I’ll admit it: it’s pretty rare that I’ll give a game a negative review. It usually takes severe performance issues, crashing and the like to convince me. In my mind, anything better than spending eight hours in the office is probably worth a look to the right person – and I’m perfectly willing to accept that in many cases I’m just not the right person. You’ll want to check out the fine work from my colleague Sebastian Stoddard for a lot of those, by the way.
Sometimes, though, a game comes along and just misses the mark. By that I mean even the intended audience probably isn’t going to have a great time. We don’t often see failures on an epic level as often these days since most releases do, by and large, offer something of value to someone. But that doesn’t mean it never happens. Want proof? Let’s talk about Redfall.
Science has gone wrong yet again! This time those white-coated villains were mucking about with experiments on vampirism, which in turn led to the town of Redfall being occupied by a combination of bloodsuckers and the cultists that love them. You and your pals, as your choice of telekinetic student Layla, gadgeteer Remi, cryptozoologist and streamer Dev or spectral sniper Jacob, are on your way out of the vampire-infested town when your escape is cut short and the island cut off from the rest of the world. Now you’re trapped in Redfall, struggling to survive against a whole town full of the undead, as well as their leadership that aims to black out the sun and take over the world at large.
Redfall is a coop-focused first-person shooter with very light immersive sim mechanics. You’ll go on missions throughout the town, collecting supplies, gear and weapons along the way, and you’ll unload on a variety of flavors of vampire and cultist as you trundle along. The town’s an open-world that you can explore at your leisure, but your time is best spent taking assignments from a hub and concentrating on getting those done. The plot’s vaguely interesting in a Dishonored sort of way, but chances are it’s not going to keep you going.
Why’s that? Well, the open-world of Redfall is a little empty. By that I mean it’s about as empty as an innocent victim’s veins in Salem’s Lot. Redfall’s early moments suggest that you’re going to have to scrounge for limited supplies of weapons and ammo, but this is quickly blown to bits when you’re essentially infinite piles of ammo. Sure, you’ll have to spend some of Redfall’s ubiquitous currency on it, but you’ll have plenty of that since most of what you find in the open world is immediately converted to cash.
You could spend that at vendors to buy new gear, but why bother when the open world’s happy to provide an armory’s worth of guns anywhere you look? The only other stuff that’s really worth looking for is collectibles, which are interesting in the usual Arkane fashion, but the larger size of the world didn’t include an increased density of interesting goodies and lore to match. Imagine if a single Dishonored level was ten times as big but only with three times as much stuff to fill that space and you’ve got the idea. At least there’s loads of gats to grab.
Indeed, you’ll be far more strapped than necessary for the kind of opposition you’ll face. Redfall’s enemies are…dumb. Really, really dumb. Cultists will happily let you blow their pals away before standing there gaping as you line up another headshot. Vampires flail about in impressive fashion but tend to be pretty bad at actually hitting you, assuming you didn’t just sorta-kinda sneak up to them and headshot them as well. You need to finish off your bloodsucking pals by staking, zapping or burning them once they’ve been rendered vulnerable via conventional weaponry, but none of these options are in short supply so it’s more of a formality.
There’s plenty of guns, ammo and healing to go around, and that’s before we talk about your characters’ special abilities – think Destiny, as in “relatively underwhelming and burdened by long cooldowns” – and skill trees with passive abilities that beef them up even further. You’re a one-mortal army against the undead hordes and they will be found wanting against you. Bring some friends along and they might as well just get back in their coffins before you go through the effort of putting them there.
Redfall vaguely seems to want to portray desperate humans struggling against a town full of supernatural horrors, but in practice it’s a power fantasy for garlic aficionados. It’s hard to be afraid of the mysterious Hollow Man and his spooky muttering in your head when you’re slaughtering his lesser pals en masse.
I’ve seen at least a little breath spent on defending Redfall as a failed experiment, but something that could be fixed given time. This is a seductive argument, particularly given the reactionary nature of modern discourse. Contrast the state Redfall is in with, say, the launch of Mass Effect: Andromeda, a game that was practically pristine on day one by the standards of many contemporary releases but got dragged due to a combination of first-mover bias thanks to preview write-ups and a tendency toward negativity by the Very Online. Go back and play that game now and it’s an entirely workable third-person shooter. Perhaps the same could one day be said of Redfall?
Like a vampire, though, seductive arguments can only enter your brain if you let them, and in Redfall’s case it’s easy to shut the door. Redfall immediately feels like Deathloop, which immediately feels like Prey, which immediately feels like Dishonored. Notwithstanding the tendency of a diehard core audience that will defend anything and the proclivity of most media outlets to take the industry’s side when a controversy arises, it’s difficult to understand how one could take up arms for a game that really seems like it could have been more of the same and been completely fine. To put it another way, this could have easily been Dishonored With Vampires and Stephen King, much as we’ve seen Dishonored With Aliens and Time Travel.
This is the real indictment of Redfall – that it would have been so easy to make it more than what it is, which is a half-baked attempt at an immersive sim that’s neither particularly immersive nor simulates much. It’s a game that can’t decide if it wants to be Left 4 Dead, The Division, Dishonored or what. It understands that people liked certain aspects of previous Arkane games but doesn’t understand why, instead offering an endless, empty town filled with brain-dead enemies to kill with your infinite piles of ammo in return for useless currency, trinkets, and yet more guns to take out the next set of target dummies.
Remember when Dishonored made you contemplate the different methods you could use to approach a problem? There’s two solutions to basically all of the problems Redfall places in front of you, and their names are Smith and Wesson.
The point is this: the Hollow Man’s mutterings sound like the babbling of Prey’s Typhon and that, in turn, sounds like the cryptic messages from Dishonored’s Heart, but Redfall lacks the soul of any of those classics. Thanks to these trappings, you immediately know you’re playing an Arkane game. That means it’s all the more obvious when it stumbles at being an Arkane game and instead a C-list open-world shooter.
The best thing that can be said about Redfall, then, is that it’s on Game Pass. You can try this one, perhaps rope some friends into joining you and, likely, drop it altogether when you find out that there’s little of value here. Performance issues are never great, but those are easier to fix than the combination of vapid world, vapid gameplay and vapid plot that constitute Redfall. Stick a stake in this one. It’s done.