REVIEW: Redfall had potential. It really did.
Developer Arkane Studios has previously delivered cleverly creative takes on the first-person shooter genre. Deathloop, with its trippy time-travel premise and liquid oil colourings was a blast; and Dishonored is widely considered to be a modern classic.
But it seems like Redfall, a disappointingly bland first-person shooter that's more about co-op than anything else, has fallen short of the studio standards when in theory, it should work.
It leans into an unusual story before falling back on the usual tropes of an open-world shooter. In the US town of Redfall, a series of botched experiments has led to a rise in vampirism and the sun being blocked out to guarantee eternal night and permanent buffets for the bloodsuckers.
To start, you find yourself on a boat trying to flee what Redfall is threatening you with, but a wave overcomes all onboard and leaves you stranded in the ferry looking for a way out.
It's quite an atmospheric idea for an opening, but made dull by the fact the game's story is set out in a series of static storyboards rather than any kind of animated cutscenes. It leads to a feeling of "we'll put that in later" rather than building a vibe that's worth any kind of emotional attachment to either your character or the peril of those living in Redfall.
However, once you find your way out, it's into Redfall's meat and potatoes of shooting and looting as a series of cultists who are in the thrall of the town's vampires try to take you down.
Shooting is fairly solid in its mechanics, but has no logic. Handguns can be used to take down those shooting at you - but then for inexplicable reasons, their guns disappear, leaving you only bullets and frustrated yowling as to why you can't get their weapons and level up to meet their challenge.
Once you capture a first base (a fire station overrun by cultists and with a vampire in the basement), the game opens up a little more. Various areas of Redfall are unlocked, allowing you to explore.
Unfortunately, it feels somewhat hollow. Redfall itself is wonderfully realised, but the Far Cry-esque gameplay of go here, do that, shoot those people, come back to base and repeat doesn't work as well as it could have, which is extremely disappointing. It's even more disappointing that most of Redfall as a town itself feels dead.
The world-building is confined to a series of notes or text conversations from people that have left behind when they fled, or points on the map where some kind of landmark resides. It's easy to see why a world would be deserted if there are killers on the loose, but given the size of Redfall's map and the limited interactions with your monotone characters at your base, it just feels soul-crushingly empty as you wander around completing various tasks and delivering yourself a high five rather than having anyone pat you on the back.
There are vampire nests to clear, power-ups to be gained for special abilities but none of it really feels consequential. The co-op is also badly thought out as you can only play with a squad of invited friends online, not with randoms online. As the challenges of the marauding masses increase, that's almost a necessity making it even more maddening that single player feels quite so redundant in its shooter-looter mentality.
Honestly, I wanted to enjoy Redfall - I truly did.
It's a great, simple concept from a talented studio; but in its execution, it's proven to be unbelievably frustrating, mind-numbingly dull and its missed potential is perhaps the most disappointing part of it all.
Redfall is a rare misstep from Arkane and I hope they can take the feedback from this and return to greatness. It's doubtful the game will be tweaked and extra parts added in, which means Redfall itself is sadly to be consigned to the "could have been" rather than the "must own."
Redfall was released on May 2 for PC and Xbox Series X/S, and is available via the Xbox Game Pass service or as a standalone purchase.