The most perplexing thing about Redfall is how simple it is. Fans of Arkane’s inimitable immersive simulators should measure their expectations before arriving in the game’s titular town, as it’s more vampire Borderlands than Dishonored with added Dracula.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As an open-world co-op shooter, Redfall is a refreshing entry into the genre that more or less hits all the right notes. But by its very nature, the storytelling has to be more immediate and linear, and chaos reigns without a save/load system to control it. Even as a solo player, there’s much less opportunity to outthink your enemies and thoughtfully engage with the carefully-crafted environments Arkane is famous for in Redfall.
Instead, the broad experience feels familiar, with health bars, damage numbers, and loads of randomised loot. Spread across two sizable open-world maps, you’ll clear out theatres, clinics and museums, liberating neighbourhoods and establishing safe houses, Far Cry style.
Redfall (Xbox Series X/S)
You’re rewarded with XP that you can leverage to explore the branches of your skill tree, and Support, an all-encompassing currency used to buy weapons and stock up on health kits and tools. Ultimately, you’re trying to corner the bloodsuckers who have drained the life from this unfortunate Massachusetts town.
Before your arrival, a quartet of wannabe vampire gods hoodwinked the populace of Redfall, made many locals ‘go missing’ and raised an undulating tide around its borders so that no one could get in or out. What’s left is a vicious economy of deluded cultists and private military goons in thrall to their garlic-fearing overlords. Both sides want to squash the dwindling resistance to please the top dogs, and they make sure you know it with clawed hands and assault rifles.
The humans go down easy (the AI is a little choppy, nothing too serious) but the Vampires demand a quick stake in the heart once their health has been drained, or they will regenerate. It’s a nice feedback loop and an effective way to break up the cadence of combat reminiscent of the Glory Kill system in Doom 2016.
Arkane’s remarkable knack for art direction is everpresent throughout the vampire ranks, with out-of-proportion hands, shiny trench coats and gnarled expressions bringing the fear factor when they’re up close. Siphons drain your life force, Shrouds cover the arena in darkness, and Anglers can hook you towards them for a deadly uninterruptable blow. They all look like variant punters at the world’s most perilous Nine Inch Nails gig.
The influence of their designated god defines certain areas, too. Every TV screen in Redfall Commons bears the visage of the brainwashing Hollow Man. Meanwhile, crucified humans cover the landscape of Burial Point, acting as vocal vessels for Bloody Tom’s increasingly personal taunts. It’s a great way to amp up the atmosphere and make your eventual encounters with these deities feel meaningful.
You’d think multiplayer raid bosses would be outside Arkane’s comfort zone, but the studio handles them well. The gunplay is also really solid throughout Redfall, with a good variety of weapons to play with, from vampire-freezing UV beams to crunchy shotguns and electrocuting pistols.
“As an open-world co-op shooter, Redfall is a refreshing entry into the genre that more or less hits all the right notes. But by its very nature, the storytelling has to be more immediate and linear, and chaos reigns without a save/load system to control it.”
This all comes together to create a superb setting, where you get to explore the pithy backstories of each Vampire God before you face them, seeking out guilt-ridden remnants of their past to expose vulnerabilities. Along this path, you’ll enter surreal environments with impossible architecture, some living outside the open world.
You’ll see shades of Arkane’s imsim level design brilliance here, and the emotional beats of the narrative feel more palpable up close. Redfall has plenty to say about generational trauma, institutional wealth, healthcare and religion across its runtime.
The story isn’t as twisty or intriguing as Deathloop or Dishonored, but it’s good straightforward fun in the context of a communicative co-op shooter, where you probably have to say something four times for a player to notice. The worst comes during Redfall’s dull, arbitrary mission briefings, where you receive an exposition bomb to set up the next half hour of play.
The dialogue is a little hammy at times, and the same quips start to grate eventually, but then you hear some of Redfall’s ambient vampire prose, and suddenly you’re immersed again. “I hear them all, seven billion scared little drums since the moment I woke,” says one sinister mid-boss lurking around mangled trees.
Your vessel for dealing with the gods is a choice of four protagonists, each with two abilities and an ultimate. I picked Layla, a self-aware horror fan with psychic powers, including a phantom lift she can summon to bounce high in the air to reach vantage points and pull off satisfying mid-air headshots.
Layla’s ultimate summons her vampire ex-boyfriend, who distracts your enemies with bloody swipes. Before settling on Layla, I also played with Jacob, a deadeye with a raven companion who can tag enemies from afar and turn invisible. But Jacob’s lack of a traversal ability (and the fact you can’t dodge) felt like a massive hindrance for solo play, primarily due to the pace of battle.
“The story isn’t as twisty or intriguing as Deathloop or Dishonored, but it’s good straightforward fun in the context of a communicative co-op shooter, where you probably have to say something four times for a player to notice.”
Meanwhile, I eventually unlocked the ability to spawn three sequential lifts as Layla. I would bounce around combat arenas, doling out hilarious shockwaves of pain to the Edward Cullen’s in my immediate vicinity. Once you start to specialise, the combat comes into its own, and you can see how complementary it would be in co-op. Layla’s lift would undoubtedly supplement Jacob’s lack of movement tech, whereas Jacob’s invisibility would make completing objectives easier as Layla distracts the horde.
There are a lot of open-world activities to work through with your friends in tow, though they vary in quality. The official side missions tell interesting stories while prodding at the limits of your skills. In contrast, the neighbourhood safehouse missions devolve into the same few combat scenarios, with an Underboss at the end. You need 3 Underboss Skulls to open up the portal to a Vampire God, so taking a break from the higher-quality campaign missions to fulfil this task is when Redfall feels most like a repetitive slog.
There are also optional Vampire Nests, mini-dungeons with randomised characteristics and exciting level design tricks which end in a smash-and-grab timed escape. They would feel more necessary if the weapons system wasn’t so focused on planned obsolescence, where you’re constantly swapping out your loadout every time you level up. Unfortunately, the skill tree has much greater depth than the loot system, which inevitably limits Redfall’s replayability.
Redfall (Xbox Series X/S)
There were times during my playthrough when I was able to unravel a location’s subtle, contained emotional story and could appreciate boat lights pointing towards underground lairs amid other smart pockets of environmental storytelling. But there were also plenty of occasions where the fast-paced action focus kneecapped the potential of specific scenarios. Vampires could chase me into the room with the big reveal, or I might skip it all by leaping up to the roof, missing the nuance entirely.
Even so, after spending roughly 12 hours completing the campaign, I’m excited to revisit Redfall with new partners to develop Layla’s skill tree further and seek out more of the story. It’s tough to find co-op friends with a love for reading lore, though. This epitomises Redfall’s most awkward juxtaposition between being a fun, frantic co-op shooter and a thoughtful narrative design showcase. A multiplayer Arkane game is not an inherently bad idea, but Redfall often feels like the wrong vehicle for the studio’s strengths.
Redfall is a compelling adventure with killer combat and an atmospheric setting in which you can easily lose a weekend. Even though it feels watered down by Arkane’s systemic standards, it’s an ambitious, primarily successful experiment full of narrative nuance and unique ideas. Hopefully, Redfall’s shakeup of the genre will pave the way for more inspired looter shooters in the future and, selfishly… another immersive simulator?
- Engaging ability-based combat with room to specialise
- An inspired setting with a thick, immersive, open-world atmosphere
- A fun story with plenty to say
- Plenty to do with your friends in co-op
- The focus on action can get in the way of narrative nuance
- Arkane’s strengths struggle to shine through