REVIEW – Redfall is an open-world vampire game from the creators of Dishonored and Prey, but unfortunately it doesn’t have the strengths of Arkane Studios.
Redfall is Bethesda’s biggest-budget Xbox Series X/S exclusive, made by Arkane Studios. The studio’s previous titles, such as Dishonored and Prey, stood out for their impressive world-building, exciting gameplay and free-roaming gameplay style. Redfall has tempted us with similar promises: an open-world vampire game in which four characters of varying abilities fight alone or together against bloodsuckers and the human opponents who aid them. The style of the game also seemed appealing: a small-town gothic feel inspired by the Stranger Things series, with Arkane’s distinctive character and landscape design. But is Redfall really as good a game as it looks? Sadly, no.
Secrets of a deserted island
The plot of Redfall is set on the fictional Massachusetts island of the same title, where one day the sky unexpectedly darkens and vampires infest the population. Players can choose from four heroes, each with a supernatural ability and background. Jacob, for example, is a raven-communicating sniper, Layla is a telekinetic scientist, Devinder is an inventor and youtuber, and Remi is a martial artist and paramedic. You can switch between characters throughout the game, or even team up with other players online.
At the beginning of the game, we have to set up a base in a fire station, where we meet some survivors who offer us different services: selling weapons, assigning us tasks or providing us with information. Among the survivors are a strict priest, a kindly doctor and an oil merchant. None of them are very memorable or interesting characters, and it is difficult to take an interest in their fate. The island itself is much more compelling: centuries-old colonial buildings line the downtown area, while the suburbs are tourist attractions that bear witness to the whaling past. As few things are more suitable for horror stories than autumn, the town is covered in magnificent orange, yellow and red-leaf trees; many shop windows are decorated with pumpkin lanterns. These locations, as well as others – such as a dried-up pond bed full of fish or a shadowy, abandoned hospital – create a stylish sense of menace, enhanced by the bold red font on menus and area names familiar from ’80s paperback novels. As we’ve come to expect from Arkane, a studio renowned for creating stunning locations for its games with meticulous decoration, the interiors of these spaces are filled with everyday objects and discarded writing. These details reveal the nature of the characters who once lived there and hint at the dark secrets of the vampire takeover.
The atmosphere fades, however, when the enemies turn out to be not the terrifying other-worldly creatures, ruthless private armies or evil human cultists the game makes them out to be, but rather senseless shooting targets.
A boring shooting game
Redfall’s gameplay follows the template of an open-world action game, with different points on the map to visit to complete missions, defeat enemies, collect items and explore. There is no linear storyline, but players are free to choose the order in which they want to discover the secrets and characters of the island. There is not much of a storyline: most of the missions are just to introduce the different locations and enemy types, but they do not give much information or motivation to the player. The dialogue between characters is also rather flat and clichéd, failing to capture the player’s interest or emotions.
The combat system isn’t much better: the game features four main vampire races, each with a special ability or weakness. In addition to vampires, we also have to fight human opponents who work for a mysterious company that is somehow responsible for the appearance of vampires. We can use our characters’ special abilities during the fights to help us move, reconnoiter or weaken enemies. However, the use of these abilities is not very exciting or varied: they can usually be activated with the press of a button and don’t require much strategy or creativity. Weapons are not very interesting either: the game features a few basic weapon types, such as pistols, rifles or machine guns, which can be made more powerful or varied by using different modifiers. The weapons, however, are not very effective or satisfying: many times we felt like we were just shooting at enemies without having any effect.
The biggest problem with the gameplay, however, is the behavior of the enemies: the enemies in Redfall seem very dumb and monotonous. They usually just stand still or slowly approach us while shooting or attacking us. They don’t show any intelligence or variety: they don’t cover themselves, they don’t exploit the environment, they don’t adapt to the situation. This makes combat very boring and repetitive: we just shoot at enemies until they fall. There is no excitement or challenge: no need for tactics or skill.
The only interesting aspect of the gameplay is the character progression: you can level up and distribute different skill points between your characters. Some of the abilities are those that improve weapon use, movement or vitality, but there are also those that add new features to special abilities. For example, Jacob’s raven can not only scout enemies but also attack them, or Layla’s telekinetic power can not only move objects but also enemies. We can also choose abilities that affect our play style: for example, Jacob can be a sniper or a melee character. The progression system gives us the opportunity to customise our characters and try out different combinations.
A disappointing cooperative game
The biggest attraction of Redfall was that it was a co-operative game where up to four people could play together online. Each mission in the game can be completed alone or with multiple players, and the game automatically adjusts the number and strength of enemies to the number of players. There is no class system or role division: you can play with any character and use any weapon. However, the characters’ abilities can help complement each other: for example, Jacob can scout enemies, Layla can protect the team with a shield, Devinder can set traps and Remi can heal the wounded.
However, cooperative play is not as enjoyable as it should be. There is no means of communication: no voice or written chat, no pinging. This makes it very difficult to cooperate and strategize with other players. The game has no incentive to work together: no common objectives, no team scoring, no sharing the spoils. There is no challenge or variety in the game: we have to defeat the same missions and enemies over and over again. This makes cooperative play boring and monotonous: you shoot at enemies without any meaning or entertainment value.
A wasted opportunity
Redfall is a game that promised much more than it delivered. The game created an interesting and stylish world in which vampires and humans fight on a deserted island, but it failed to capitalise on this potential. The gameplay is dull and repetitive, the combat system is formulaic and unresponsive, the co-operative play is disappointing and monotonous. The game fails to showcase the strengths of Arkane Studios: world-building, freedom of play style, character development. Redfall is a wasted opportunity that is not worth the time and money.
+ The game world is stylish and atmospheric
+ Character abilities are varied and customizable
+ The game is available on Xbox Game Pass
– The gameplay is boring and repetitive
– The combat system is cliched and unimaginative/strong>
– Cooperative gameplay is disappointing and monotonous
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: Arkane Studios
Style: open world action game
Release: May 1, 2023.