Arkane’s immersive simulation games are some of the most beloved and critically acclaimed games of the last five years, but can Harvey Smith and the Arkane Austin team emulate that freedom in a co-op environment?
When Arkane fans talk about their games, (and trust us, Arkane fans love to talk about its games), the stories they tell are very rarely things you’d notice on a normal playthrough. It’s the email on a computer in Prey that you’d have never noticed if you didn’t trawl through every piece of readable text, which then informs you of a side quest or an unmarked bit of lore across the ship.
Or it’s a moment in Deathloop when you were about to orchestrate the perfect murder, only for your friend to drop in from a roof and cause utter chaos, leaving you to sprint across the map to safety, during which you found an area you’d never explored.
It’s all about the small things you find on the big adventure. It’s the intricacy that immersive simulation fans are obsessed with. After all, its most famous level is literally a clockwork mansion that is emblematic of the attention to detail the studio prides itself on.
But can you really do that in multiplayer? We’ll soon find out.
Redfall takes place in the fictitious island town of the same name, located somewhere in the Massachusetts wilderness. Following a science experiment gone wrong, a horde of vampires has infested the town, cutting it off from the outside world. As the player, it’s your job to wipe the horde out, alone, or with friends.
While Deathloop flirted with multiplayer, it was a competitive, invasion-based affair wherein you could attempt to kill someone while they were playing the single-player portion of their game. This was fun and added depth, but it wasn’t a central focus of the game; multiplayer has never been in Arkane’s modern output.
While Redfall can be played in both single-player and in four-player co-op, we’re yet to see just how the experience is going to change depending on if you find a group of pals to go vampire hunting with you. Is this a traditional Arkane game, that you happen to be able to play in co-op? We’re not so sure.
The multiplayer component also forces Arkane to come out of its comfort zone. Sure, there are probably going to be a few doors in the game that can be unlocked with 0451, but if the co-op portion of Redfall is as significant as we expect, this isn’t going to be a typical Arkane experience in any measure.
A huge issue with co-op games is how to impart a story to players who all are talking to each other in their own party chat while the cutscenes play out? The immersive storytelling of Deathloop or Prey doesn’t really work when your friends are debating what to have for their tea while the cutscene is going on. We’re slightly worried that this means the game is going to be a bit more story-light than usual.
There’s also a worry that with the co-op element in mind, the rewards for meticulously combing through every inch of the world, which has been another constant in the Arkane games, might not have the same focus as it previously had. We can see how it might get frustrating for players if every few steps they have to ask their friends what they are doing while they’re all scattered to the wind rifling through drawers.
However, we’re pleased to see that Harvey Smith, a veteran of the genre and director of Redfall, has thought about these risks. “Redfall is our effort to take what Arkane does well, a hybrid of first-person games and RPGs, and stretch ourselves a little bit,” Smith said during a video released at QuakeCon.
“Does this work in the open world? Does it work both solo and with co-op players? Can we take all our narrative layers and our improvisational mechanics and our style and spread that out across an open world?”
While much of Arkane’s decisions surrounding the co-op element have been warmly welcomed, the fact that player progress is only relevant for the host of the game is a sticking point for fans. It’s difficult to get invested in something when your feel like your progress is essentially ephemeral.
“There’s also a worry that with the co-op element in mind, the rewards for meticulously combing through every inch of the world, which has been another constant in the Arkane games, might not have the same focus as it previously had.”
This isn’t a live game where you’re taking your bespoke character back and forth from session to session. We’d love for this to be changed by the time the game is released, because we worry there will be plenty of players caught out by this unfortunate downside.
Redfall has a lot to prove to hardcore fans of Arkane. It’s a step out of its comfort zone, which is exciting but leaves us slightly nervous. Is Arkane going to be able to command the same tone and atmosphere it’s usually excellent at when you have three of your friends screaming in your ear?
The studio almost has to approach the narrative in the broadest way possible, knowing that plenty of players are going to be too distracted by their own conversation to notice the nuance. We really hope that they’ve struck the balance, or Redfall may disappoint Arkane’s diehards.