Considering they’re a staple of horror and fantasy, vampires have been the subject of relatively few great video games. Sure, there’s Castlevania, and Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines, Legacy of Kain, and a few others. But compared to zombie-themed games, for example, vampires are lagging way behind. Is Redfall a chance to sink your pointy teeth into something great, or should you seek a fun transfusion elsewhere?
Arkane Austin has a pretty stellar track record, including the Dishonored franchise and Prey. The studio is known for deep world building and narrative sophistication. Redfall’s story premise is that a biotech company called Aevum, in seeking the secret to immortality, has instead unleashed a vampire horde. The wealthy founders of Aevum have embraced their mistakes and turned themselves into vampire gods. Redfall, once a quaint seaside island town in Massachusetts, is now home to an army of vampires and their cult of followers, scattered survivors, and you.
While the “science gone awry” theme won’t win awards for originality, the story does a decent job of spawning main and side missions that help the player find direction in the main open-world zones of Redfall. The plot unfolds thanks to environmental items, cut scene narratives, and the cast of NPCs. None of it breaks new ground, and thanks to some fairly bland character designs and animations, truly mediocre lip-syncing, and occasionally cliche writing, Redfall’s presentation feels dated. It isn’t terrible, but it doesn’t feel like a major step forward for Arkane Austin’s team.
Conceptually, though, Redfall successfully imagines a slice of Americana invaded by bloodsucking monsters. Redfall — the place — is interesting to explore, with vampire nests and toxic vampiric fog mixed into the New England, small-town setting. Not unlike the recent Dead Island 2, Redfall has plenty of secret areas to find and a bit of social commentary and gothic horror hiding in the shadows.
High Stakes Poker
For most people, though, the plot of a shooter is like going to Olive Garden for authentic Italian cuisine. As long as it gets the job done, it’s good enough. Redfall’s main draw is its vampires, and whatever cool weapons you can find to turn them into sparkly bad memories. It’s even better when you have the right tool for the job.
Let’s clear up a misunderstanding. Can Redfall be played solo? Absolutely. Is that the best way to play it? Probably not. The developers have been stressing at every opportunity that Redfall is best experienced in 2-4 player coop. Design decisions and the flow of exploration are built around it. While soloing Redfall does have the advantage of being able to snoop in every corner of the map without annoying an impatient friend, it’s also kind of lonely. Combat can be challenging and tense, but there’s a fair amount of real estate in which not much is going on. On the other hand, since enemies don’t scale to the size of the party, larger groups can make encounters trivial.
I Need a Hero
There are four playable characters in Redfall. They are cryptozoologist inventor Devinder Crousley; telekinetic student Layla Ellison; combat engineer Remi de la Rosa, and special forces sniper, veteran Jacob Boyer. Each has a trio of upgradable special powers. For example, Layla has a powerful energy shield that repels projectiles, and Remi controls Briben, a likable robot companion with the ability to divert enemies. Arkane has explored this system more than once, and some of the powers are pretty similar to those found in games like Dishonored or the recent Deathloop.
For my playthrough, I chose Jacob. In addition to being skilled with long-range weapons and the ability to cloak, he has a raven companion that tags enemies. Down the upgrade path, his pet can be a killing machine as well. Once you pick a character, you’re committed to him or her for that playthrough. All characters can use whatever weapons they find, so what really makes each fighter feel unique are their special powers.
Assembling a team of two or more characters allows powers to synergize, or at least complement each other. Playing with a coop partner is ideal. It allows for challenge and reasonable strategizing. Large groups can turn into chaotic free-for-alls that might be fun, but minimize the narrative elements and pacing.
Creepy Missions Through the Haunted Mansions
Redfall’s main story missions push the player around the map and towards showdowns with the game’s vampiric god bosses. There are lots of NPC-assisting side quests, like opening up safe houses for survivors or finding hidden objects by solving simple puzzles. Some of these involve multiple treks to the same locations, and it’s probably no surprise that the vast majority involve killing vampires and the cultists who protect them.
There are, however, a few unique activities that are a bit more interesting. Vampire nests are procedurally generated, psychic locations that continue to expand until they are cleared by destroying a series of beating hearts. The vampires within them grow more powerful, too, making them particularly challenging for solo players.
Because there is so much stuff to pick up, Redfall can feel like a looter shooter. While some items like ammo or healing consumables have a function, most items simply earn coins, used for buying gear, consumables, and weapons. There are a lot of systems at play, like a day and night cycle that impacts vampire strength, or human security forces that can help keep attackers distracted. These added elements help keep the basic gameplay loop engaging.
Just a Quaint New England Town
Because its design is rooted in the real world, the town of Redfall isn’t necessarily an imaginative tour de force. Redfall is not without interest and charm, even when overrun by vampires. Because the game is going for a stylized reality (yeah, I get the oxymoron) some of the figure models and lower-detail objects get a pass. Even so, I couldn’t help but feel like graphically, I was playing a much older game.
One area where Redfall excels is in its vampire variety. The human cultists are generic, but the various types of supernatural enemies are interesting and challenging to fight, especially in numbers. They have moves that are surprising, fast, and often difficult to counter without the right powers or weapons.
There was a rumor that, on PC, Redfall was locked to 30fps. This isn’t the case. I was able to maintain 60fps with everything maxed out, even with my modest rig. There were some minor visual and performance hiccups.
I had fun playing Redfall, both solo and with friends. There’s a definite Salem’s Lot vibe to a New England town oppressed by a vampire apocalypse. All the characters are interesting to play and the monsters are varied. Still, Redfall does not revolutionize the open-world shooter, or even really evolve Arkane Austin’s by-now familiar formula. Redfall feels like the product of a reliable game plan that’s due for an update.
***PC code provided by the publisher for review***
- Interesting enemies
- Fun coop
- Cool powers and weapons
- Manageable open world
- Graphics/art look dated
- Solo play can be difficult
- Lacks imagination and innovation