Critics are often viewed as bitter and cynical because of the time we spend focusing on the negatives of whatever we’re presented. However, I would argue that our criticism comes from a place of passion, a desire to seek and demand better from those who we know are capable of creating masterful games. That being said, every now and then, we come across something that we can’t excuse for being an absolute mess. This lesson arrives once more in the form of Redfall by Arkane Austin.
This online co-op game has you playing as one of several gifted “heroes” trapped in a New England-esque town that has been taken over by vampires. Unfortunately, its solid foundation is ultimately let down by a series of glitches and design missteps.
What Is Redfall?
Online co-op games don’t need to pour a lot into telling a rich and complex story, they just need to be functional and fun. Still, Redfall makes attempts to set the scene and give meaning to all the running around you’ll be doing. At some undisclosed time in the past, a young woman was brought in to have experiments conducted on her blood. Lo and behold, the purpose behind the experiments turned out to be far more sinister.
These events culminate in a plague of vampires being spawned and unleashed on the town of Redfall. Led by the poorly-named Black Sun, the vampires sealed Redfall in a basin surrounded by walls of water. With no help coming and no escape routes left, you and whatever human survivors remain have no choice but to get to the bottom of the vampire crisis and eliminate those in charge.
A Shimmer In The Red Mist
They say even a broken clock is right twice a day, but this doesn’t apply to clocks with hands that fall off halfway through the day. Redfall is much like this metaphorical clock, and as such is only right once a day. At this time, my attention is drawn to the overall pacing of the game. Despite the online requirements and slow start-up time, once you get into the game things move pretty fast.
After a lackluster tutorial, you’re free to roam around the town doing whatever you want. You can look for Landmarks, unlock Safe Houses, find and complete side missions, clean out Vampire Nests, and such. You can also just look for vampires, cultists, and security forces to fight and defeat for a chance at some better loot or at the very least some resources. The punishment for dying is so lenient and respawn time is so fast that you can just keep throwing yourself at a problem until it goes away.
Thankfully, this is supported by somewhat functional gunplay. Choosing to run up to a group of enemies and shoot them in random body parts is a perfectly viable tactic. With the sheer number of weapons, ammo, and hero abilities you have, there won’t be much that you can’t eventually handle, especially if you’re playing in a team.
Falling Apart At The Seams
Now that the niceties are out of the way, let’s get down to brass tax: Redfall is pretty terrible. To start off, the solo vs. co-op play is not balanced at all. If you’re playing by yourself, missions can get overwhelming quickly, with groups of enemies seemingly spawning out of thin air to always shoot you from your blind spot. The balancing issues are even more evident in co-op. For instance, certain events and missions will not load properly when you’re in a team, and you’ll be left standing around like an idiot wondering if you’re doing something wrong.
Then there’s the difficulty scaling. Enemies will always adjust to the player with the lowest level instead of finding a good average. That means you can exploit the game easily by grinding lower-level enemies for easy EXP and progress. It’s especially easy since loot is randomized between players, each receiving gear that is appropriate to their level.
This is not to mention all the visual glitches you’ll see on a regular basis including but not limited to clipping, freezing, unloaded assets, unloaded animations, losing mechanics, and UI overlapping. On this note, the overall visuals of the game are extremely poor quality. Arkane has proven that they can do some impressive things as seen in their Dishonored series, but this is just bad.
The problems extend to visuals as well. Characters and assets look dull and flat with the enemies taking the brunt of it. You’ll encounter the same models among groups of enemies with a frustrating amount of frequency.
The vampires are the worst of them all, having little to no distinction between them save for simple details like different colored shirts and hairstyles. This is a game where you don’t want to look too closely, otherwise you’ll never be able to ignore all the repetition. Unfortunately, I need to do this as a critic, and I fear I may have fallen into a hole that I will never fully pull myself out of ever.
Rage Against The Machine
Then there are the choices made for mechanics. Yes, this is an online FPS with co-op and slight RPG elements, but the implementation is extremely lacking. Just looking at the heroes, their most notable qualities are their appearances because they at least stand apart from each. When it comes to their abilities, they all may be different, but they’re all made to accomplish the same things. This is because if you decide to play solo, you’ll be able to have a well-rounded character no matter which one you choose.
However, this has the side-effect of making certain abilities seem useless or even stupid when compared to others. Why would want a launch pad when you have someone who can throw teleporters around? Why would you ever want to cause a distraction when there’s someone who can just turn invisible and ambush huge groups?
The biggest negative is the Ultimate attacks, which are somewhat amusing at best, and which you’ll likely forget are even there most of the time. You don’t get armor, you can’t mod weapons, you only have two slots for “accessories”, and you don’t even get throwing weapons despite all the explosives around.
Then there’s the lack of thematic creativity. This is literally a game about hunting vampires of various types throughout small-town America. Although it doesn’t state it outright, this is a post-apocalyptic setting: Humans are fighting for survival, resources are scarce, and everyone is fighting for what little supplies are available.
Despite this, all you’re doing is getting guns and pointing them at humans pointing them at you and occasionally vampires. You’ve got the standard types of rifles, shotguns, and pistols, with flare guns, UV beams, and stake launchers being for use against vampires. Some of the weapon designs look interesting and detailed, but you’ve seen and used them all before. This is a supernatural setting with supernatural enemies, and heroes with futuristic technology and otherworldly abilities, so it was a huge missed opportunity to not jazz up the weapons.
Why don’t you have melee weapons like silver bats or swords? You can attach stakes to weapons, by why can’t you attack with them regularly? Where are the garlic-infused items and the solar energy devices? Why aren’t there holy or blessed weapons especially when one of the main characters is a reverend? These are just a few of the obvious questions I asked during gameplay.
Vampires have so much rich lore associated with their background, behavior, and physicality, and yet here it’s just the basics mixed with some other fantastical ideas. At the end of the day, this is perhaps the biggest criticism: Redfall is a mashup of elements and mechanics from a variety of much better games, but it has failed to assemble them in an effective way that is refreshing and playable.
Is There Hope For Redfall?
It wouldn’t be wrong to say that many players were watching Redfall closely since it was announced. The premise of another supernatural hunting game with vampires instead of zombies definitely turned some heads, including mine. There was build-up, promotions, and presentations made to get potential players excited. The game took off in pristine condition and arrived as a smoldering pile of flaming debris and bird excrement.
However, just like such a sight, it’s kind of hard to take your eyes off of it. If your system is strong enough to support the game, you’ll find it very easy to jump into if you just want to kill some time. You can knock out story and side missions like they were items on a grocery list. Maybe there’s value in that, since boredom is one of the many plagues targeting our ever-shortening attention spans.
Redfall can be a fun game, but its many problems means it’s already lost a huge number of players in the short time that it has been available. Hopefully, this will be some sort of wake-up call for Arkane, and they’ll be able to appeal to Bethesda for support in fixing all of the game’s problems. Is there a chance that Redfall can recover from this? I honestly don’t know, but I would be pleasantly surprised if it did. As the saying goes: When you hit rock bottom, the only place to go is up. Though, in Redfall’s case, it hit rock bottom and then dug to the center of the earth.
This review of Redfall is based on a PC playthrough via Xbox Game Pass. It’s available now on Xbox Series X|S and Windows PC.