuinely interested in where the story was heading and uncovering more dark secrets of this twisted island. There's a vast rabbit hole to go down as you learn who the vampires are, including the origins of the all-watching Vampire Gods, and how possibly the town can deal with this dangerous new menace. There are plenty of side missions you can complete as well that flesh out some of the backstory of the main NPCs you'll interact with, and may involve helping them achieve closure from events that happened before or during the vampire outbreak.

The main campaign has a solid enough story, but it was really the hundreds of memos and documents you'll find scattered all around Redfall that added intrigue to the game's lore. There are files from those involved with the vampire outbreak that explain the characters and their motivations, plus dozens and dozens of notes from recently departed souls that detail their final moments or give you clues to hidden stashes they have filled with loot goodies.

Beyond the more conventional story elements, Redfall has excellent environmental storytelling that again sheds insight into this tragic town. You can discover barricaded rooms hinting at intense moments of survival, blood smears that curve around corners where you'll find a hungry vampire feasting, or once pristine buildings that have been converted into terrifying vampire nests. Both Redfall maps feature lots of majestic architecture—from tall lighthouses to towering shipyards to throwback movie theatres—that makes exploring the areas quite fun and rewarding. Hunt well enough and you'll also find elaborate underground caves and remote cult hideouts that often contain tough vampire bosses to battle and some great loot to snag.

Liked: Gun Collecting Loop

Redfall is packed with cool guns—both standard FPS types and some fun, original weapons to give you the edge over the blood-hungry vampires. Within each 'type' of gun there are several variations as well, like automatic assault rifles, burst-fire rifles and unique vampire-inspired ARs that reminded me a bit visually like the unusual guns found in last year's Scorn. My base loadout primarily consisted of a shotgun (great for staggering vamps), an AR for mid-range and a side pistol when encounters got up close and personal.

Like a lot of modern titles, guns you acquire have a rarity ranking, with higher-ranking weapons having more firepower and coming with more perks. Weapons also have a 'level' and you'll obtain higher-level guns in step with your character's level growth. Much like in looters like Diablo, you'll consistently be finding new weapons with higher levels and new/better perks and you're encouraged to swap out your weapons very frequently.

While it might seem like a hassle to be regularly reviewing new weapons and updating your loadout, the whole process was a lot of fun given how useful some of the perks can be. Early in the campaign, I found a pistol that can outright kill vampires, as opposed to stunning the vamps and then ramming them with a stake like I had been doing for the first few hours. Once I got that pistol my whole approach to combat changed as I could now stun the vampires from mid-range using a sniper gun or AR, and then rush in with my pistol to make them light up like fire.

Speaking of fire, the vamps hate it and that's where your deadly flare gun comes into play. This particular gun can be used to divert the attention of your enemies, or if you get a direct shot you can light the vampires up and burn them to a crisp. There are also tons of environmental objects you can explode to burn the vamps, like shooting an oil pool on the ground, blowing up a car or nailing a gas can. Vampires are also conveniently afraid of lightning, and using Devinder's arc javelin can fry foes to a crisp. Plus, you can find electrical boxes and generators that shoot electricity when exploded and come in very handy during frantic battles.

Other original guns you can acquire include the deadly stake launcher that hurls any sharp objects you come across at high velocity. Knives, harpoons, broken pool cues—all this and more can become ammo and inflict big damage to the vampires. Another low-power but high-utility weapon is your UV beam, capable of firing a precision UV light or a weaker broad beam light. While this gun does negligible damage itself, its real power is the ability to turn vampires into stone so that you can switch to another weapon and blast them to smithereens. Very satisfying!

One of Redfall's more annoying game elements that ultimately becomes a necessary evil is how the more you kill the vampires the more pissed off the Vampire Gods become. Irk them enough and they'll send down a red lightning storm that hits you with lethal damage, but worse they also send a Rook vampire (the strongest of them all) to take you out. But if you manage to overcome the Rook you'll get rewarded with some of the game's best weapons and it usually makes the effort (or hassle) worth it. Rooks and other strong vampires can also drop Blood Remnants, which are powerful items that significantly increase your character's health along with giving you more sweet perks.

Didn't Liked: Awful Enemy AI

Oh boy, here we go. The AI in Redfall is horrendous, easily the worst of any game I've played thus far on a current-gen console. Virtually everything bad imaginable happened during my playthrough from enemies not even seeing me in front of them, to enemies not being able to open a door, to enemies actually spending a second or two talking to me before raising their guns, of course giving me more than enough time to shotty them in the face.

I saw enemies float in midair, while others would get caught in the world's geometry making them an easy kill. Enemies would often run into the room I'm in and have no idea where I'm at, giving me so much time to shoot and kill them before they even fired one bullet. Sometimes enemies would run away from battle for no apparent reason, other times they walk right into a pool of fire and die.

Admittedly, Arkane games have never been known for great AI, but Redfall seems like the worst of the bunch, which is odd given AI advances in other games and the game should be able to tap into the full power of the Xbox Series X.

Quite honestly though, the AI is so atrocious that at least for me, it became a classic case of 'so bad it's good'. I was constantly amused by the combat for all the silly and inexplicable things that would happen. But at the end of the day, I recognize shoddy AI is not what we signed up for and I'm shocked the game shipped in this state.

Didn't Like: Last-gen Graphics

Having just finished pristine-looking games like Resident Evil 4, Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores and God of War Ragnarok, jumping over to Redfall felt like a massive downgrade graphically. The game clearly has last-gen visuals and it appears that little to no effort was put in to make this a showcase title for Microsoft and its Xbox Series consoles.

NPC characters look awful, the environmental textures are drab and muddy, and there's constant pop-in when traversing the map at a decent pace. The worst though is when you ascend a large building, like the lighthouses or watchtowers, and then peer out the top at the town of Redfall: The lack of detail is jarring, to say the least.

On the bright side, as I mentioned earlier there's a lot of interesting architecture, landmarks and buildings around Redfall. The building textures may not look the best, but I enjoyed the visual variety. Also, the vampires have a cool look and certainly have inspired designs.

Didn't Like: Dated Gameplay

At times, playing Redfall felt like taking a trek back to the Xbox 360 era in terms of gameplay design. There are tons of immersion-breaking elements like how you can sneak up behind enemies yet there are no silent kill animations whatsoever. Instead, you inelegantly bludgeon the foe with a few melee strikes.

Another frustrating gameplay decision is how you can't upgrade your weapons at all. So many times I'd find a gun with an amazing perk—like one that would heal 15% of my health each time I killed a vampire—but then that very same gun becomes obsolete DPS-wise in a short time. So many times I had to upgrade my guns possessing sweet perks to more powerful ones that lacked the perks just so that I could keep pace with the more difficult vampires. Redfall badly needs a gunsmith at your home base that could upgrade your favourite guns to keep them viable in battle.

On the topic of guns, it's baffling how fast the vampires attack versus how slow your guns reload, especially the shotguns, your most valuable weapon. Most shotguns reload ammo one-by-one and it takes six, or seven seconds to reload a full clip, meanwhile, vampires are aggressively at your back. You're given three weapon slots and it's easy to switch between them, but in most skirmishes, I'd unload all bullets for all three weapons and then have to spend ten seconds or more running around like a chicken to reload them all. It can feel like an eternity given how fast and furious the vampires strike. This game really needs to cut back on the reload animations to get you back into the action faster.

The Verdict

I was hoping that Redfall would knock it out of the park given how much I love Prey and Dishonored, but unfortunately, the game is a step back for the studio in several ways. Did I ultimately enjoy the experience though? I did actually, despite the AI, gameplay and graphical flaws. The story was genuinely interesting and the weapon loot system was engaging, but best of all the town of Redfall is fun to explore. While not the showpiece for Xbox Series X fans were likely hoping for, it's a nice Game Pass addition that I've happily plunked 20+ hours into and will definitely continue playing to secure the 1000/1000 Achievements.

Final Score: 7/10 - Good

Redfall details

Platform: Xbox Series X|S, PC
Developer: Arkane Austin
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Genre: Third-person Shooter
Modes: Single-player, Multiplayer
ESRB Rating: M (Mature)

A key was provided by the publisher.