We had high hopes for Redfall. Arkane have not missed yet, with Dishonored and Deathloop in particular marking the studio out as one of our favourite developers. It pains us to write this then, but Redfall is not just a disappointment coming from them, but is simply underwhelming on all fronts.
Early impressions were good. We really dug the stylised cutscene that gave us a backdrop for the lore and what was to come. Vampires have invaded the town of Redfall, and the humans fallen into two camps; those who serve them, and those who try to escape or fight back. We pick up with our chosen character (from the four currently available) as the boat they were on trying to escape is moared by the water being sucked from underneath it just off-shore.
When we gain control, we must escape from the newly docked boat and head for the mainland. Here, the possibilities of Arkane-style exploration, stealth, and immersive world building feel at their strongest as we sneak up on – or sneak past completely – some early cultists, with plenty of areas to loot and explore. Reaching the mainland has us clearing out a fire station and rescuing the inhabitants, forming the basis of our main safe space for the first half of the game. The set-up and opening 30 minutes had us hooked in, but it didn’t take much longer for the cracks to start showing.
We’re told that we can approach the fire station in one of three ways; stealth in through the roof, assault the front, or figure out how to get in the locked door. Excellent, we thought, this will be fun.
We’ve focused on the opening half hour so far with good reason – there are nuggets of great ideas in here that are teased as we make our way inland. Multiple approaches to missions; varied combat against humans and vampires; lore and world story that had us interested to see where things were going. Sadly, it all begins to fall apart far too quickly.
Redfall ends up feeling like a mish-mash of other, better games – ideas are taken and implemented with random level of success. We’ve got the expansive open world, which on face of things is ripe for exploration and adventure. What we get though is an empty shell of a location, with sparse smatterings of enemy encounters and a lack of much truly interesting to find. It appears Arkane are all too keenly aware of the worlds flaws too as we’re almost insisted upon to fast travel constantly, both by completing missions or simply unlocking far too many fast travel locations for what are relatively small open worlds. It’s not that there isn’t anything worth looking for, but it soon becomes clear that we’re best off just sticking to the main missions. One example saw us travel to a location on a side mission before heading back to the fire station and accepting the next main mission – only to then find the next main one was in that exact same location. Not the games fault per se, but just an example of one of the ways Redfall finds to irk us. The actual missions themselves have all been fairly boring too, with an early stand out being to place a watch on a gravestone for one of your crew. This takes all of 30 seconds to do, and comprises one of the main missions for the story to progress.
Then there’s the general interface, which goes from annoying to downright bad. The open world of Redfall can be explored by four players in co-op gameplay in which all players can go in whatever direction they like independently – a fantastic addition that lets us explore and potentially find more things that bit quicker. However, to even accept a mission, let alone start one, all players have to inexplicably be in the same room. Again, that insistence on fast travel comes into play as we all FT back together, accept it, and then go our separate ways again.
Of course, much has been made pre-release of the lack of co-op progression too, which is a frustrating aspect, albeit not one that bothered us as much as it might others. The lack of drop-in-drop-out play, however, does grind our gears somewhat, especially when the game has a habit of crashing as often as it does. In a three hour play session with three players, we crashed at least four or five times, with one time causing the camera to get stuck super zoomed in, requiring yet another full restart.
We’re also not fans at all of the menu system in Redfall. This was the weakest aspect of Deathloop, with an awkward cursor based system that made it hard to read a lot of the time. Here, it’s some how even worse. Redfall is, at its heart, a looter shooter, so we end up scavenging weapon after weapon on our travels, as well as various bits and bobs scattered around. One of the better aspects of the loot system is the way junk and currency is handled. Instead of filling up a limited inventory of junk items like scissors, bog roll, bleach etc, and then forcing us to go to a merchant to sell it all off, each of these items are instantly converted to money we can use to buy weapons, med kits, and the like. There is a lot of shit to pick up in Redfall, and so we were never short of cash thankfully. Although buying guns is a waste of time as we get so many out in the field, med kits and ammo feel much harder to come by and so the handy safe house ammo stores are the only real vendors we used. We can also scrap any weapons we don’t want for instant cash, but it’s a shame there’s no way to trade things with other players.
For some inane reason, we can only equip three at a time, with the rest sitting in our inventory. As the game cannot be paused – even in single player – we need to find a quiet spot, hope some enemies don’t randomly appear, and fuddle our way through the menu trying to figure out the frankly stupid gear coding system. You see, very early on we gained a gold/legendary assault rifle which as you can imagine was a bit of surprise. However, later on, we found that our grey/common pistol was actually much more powerful. Turns out, not only are guns graded on rarity but also level, with the former dictating the kind of random perks that are assigned to that gun, while the latter is more to do with the general stats. While on paper this doesn’t sound so bad, in practice it makes navigating the fiddly, poorly laid out menu a chore. It also means we may go into a battle with completely the wrong type of weapon equipped, unable to stop the action and swap in one we may need without being pummelled. Some kind of weapon wheel would have been ideal, and we found ourselves reaching for it multiple times throughout the game, only to be disappointed every time.
Speaking of battle, the gunplay and combat in general is quite frankly woeful. While there is fun to be had with a few of the more powerful weapons for a spell, by and large we find ourselves tackling both human and vampire enemies who seem to forget half way through the battle what they were doing, or simply follow us around begging to be shot before they even attempt to attack. The main calling card of Redfall – the Vampires – are both boring and annoying to fight. They are easy enough to kill, but have the ability to teleport around in the blink of an eye, often through walls and scenery before popping back up and waddling towards us waiting to be shot again. Bullets won’t kill them fully though, and we need to get up close and stake them in the heart once their health is low (or use fire, electricity, or some of the characters powers) to finish them off, or else they fully regain all their life and we have to repeat the process. And while it’s easy enough to kill all sorts of enemies, there are random difficulty spikes where our health will deplete almost instantly completely at the whim of a random attack. The overall combat balance is completely off.
One of the big reasons we were excited for Redfall though was the player powers. Dishonored and Deathloop set some high bars for player agency in terms of what tools we had to use and letting us free to be creative with how to implement them. You may be sensing a theme here, but Redfall completely whiffs this aspect too.
We spent our time playing using Layla, as her psychic powers appealed to our play style. She has access to a spectral lift and umbrella, the former of which shoots us up in the air to let us get to better vantage points, and the latter defends from bullets before sending out an explosive wave that will damage enemies. Even after upgrading these roughly half way through the each of their respective skill trees, these still feel woefully underpowered, and not all that fun to use. Our team mates were equally unimpressed with their respective characters – Jacob and Devinder – abilities too. Even Layla’s Ultimate Ability, in which she can summon her ex-boyfriend who just so happens to be a vampire to help out, feels both over powered and yet weak at the same time. On occasion he’ll wipe out a whole squad of foes without us even getting a look in, on others he barely makes a scratch before peacing out.
The idea is that a squad of players use their powers to compliment each other. However, there are two problems with this approach; solo players are basically left out in the cold with just the three abilities that don’t really do all that much; and even when together, the powers are so bland that there’s very little reason to even attempt to combine efforts. The only time we used the Lift ability as a team was to shortcut up a cliff as we were exploring, and even then we found it easier to just walk around half of the time as the cliffs mostly seem to be just too high for a single lift to reach and without a ledge to place a second or third one down.
One thing we must note though is on the topic of the pre-launch outrage of Redfall only playing at 30FPS on Xbox consoles at launch. While it has a few issues when there’s a lot going on, for the most part the actual responsiveness is absolutely fine. This has been true of Deathloop (which we chose to play in 30FPS) and Dishonored, and it’s great to see that at least this aspect of Arkane’s legacy holds up.
We came into the review with mixed feelings about our time with Redfall, but the more we write, the more we can’t help but notice that over our 16 hours with the game so far, we’ve really not enjoyed that much of it, and that is a real shame. Obviously, co-op play saves the day slightly in as much as simply playing with friends is fun even when the game isn’t, but even this is ruined by the aforementioned crashes and bugs.
Xbox needs big wins this year, and all eyes were on Redfall as the start of a renaissance for the brand. As it is, this is just disappointing from all angles. Boring combat in both gun feel and enemy AI, lifeless open worlds that actively discourage exploration, and hero powers that are flat out rubbish to use make not for the fun co-op shooter we were hoping for. A massive miss for Xbox, Arkane, and Game Pass.Become a Patron!
This game was reviewed based on Xbox S|X review code, using an Xbox S|X console. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.