Impressions: Redfall offers unique, stylised vampire twist on winning gameplay formulas

Arkane Studios has become a highly respected modern game developer with hits such as Dishonored, Prey and Deathloop.

Redfall is the studio's latest offering, a heavily stylised first-person vampire shooter set in an open world that can be played as either single player or co-op with up to four players.

Ricardo Bare, senior game designer and creative director at Arkane Austin, believes fans of the studio's previous games should have a good idea of what to expect.

"They're going to find the same creative core that they find in any of our games, because we're always committed to very deep worldbuilding," Bare told Newshub.

"When we worked on the city of Dunwall for Dishonored or the space station for Prey, we wanted to create those worlds in such a way that they are very explorable and feel like real places. Then we love to build game mechanics that allow players to be creative with the way they approach combat, puzzles and everything. We like players to be very expressive.

"But none of our games are exactly alike. We stay true to our core values, but we don't want to repeat ourselves and we're always trying to stretch ourselves. With Redfall, we're stretching ourselves a lot by making it open-world and multiplayer at the same time."

Recently I played the single player version of the game for around three hours and had a great time with it. Its general shooter action is immediately familiar and fun, but there is an emphasis on using your special abilities which makes the combat more complex and interesting.

I played as a chap named Jacob Boyer, a former US special forces sniper with supernatural powers. His special abilities were a ghostly reconnaissance raven, an invisibility power and a super-powered ghost sniper rifle that generally one-shot-killed enemies.

Redfall screenshot.
Photo credit: Bethesda Softworks / Arkane Austin

I was able to use them more regularly than I expected: they recharged quicker than similar powers in other games, meaning they're more of a standard factor in combat instead of occasional superpowers. There are three other playable characters, each with their own set of abilities, all of which can be upgraded through a skill tree to become more powerful as you progress through the game.

How the different characters' special powers will work together and counter the various powerful foes is something I'm really looking forward to trying out when I can play this co-op.

Often when games offer both single player or co-op, one mode can feel tacked on and less enjoyable to play as a result. While I have yet to play co-op and can't speak to how well that works, single player certainly felt good as a single player game and Bare said the studio was "very conscious" of making both modes feel as good as each other.

"Co-op isn't like a special mode, it's not a segregated part of the map or anything like that. It's literally the same game. It's like playing Borderlands or Diablo, you're just inviting a friend into the same experience," Bare said - although he acknowledged there are differences.

Redfall screenshot.
Photo credit: Bethesda Softworks / Arkane Austin

"If you play a single player, you get something more like a traditional Arkane experience where it's easier to do things like sneak around and eavesdrop on conversations the cultists are having, or read a note you found on the dead body. Once you add your buddies into a game, things get more chaotic because people are yelling like, 'Oh my God, I just got ambushed by vampires - what are you doing reading that note? Come rescue me!' It's more like a swarm of locusts moving across the map."

My single player taste teased a rich world with loads of exploration on offer and a pulpy, comic-style storyline.

It's set within the fictional island town of Redfall in the US state of Massachusetts. Some nasty corporate types messed with dark science and became powerful god-like beings in the process, while also unleashing a legion of vampires.

"Redfall is ruled by these incredibly powerful vampire gods who block the sun and have essentially cut the island off from the rest of the world by pushing the waters back," said Bare.

"In order to consolidate immense power and eternal life, they've given up something of their humanity. If you look at the real world with the consolidation of wealth and power, and the stratification of resources in the hands of the few, it's not too dissimilar. I think you have to maybe give up some of your humanity to do something like that.

"So it was important for us to not just make the villains monsters but to understand who they were as humans before they became the vampires. In a way, they already were vampires. All of the vampire gods have an interesting and terrible secret or back story. Understanding their sin, or their humanity, is also the key to defeating them."

Redfall screenshot.
Photo credit: Bethesda Softworks / Arkane Austin

Bare said vampires have always been a metaphor for or reflection of real-world society when they're released, which is why they've evolved over time.

"Bram Stoker's Dracula is very different from the vampires in Twilight, which are very different from the vampires in The Lost Boys, which are very different from the vampires in The Passage. So we were very excited to take on vampires and do our own version of them."

Within the town of Redfall there is a safe haven which works as your base and that's where my preview session started off. Inside it, NPCs hang about, some selling weapons and healing goods, others just keen to chat. It was a nice and friendly place.

That all changed as soon as I ventured outside into the dark, cruel night. The NPCs I very quickly ran into were anything but friendly, only too happy to start shooting or stabbing me on sight.

The two primary enemies I fought were vampires, of course, but also human cultists who follow the vampires and seek to gain their own power by doing so. The cultists were quite easy to waste as they're vastly underpowered compared to the character I was controlling.

"The cultists are just civilians who decided to suck up to the vampires. They're basically bullies," said Bare.

"Three months ago that was just some dude who worked at a gas station. Now he's got a crazy costume on and he's carrying a shotgun. He has to be way easier to take down, then the vampires have to be a sharp jump in terms of how powerful they feel."

Indeed, the vampires were a lot more challenging. They have unpredictable, quick movement patterns and when a few launch an attack, it's easy to get overwhelmed, meaning smart use of your special abilities becomes much more important than simply shooting them with your guns. Even when you have depleted their health bars, you have to finish off every single one in a way you don't with the cultists.

"Part of what makes them feel like vampires and what makes them feel special is that they can't just be taken down with bullets. You have to stake them through the heart, light them on fire, or fry them with a UV beam," said Bare.

Redfall screenshot.
Photo credit: Bethesda Softworks / Arkane Austin

The combat is promised to get even more satisfying later in the game when you can pit different enemies against each other, with the option of then moving in to take out the victors.

"There's a second area of the game that's even bigger than the first," said Bare.

"It's another map, another open world area and it has multiple vampire gods who are not all friends with each other. It is in their nature to desire to be the only vampire in existence, to have all the power. So you can exploit that as a player, which is very cool. The cults that worship those vampire gods, you can lure one cult into the area of another cult to watch them fight it out."

The aspect of my preview session I liked the most was clearing a vampire nest. These are randomised areas of the map that act similar to the outposts or strongholds you clear in other games, but stepping into one is entering a hellish zone similar to passing through Oblivion Gates in the Elder Scrolls games.

It was the trippiest section of the game, feeling noticeably different to everywhere else. At the end of each of these special levels is a massive heart to gruesomely destroy in order to wipe the nest off the map, get some great loot and weaken the surrounding enemies.

This was the section of a highly stylised game where the style felt most pronounced to me. These sorts of stronghold-clearing gaming segments are really satisfying when done right, which the vampire nests appear very much to be, with a unique twist on the format.

And no two nests will be alike - these are procedurally generated sections intended to keep the open world dynamic and present interesting strategic decisions for players.

"One of the things that's exciting to me is the way nests can overlap with your main campaign missions, because you can't predict where a nest door is going to appear. Anywhere a nest door does appear, it has an area of influence that grows over time," said Bare.

"In my playthrough a nest appeared and I ignored it for so long that it completely overlapped its area of influence with the mission area. Then any vampires or cultists inside that area of influence are twice as strong, meaning the mission is going to be much harder because the nest is there.

"So should I just grit my teeth and power through? Or should I take the nest out first and eliminate the area of influence?"

Many of the buildings in Redfall can be entered and outdoor areas are explorable, with loot all over the place to help you out. But there's also a lot of notes and things to inform you of the world - I even found a mobile phone showing a text conversation between a couple of teens about scoring beer.

Redfall screenshot.
Photo credit: Bethesda Softworks / Arkane Austin

That sort of thing will be unappealing to players who just want to charge through the action and story, but it's cool it's there for those who fall in love with the game world and want to learn as much as possible about it.

I enjoyed the diversity of gameplay on offer and the wealth of options available. It definitely has the potential to be the sort of game you could spend dozens of hours getting through the first time, with loads of side quests and exploration along the way.

Then if you play it through again, it'll hit the same story beats, but will likely be a wildly different experience in a completely different order, keeping it feeling fresh on each play-through - especially if you mix it up with single and co-op play.

I asked Bare what his favourite thing about Redfall is.

"I just love the dynamism of the stuff that isn't scripted and you can't control, like the vampire nests. That's the sort of thing I look for when I play other games, too - those parts of the game that belong just to me because of the way I was playing it," he said.

"That feeling in a game is magical because it makes you feel like - even though I know it's not literally true - but it makes you feel like anything is possible. It's thrilling when things are out of control, you know, it's just a wonderful, magical experience."

Redfall is set to be released for PC along with Xbox Series X and S on May 2.