When it comes to creating a game centered around a supernatural being, there are three classic examples that often are used. These are the ever popular zombie, the werewolf, and finally the vampire and while the former often sees itself as an enemy for players in games, the latter two often see players taking on the role of the beast, often battling against humans or their own kind. Rarely do games see players taking on the role of a human battling against werewolves or vampires but that is what Arkane Studios’ latest title looks to explore by pitting four different humans against an island filled with bloodsucking vampires. So, after a few delays, Arkane and Bethesda’s Redfall has arrived but does this game shine as bright as a UV light or does it deserve a stake to the heart?
The idyllic island town of Redfall, Massachusetts has fallen to the clutches of blood sucking vampires and their cult-like human followers who are willing to sacrifice their neighbors as long as they can stay alive. In an attempt to flee the vampire invasion a number of survivors, including four with unique abilities, attempt to flee on the last remaining ferry only for an extremely powerful vampire to transform the sea into a solid impassable wall of waves, trapping anyone still alive on the island. As the members of the boat are feasted upon, the apparent vampire leader leaves the player alive with a cryptic message. With no choice left but to return to the island, the players liberate a firehouse where other survivors have holed up from the vampire’s cult and utilize it as their base of operation and launch their efforts to take down the head vampires and maybe find a way off the island, all while hopefully finding out what happened along the way.
Arkane has managed to create some rather interesting lore for Redfall and a lot of it comes from the world itself as the team remains incredibly talented when it comes to environmental storytelling, be it the unique layout of a location, various notes that players can read in an area, or even psychic visions left behind either by defeated vampires or objects of importance nearly every time players find something related to the greater plot at hand, it is usually worth reading as it explains a lot about the lead up to the game and other survivors. Unfortunately the game fails to capitalize on these story elements most of the time and a lot of it boils down to focusing on making the game as co-op friendly as possible. The main plot is presented through stylistic still-image cutscenes similar to what Arkane has produced in the past but unlike before, most of what is shown is simplistic at best and often doesn’t do the story justice while also limiting it to only highlighting the player’s chosen character and only a little at that. Along these same lines, the numerous characters that players meet in safehouses and main bases of operation also receive very little in the way of interaction or character development at all, making these characters simple quest givers and little else. In fact, it doesn’t take long before players find themselves repeating mission types with how little variation there is in safehouse missions.
This level of disappointment also carries over to the way the storyline ultimately plays out as well. There always feels like there is a lot of potential with what Redfall has to offer but everytime players feel like the plot is about to thicken, the co-op looter shooter nature and lack of any real development for the characters, especially in regards to the player character as the game opts to avoid developing the player’s chosen hunter in any meaningful way since they could be playing any of the four hunters, get in the way of making the story more memorable in any way. Considering the various factors at play in the story, with players facing off against a vampire force of unique origins, a cult built around them, and a mysterious security force seeking to cover things up, there is a lot of potential left untapped. Combine this with the lackluster way that the player’s chosen character interacts with the world, often repeating the same dialogue throughout their adventures, and players will find themselves quickly growing tired of combing through locations, even when playing with friends.
Sure, hunters in co-op can build “trust” which is a bit difficult between hit and miss progression issues and lack of drop-in drop-out grouping tied in with the co-op gameplay and lack of matchmaking. It is also worth noting that playing through the game in co-op can also make it incredibly difficult to locate and read every note without needing to rely on the menu, especially since the game does not pause while reading, leaving players vulnerable as the world moves around them. These attempts to try and create a balancing act does Redfall a disservice as a result, making what could have been an intriguing storyline that could have had so much more depth something generic and ultimately forgettable in the end.
As players begin the game they will be given the choice of selecting one of four vampire hunters to play as with each of the characters catering to a different playstyle. Jacob is a more stealth focused character capable of turning invisible to sneak past and attack enemies while also using his mystical Raven to highlight nearby enemies before finally using his ultimate to summon a powerful sniper rifle to take down any enemies in his path. Layla can make use of a telekinetic shield to block incoming attacks as well as summon a psychic lift that will launch herself and any teammates into the air for easier navigation and can utilize her ultimate to summon her vampire ex-boyfriend to attack enemies. Devinder serves as another character capable of helping players move quickly through locations with a teleportation mechanic and electric javelin, plus his powerful UV light ultimate can turn any nearby vampire to stone, allowing for a simple melee attack to dispatch them. Finally we have the support oriented Remi that can draw enemy attention, create healing areas for her allies, and even throw down powerful C4 explosives to lay waste to her foes.
In practice most of these characters work well whether the player chooses to play solo or through co-op, though characters like Jacob will have an easier go going through the story solo compared to Remi who shines best as part of a group. Regardless, each character can use any type of weapon though their main difference comes from their aforementioned special skills and skill tree upgrades. As players progress through the game completing missions, fighting any type of enemy, closing vampire nests, and more, they will gain levels that can upgrade various abilities for their chosen character. Unfortunately this skill tree system is incredibly anemic and is also littered with a number of useless unlocks such as carrying more ammo or, in complete detriment to those playing through solo, upgrades that only take effect when playing in co-op. As such, players will unlock every useful upgrade long before hitting the level cap, not that most players will notice much of a difference anyways since enemies scale to the player’s level in every way.
The guns that players can make use of come in mostly expected forms, be it standard pistols, machine pistols, assault rifle variations, shotguns, and sniper rifles with many of these weapons having special “legendary” versions that offer small benefits such as a silenced pistol etc. These mostly generic weapons work well enough but often feel a bit lacking, especially since there is no customization besides applying a skin, thankfully there are a couple of unique weapon types best designed to take down vampires. These include powerful stake guns that can drop and kill vampires from a distance as well as UV guns that fire beams of light capable of turning any undead to stone and allowing players to shatter them with a single melee attack. Facing down these vampires often feels quite satisfying, especially when it comes to staking one down as the only way to properly dispatch a stunned vampire is with a stake lest they recover. Of course, using fire from an explosion or the aforementioned UV lights also do the trick as these undead are far from invulnerable.
The vampires that players fight have a decent amount of variety as well. For the most part players will take on generic vampires capable of swift movement and powerful melee attacks but there are also a number of other types that players will eventually encounter. These include weak but dangerous exploding types, some capable of creating shields around themselves and allies, and even others capable of blinding the player, siphoning their health away, or even grabbing them from long distance and delivering massive damage once they are reeled in. Unfortunately the human enemies are far less interesting and make up the bulk of the enemies players encounter. The real unfortunate aspect here is that enemy AI, especially for human type enemies, is incredibly poor. Enemies will often completely ignore a player standing in the open during a firefight or find themselves completely stuck on an obstacle leaving themselves wide open and even when they do take cover they often leave themselves massively exposed making even the most lopsided firefight often one the player can easily win with some minor maneuvering. That is, of course, as long as the enemies don’t make use of explosives or the damaging red mist that circulates through many areas. The reason for this is that explosions seem to always damage the player through walls, meaning cover is often useless and the red mist that is expelled by destroyable vampire founts and from cultist grenades also damages players completely outside of the range of said mist, especially if they happen to be above it.
One rather interesting element that appears randomly as players spend time in Redfall are vampire nests. These nests spawn over time and strengthen every vampire within their radius until they are destroyed. To destroy a nest players must enter a glowing door only to find themselves locked into a twisted space featuring various locales meshed together and filled with vampires protecting a crystal heart within. Once this heart is destroyed the nest will collapse, giving players a limited amount of time to loot equipment that was hoarded inside. These nests are often quite enjoyable thanks to how unique the layouts can be but, as before, most of the rewards are mediocre at best.
As mentioned before, thanks to Arkane’s skill at environmental storytelling, exploring the world of Redfall is often enjoyable thanks to the number of uniquely designed buildings and interesting locations to explore. Unfortunately even this element is half-baked thanks to the fact that it is often completely worthless. Redfall’s design as a looter shooter is incredibly lacking as most of the actual loot players get is complete garbage and rarely worth the time to check out. Players can gather various bits and bobs such as toilet paper, jeweled eggs, and disinfectant that automatically converts to cash but the cash has almost no purpose besides purchasing extra lockpicks or hacking tools. Weapons and other pieces of equipment level as the player levels, meaning that a favorite gun will quickly become useless only to be replaced again with no way to level match or even customize gear. Along these same lines, the game features a forced point of no return that completely locks away the first map, meaning any collectables including lore and bonus unlocking Grave Locks, are lost forever until New Game+. Of course, given that defeating the final boss automatically kicks players into this mode with yet again no way to return to the second map by choice this doesn’t come as much of a surprise.
One of the first elements that Arkane introduces in Redfall is being able to approach most situations however they see fit and while some locations can offer a bit of freedom these are few and far between. Not only is stealth a rather mundane way to explore the world, especially since there are no unique stealth takedown animations or even a sign that players will insta kill an enemy with their stealth attack but the game often forces players to throw stealth out the window most of the time. This is because there is often no way to actually locate a specific mission objective without utilizing a lockpick or hacking tool and, in a number of cases, many locations require a key anyways. Ironically, even the choice of tackling missions with multiple objectives is often forced to be played a certain way as well, with some missions requiring players to do one objective before the other unless they wish to find themselves suddenly stuck against a lock in the second location. It also doesn’t help that, thanks to the Redfall’s insistence on co-op, many of the movement and stealth abilities are split between characters. Think taking Corvo from Dishonored and stripping him of all abilities except for one before handing his abilities out piecemeal to allies.
When playing in co-op the gameplay is handled rather smoothly most of the time with no issues in connection but the poor enemy AI struggles even further with four players running around the map. This makes combat often a run and gun experience that is far too simplistic and, considering players won’t actually be progressing their own storyline while playing in someone else’s world, there is little actual reason to play with others. Combine this with the fact that the game lacks drop in drop out multiplayer and the fact that the lobby often closes entirely should someone drop out, which is a problem given the game’s multiple instances of crashing to the home screen, and co-op is often frustrating when it doesn’t work and even when it does it strips what little spirit of Arkane’s design exists in parts of Redfall.
Visuals & Audio
Shortly before release it was revealed that Redfall would be releasing on console with only the 30FPS quality mode available and while this is a disappointing limitation it rarely feels like much of an issue during combat. The action remains mostly fluid with only noticeable slowdowns during large explosions, characters using multiple ultimates at the same time, or the few instances of large objects crumbling. That being said Arkane’s unique art style comes through quite well in Redfall especially when it comes to the various locations players explore and a bit of the character designs. Many of the main characters look well enough though there is a bit of a dated look to many of the standard characters and quest giving NPCs players will meet. It is also worth noting that while the cutscenes are presented only through slideshow images, these images fit Arkane’s usual stylings quite nicely.
The sound design throughout Redfall is handled quite well with players often being able to hear vampires feasting on victims through walls or being taunted by the various vampire overlords that rule each location. Voice work is handled well enough with most characters having enough voice lines to keep things feeling fresh even when exploring for long periods of time. As for the soundtrack the game features some fitting background themes that work well for the once picturesque town of Redfall that has fallen to ruin.
Playing through Redfall it quickly becomes evident that the development team’s focus must have shifted multiple times throughout the game’s creation between single player, co-op, and then a looter shooter stuck in-between. Redfall has all of the potential to try and tell an interesting story with some solid enemy designs and a great location to explore but between terrible enemy AI, mundane “play your way” implementation, boring loot, and splitting powers between characters in an attempt to force co-op Redfall falls flat in many areas and loses track of most of its potential.
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