Need to Know
What is it? A vampire hunting multiplayer FPS
Release date May 1, 2023
Expect to pay $70
Developer Arkane Austin
Reviewed on RTX 3080 Ti, i9 12900K, 32GB RAM
Steam Deck Verified
Link Official site
I’m 10 hours into Redfall and I get an idea: Maybe I’m having a miserable time because I’ve been using my abilities wrong. I’m playing as Layla Ellison, a vampire hunter who can place a ghostly purple elevator on the ground and ride it into the air to gain high ground. But the One More Floor skill says that it can send “people higher into the air,” not just me.
If Redfall truly has the DNA of an Arkane immersive sim, like the clockwork worlds of Prey and Dishonored, then surely everything in this town plays by the same rules, right?
It doesn’t take long to find a vampire test subject floating over a sidewalk (because they constantly respawn in Redfall as if I’m having no effect on the town). I take some shots at it and it runs for me. I drop my purple elevator in between us and adjust my aim to skeet shoot this vamp out of the sky.
The vampire casually phases through the elevator like it doesn’t even exist. The human cultists run through it too. This is not the immersive sim I’d hoped for, and it’s not much of a co-op FPS or RPG, either.
Redfall lets me down regardless of the genre expectations I bring. There aren’t enough enemies in any location to play it like a Left 4 Dead-style game. Guns feel weightless and their damage output stays in lockstep with the level-scaling enemies, so treating it like a Fallout-style RPG is a bore. Vampires are scary in the dark early on, but the tension is lost through repetition—there are no surprises the 10th time you fight a bloodsucker in an empty attic—so cross survival horror off the list. It can’t manage to be a good hero-based FPS despite having promising abilities, such as invisibility and an electric rod that stuns enemies, because they all take forever to charge up and don’t beat the unstoppable tactic of standing and shooting. And the story lets down the game’s entertaining premise: a town where the rich literally become vampires that prey on regular people.
Redfall drained every single drop of optimism out of me over the course of the 50 or so hours I put into it. Nothing could save it, not even bringing a friend along for co-op co-op—in fact, it’s so bad, I’d recommend bringing your enemies. Arkane has stumbled a few times before, but its detailed worlds, evocative art direction, and slick systems have always kept me coming back. Redfall has none of it. It’s an astounding disappointment.
Redfall doesn’t start with an assassination or a time loop, but its quiet first few minutes fit neatly into Arkane’s history of evocative intros. After choosing one of four heroes, you wake up in the boat you were meant to escape on before the vampire gods peeled back the ocean surrounding Redfall. There are bodies laying around the cabin and letters that clue you in on where to go next. I broke a window and stepped out onto the deck to see an entire wall of water curled over the boat. This eerie and visually striking opening sequence ends once you pick up a gun and venture out into Redfall’s bland open world.
You pass by landlocked ships guarded by cultists who are never really given a strong narrative reason for being here in the first place. You can crouch and sneak by them, but you’ll eventually learn how little of a threat human enemies pose, and how much of Redfall’s level design is made to be trampled over with a team of four.
The game properly begins after you clear out the local fire station and join a group of survivors who hope to rebuild what they can and escape. Many of these characters have names and yet none of them have much to say or seem to recognize you. Conversations with them have the emotional complexity of an MMO quest: “My family is dead and I want you to go retrieve my daughter’s stuffed animal.” Redfall pretends that you’re “biting back” against the vampires to save the people, but you’re actually just being given a to-do list of tasks that force you to explore every section of the map.
The town of Redfall may be one of the emptiest open worlds I’ve ever seen, but it does have exquisite autumnal vibes. It’s the kind of neighborhood I would have loved to trick-or-treat in as a kid, the perfect cozy little town to set a vampire story in. But it wasn’t long before I started to notice how much this town feels like a hokey theme park next to Arkane’s other immersive sim worlds.
Every human enemy in Redfall has helpfully gathered around the most explosive object they could find. The town is littered with so many gas tanks, oil spills, and propane tanks that I’m not sure the vampires are its biggest problem. If this had the zany tone of Borderlands where blowing up stupid enemies was the entire point, I wouldn’t mind. But Redfall’s dramatic text logs and side quests are about the horror of the townspeople’s friends and family being turned into semi-immortal monsters. Reading these notes and letters while combing through the town for loot and XP as your character quips about how adept they are confuses Redfall’s tone. It’s like if you dropped a plucky Overwatch hero into Netflix’s Midnight Mass. I’m so sorry your aunt got turned into a vampire, just let me petrify her with a UV gun and loot the rare shotgun off her ashes and then I’ll gladly console you!
There are brief moments where the narrative and the environmental design coalesce and give you the kind of strange and haunting spaces that Arkane is known for. One mission sent my co-op partner and I into the house of the Hollow Man, the progenitor of the vampire plague and the annoying voice yelling out of TV speakers and radios for the first half of your journey. Redfall frequently shoves you inside of pitch black houses and basements with only a flashlight to lead your way. We crouch-walked through this abandoned home until we turned a corner into a room that, much like the ocean in the opening, had been frozen in time. Through the floating wooden splinters and debris you could see another world just beyond the ceiling. It was like stumbling into the dark limbo-like expanse of The Void in Dishonored, but unexpectedly.
After spending far too long searching for hidden dolls around the house to complete the mission objective, we were transported to the same house sitting atop a floating chunk of land in an alternate reality. There’s not much to do there except listen to the predictable origins of the Hollow Man before you’re transported back, but it made me desperate to reach a turning point in Redfall where it regularly deployed warped setpieces like this. Sadly, it never does.
Redfall’s multiplayer structure actively detracts from what Arkane does best. Enemies jerk, slide, and stutter as they patrol or chase you, and items like backpacks and medical bags are copy-pasted everywhere without any sort of logic. Half of the skills that enhance your character’s abilities are built for multiplayer and, given the cramped houses you frequently fight in, are largely useless. This is the developer that came up with Dishonored’s Blink, one of the slickest movement abilities in videogames, and all Redfall offers is a bunch of skills that briefly distract enemies or skip them altogether.
Scraps with vampires are more challenging when solo, but that’s only because they all run straight at you. Without another person to distract them, you spend most of the battle running in circles trying to make enough space to heal. I only made it through the vampire nests, which are difficult, dungeon-like levels with randomized enemy modifiers, by finding places to crouch where the vampires couldn’t reach me. The same goes for the powerful Rook vampire that descends on you after you’ve made enough noise in the neighborhood. Dropping a friend into the mix doesn’t help the balance, either. It veers in the opposite direction of being so boringly easy (even on harder difficulty settings) that you might as well save ammo and run.
As a fan of Arkane’s imaginative worlds and dynamic, systems-driven play, the most compelling thing about Redfall is the mystery of how it happened. It’s the first Arkane game I don’t like at all: a maddeningly incoherent and unfun shooter that looks bizarre next to the liveliness of 2017’s Prey or the Dishonored games.