Redfall review: blood-sucking shooter with soul-crushing gameplay

I have not felt genuine devastation about a game in some time. Devastation at the state of this game, devastation that one of the best studios seemed forced to push out a product before it was ready, and devastation at having to continue playing. Arkane Austin’s co-op first-person vampire shooter Redfall drained any enjoyment, even from its early hours.

Arkane is a studio renowned for innovative, clockwork-like designed games, promoting player intellect over destruction. Games like Dishonored and Prey see players in carefully crafted worlds, with multiple approaches to solving a problem in precisely designed levels. Their worlds feel alive, dark, and unique. All of that is missing from Redfall

Redfall feels like a game from the Xbox 360 era, in terms of both design and graphics. I have never disliked the “feel” of play as I have with this game: the enemies react to bullets as if they were tiny pebbles instead of shotgun blasts to the face. Enemies are not so much bullet sponges as much as they are mobile walls.

Indeed, the opening provides so little detail, I had no clue who the characters were or why they had powers. You apparently play one of four seemingly magical people, each of whom play precisely the same except for having access to specific powers and skills. My character, Jacob, has a beautiful magic raven who can highlight enemies; given my obsession with all things corvid, he was an obvious choice. He can also turn invisible and use a powerful sniper rifle that immediately locks on for devastating damage. Other characters, like Devinder, use robots and other devices to fight vampires. Layla can use a magic lift power and summon her dead vampire ex-boyfriend. Meanwhile, Remi uses her own tiny robots to assist the rest of the team.

The town of Redfall has been overrun by vampires, and you must liberate it from their grip. You will complete missions to discover how this came to be and track down and slay vampire gods while assisting the townsfolk. In terms of feeling like it was released too early, cutscenes seem like placeholders with in-engine static screens and your character doing a voiceover. Main opening cutscenes are uninteresting cartoon images that feel like concept art.

The game is designed for co-op play, but with no public lobby, it was often difficult to experience playing with others. However, I did appreciate the trust system where, if you play together with another person, you build up permanent buffs and bonuses between the two of you. There is also unique dialogue between specific characters, like Jacob and Devinder discussing Jacob’s raven and invisibility powers.

While the characters are all wonderful, there is little else to like about the game. It seems there is an issue with every element. The open-world map makes little sense, markers cannot be placed properly, and often, my cursor vanished. Enemies get stuck in architecture and don’t attack even when seeing you or react when their friend dies next to them. Also, as I said, the combat feels atrocious due to the lack of response from enemies. Vampires barely do any damage or pose a threat, and due to the emptiness of the map — you will struggle to find enemies to fight — they never felt imposing. There isn’t even stealth: sneaking up behind enemies results in no unique takedown animation. Instead, you just kind of elbow them and they collapse.

Aside from the main cast, other friendly characters do nothing except provide quests. The world feels drained (excuse the pun) of life because, as I said, there are no cutscenes — or even conversations in cutscenes! — to convey the human side of characters. 

Weapons have various grades that are color-coded, straight out of the most boring looter shooters. But you will quickly abandon rarer weapons with multiple bonuses for higher-level weapons, which deal more damage. Your inventory quickly fills up with weapons, but the inventory system is painfully unintuitive: it’s often unclear which weapon does more damage or which you’ve equipped. Also, you cannot unequip a weapon? I was truly speechless. Worse still, there is no weapon wheel. You must cycle between your three weapons, which is terrible in a game where certain weapons have stakes at the end to kill vampires and others don’t. This is made worse when you run out of ammo and are trying to cycle quickly to, say, your shotgun rather than a big damage weapon like a stake gun. And as I said, the guns feel horrid against enemies even if they feel good to shoot.  

The lack of enemies plays into missions: often, I would think a big set piece would occur, where the game would throw tough or floods of enemies at me. Instead, I would often be left alone. Mission design is also uninteresting. Every one involves you either killing someone or holding down a button to Do A Thing. The immersive sim elements Arkane is famous for are absent. There’s only one solution to missions or puzzles, such as finding a key. Variety is nonexistent in this Arkane game — a phrase I cannot believe I’m writing.

The graphics, as I say, are nothing to write home about, with plastic-looking characters, stiff movement, and repetitive, often poorly rendered textures. Frequently textures refused to load, the most notorious example being a large emblem on the fire station base’s floor. And running at only 30 frames per second on Xbox makes it worse. The sound design and music are, however, stunning. The soundtrack and voice performers were my favorite parts.

In the end, Redfall feels unpolished, underdone, underwhelming, and uncomfortable. I am glad I do not have to play this anymore. While we will likely know the full story behind Redfall’s development eventually, this feels like the result of suits wanting product and not giving the talented people at Arkane the time and space they needed. I am disappointed because I want Arkane to succeed — not be left with this as a stain on their impeccable reputation. We all deserve better.

The game, at its core, is so uninteresting and off-putting, I cannot even fathom a No Man’s Sky or Cyberpunk 2077-style resurgence: at least for those, I could make out an enjoyable experience when they ran well. I did not feel that once while playing Redfall, which is in stark contrast to the consistent feeling of precision, fulfillment, and brilliance I have always associated with this studio. 

Redfall is available now on Xbox Series X / S and PC.

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