Game name: Redfall
Release date: May 2, 2023
Available on: Steam
Genre: Open world first person shooter
Developer: Arkane Austin
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Arkane Studios has a long standing pedigree in the immersive sim genre, having delivered classics such as the Dishonored titles and the 2017 Prey reboot, while at the same time creating lesser known titles such as Dark Messiah of Might and Magic and Arx Fatalis that also share their big siblings’ penchant for fun, out of the box thinking and a very open ended approach to gameplay. Even their somewhat divisive 2021 roguelite immersive sim Deathloop presented those very same elements, along with the studio’s take on competitive multiplayer, something they’d tried to implement before without finding success.
This is why I was quite excited for Redfall, Arkane Austin‘s take on vampire fiction, and the studio’s first open world, cooperative experience. For many fans those words were poison, and they decried the title as Arkane giving in and becoming a more mainstream developer, concerned with the buzzwords of today and chasing the latest trends like so many other studios owned by giant publishers. For me, they were an exciting opportunity for a development team I admire to show the world that the Far Cry formula can be done much better. With the final result in gamers’ hands, it’s time to sit down and admit defeat: I was very much wrong, and those who were afraid of the studio’s new direction were dead right. But how bad is it? Join me in this adventure, dear reader, as I take a look at all that I felt went wrong with Redfall, and the few things that didn’t.
Redfall‘s introductory mission sets the tone for what follows, as the game opens with our character (one of four selectable protagonists, Remi, Jacob, Layla and Devinder, all with their own skill trees and special abilities) trying to escape the titular town in a barebones ship that gets caught in the baddies’ supernatural water net. The vessel we find ourselves in is as nondescript as they come, and while we can find some text logs and evidence of carnage while walking around, it was a far cry from the memorable locations featured in the Dishonored titles, where every tile told a story. Right after leaving our doomed ship behind and either sneaking through a bunch of weird cultists or murdering everyone in their group, we find ourselves saving a group of civilians trapped in a very generic looking fire station. Rather than commit to environmental storytelling as the studio’s past games so heavily did, Redfall seems more content with trying to deliver a more traditional campaign, an approach that wouldn’t be a problem if it wasn’t for the slight issue that cutscenes tend to feel like afterthoughts and the characters we are supposed to care for are never properly introduced in a way to make us feel connected to them in any way other than because the game tells us to care for them.
Every cliché in the book is present in this rag-tag band of survivors, from the reluctant religious leader to the somewhat sketchy but good-in-their-heart doctor, with sprinklings of gun nuts and country couples trying to make it in the big city. This wouldn’t be a problem in itself, since most games rely on clichés to get people to relate to their characters through their own past experiences with the same tropes, but in Redfall things end up feeling worse than usual, since those survivors are just glorified quest terminals, standing around motionless and delivering the same lines of dialog when we press the action button in their general direction. The missions they send us on aren’t very engaging either, as they range from “get this from here”, to “kill X so we can draw out Y” or just the good old “kill everything that moves in this area and then come back to me for a job well done”. It is an issue when the mission I remember the most is a side quest to find whisky and cigars for one of our base’s survivors, and the reason to remember it is just that one of my favorite Dishonored AI dialogues was “Shall we gather for whiskey and cigars tonight?”. How did the writers who created the 2017 Prey reboot go from the memorable characters and encounters in that title to this?
Gameplay-wise we aren’t in a much better spot, sadly. The AI in Redfall is utterly braindead, with supposedly terrifying vampires standing in place as we rush them, and some of the biggest foes in the game not being able to react to the player climbing on top of a car. Admittedly, Arkane‘s previous games didn’t have the best AI in the world, but Dishonored‘s enemies would run loops around these found in Redfall. The only way to lose a fight is often to get surrounded, which doesn’t necessarily happen because the player made a bad move, rather because the AI suddenly teleports closer. I’ve watched private military contractors bumrush me in a straight line as their comrades fell around them, only to turn back and go back to their patrol cycle like nothing had happened. Other times, I’ve sniped people seemingly engaged in conversation, only to realize that their partners didn’t mind that the person who was just talking to them now lay dead on the floor. Supposedly dangerous and unpredictable vampires would charge the exact same way over and over again, falling prey to the exact same rebuttal and going back at it like nothing had happened. Watching this saddening display I couldn’t help but remember Aliens: Colonial Marines, where the AI was sold as being this otherworldly menace that could overpower teams with their resourcefulness, and the real deal ended up being incredibly disappointing. And yes, things are that bad, that this is the sort of comparison my mind goes to.
But what about the level design? After all, Arkane is known for their intricate worlds full of detail and multiple pathways to approach every objective. How do things fare in that front? I wish I could say glad you asked, because I am not. While there are still different ways to get to places (this is an open world game, after all) missions that take place in confined areas are deceptively linear, and most situations will end up turning into combat encounters since the stealth system isn’t anything to write home about (there isn’t even a dedicated takedown control, we just tap the melee button when we are behind an enemy, and if the game is feeling good, it’ll result in an instant kill, otherwise we’ll either alert the foe to our presence, or since the AI is dumb as rocks, we’ll get another chance to try again). Our characters’ special abilities can open up new path, but ultimately things always play out the same way, with a big shootout and the heroes walking away victorious with new loot in their bags.
Oh yeah, this is a loot shooter too, didn’t I mention that before? White, green, blue, purple, yellow, the usual item rarities, everything you could want, right? Wrong. Redfall showers us with loot that makes no sense in the way it’s delivered, with lower quality items sometimes being better than their higher rarity counterpart just because the game decided to dole out a level 2 legendary weapon at the start of a mission only to leave a level 4 rare of the same type of gun lying around in a box right around the corner. Or my favorite, boxes that contain the same gun, but in four different rarities. Why? Don’t ask me, I’m just playing the game. On a more serious note, my only theory is that whoever was in charge decided they wanted to go after Destiny or The Division, or whatever’s the current loot shooter that’s keeping people busy playing it. Deathloop had experimented with a very toned down quality system, but this is a completely different beast and the game suffers for its implementation. Hey, at least guns still kill in a headshot though!
And of course, it wouldn’t be an open world looter shooter without the cooperative component. Hopefully that’s fun and well implemented, because if this key component of the formula was botched what would we do, right? Well, I’m sad to report that the cooperative portion of Redfall is also not exactly in the best spot. For starters, whatever progress you make as a guest in a match won’t carry over to your campaign, because it’s 2023 and for some reason that’s not standard fare yet. You do get to keep your loot, so that’s something, I guess. Stability-wise, things don’t fare too great either, as I had multiple instances of weird desync when playing with a friend (who is in the same country AND city, by the way, so it’s not a problem of us being in different continents or anything of the sort). I’d see enemies, dispose of them, and my friend would still see them as alive, but wouldn’t be able to interact with them in any meaningful way, while still getting shot or scratched by them. We also experienced crashes and general instability, but those aren’t exclusive to multiplayer gameplay, sadly. On a good note, the game supports cross platform connectivity, so you can play with friends on Steam while you are on Game Pass, or with console partners, etc.
With everything being so doomy and gloomy there must be a silver lining somewhere, right? How about performance, how’s that going? Once again, not glad you asked, thank you. Arkane‘s latest follows on the same trend as what seems to be all modern AAA games, as it doesn’t run very well, hogs video memory like a bastard, and it features the bane of all PC gamers, stuttery gameplay when moving to a new zone. On a mid-range but still fairly beefy rig (Ryzen 5 5600x, 32gb RAM, RTX 3070) I had to lower the texture settings at 1440p or the game would run into VRAM allocation issues, with slow loading textures and other niceties ruining things. Even after going all the way down to Medium settings, I still had the occasional low quality texture loading in place of its higher quality cousin for what were minutes on end sometimes. Performance seemed OK whenever the game wasn’t stuttering into a new zone, but changing settings didn’t seem to do much to improve (or worsen) things, which leads me to believe that my hardware is being sorely underutilized.
So, with all of these things in mind, what do I think of the game? Redfall is Arkane‘s first serious misstep, a title that feels churned out with no passion, and I hope the developer abandons their live service plans and moves on to better pastures soon because it’s sad to see such a mighty studio fall so low. I don’t know what happened or why it was released in the state it is, but this isn’t worth a Game Pass subscription fee, let alone seventy dollars.
4/10 – Below average.