“Redfall makes concessions to work as a middling multiplayer game at the expense of a promising single-player experience.”
- Strong storytelling
- Fine-tuned action
- Stuck between solo and multiplayer
- Multiplayer design oversights
- Rough presentation
- Poor AI
Two delicately crafted moments early on in Redfall made a strong first impression on me. The first was when I exited a shipwrecked boat and gazed out at a massive wave frozen mid-crest as vampires had parted the sea. Shortly after, I saw the sun turn black and two helicopters struck down by lighting right in front of me. These are the kind of arresting visual moments that Arkane Studios has made a name for itself with in games like Dishonored and Deathloop.
That’s why it’s a shame that these are two of the only scenes in which Redfall captures that magic.
Redfall is conflicted about what it wants to be. It’s trying to be an intense, emotional, and political immersive sim about vampires, but also an endlessly replayable co-op, open-world shooter. The ideas don’t mesh well; design caveats made to accommodate multiplayer suck the blood out of Redfall’s single-player experience. And while multiplayer is inherently more fun, lots of little annoyances stack up to make it an inferior choice compared to much better co-op shooters on the market.
Redfall’s writing and gunplay are competent and build upon Arkane’s expertise. Despite that, a design identity crisis and a bevy of technical issues make this a surprising disappointment from a development team that’s capable of so much more.
Yet another open world
In Redfall, a group of big pharma billionaires have turned into vampires and taken over a small Massachusetts fishing town. Players fight back as one of four superpowered individuals, each of which has unique powers. I played as Layla, a college student with magical powers that include spawning an umbrella to block bullets and deflect their energy back, creating an elevator that will boost her into the air, and summoning her vampire ex-boyfriend to help her fight.
These powers, as well as Redfall’s variety of guns, all feel great to use. With this and Deathloop, Arkane has proven it has fine-tuned the first-person shooter genre when it comes to game feel. It’s not as good at making open-world games, though. While Redfall’s northeastern U.S. aesthetic setting stands out, its world design is much less inspired as I joylessly explore my surroundings to follow objective markers, fight bullet-spongey enemies in empty open spaces built for multiplayer, and am forced to do repetitive side missions to progress the main story.
Loot and a deep skill tree give a constant feeling of progression, but the enemies never feel that tough. AI struggles to spot me and aim correctly, even in single-player (Layla’s umbrella ability felt useless at times because enemies right in front of me would just stare at me and not shoot when I had it active). Various classes of vampires shake fights up by teleporting and striking with more powerful melee attacks, but my playthrough was a disappointing breeze on the game’s default difficulty setting.
Arkane is barely playing to its strengths in Redfall.
Arkane hasn’t advertised Redfall as an immersive sim as much as its previous games, and I can see why. Immersive sims — a subgenre that puts an emphasis on player choice and freedom — are all about interaction. The only real interaction I ever had with Redfall’s world was pointing and shooting. This became clear when one mission stood out from the pack by asking me to infiltrate a cult’s camp, not just kill a target or collect something. There weren’t any clever stealth or secret world interactions to accomplish this goal, though; I simply had to walk around and not shoot anyone until the game told me to.
This isn’t unusual for open-world games, but it demonstrates that Arkane is barely playing to its strengths in Redfall. Enjoyable combat only goes so far, as open-world contemporaries like Far Cry 6 feel like they have more going on from a world design perspective. That’s a shame, too, as Redfall is stronger narratively.
At times, Redfall dives into striking narrative territory thanks to some strong writing and mission premises. Some missions — like one where a haunted mansion is explored through two different eras — have stuck with me since playing them. The story isn’t afraid to get a bit political and call out the ultrarich elite who make the world a worse place for their own benefit, although it’s more focused on demonizing the people rather than the system that creates them.
Environmental storytelling is top-notch especially, and there are a wealth of well-written notes scattered around locations that paint pictures of blissful ignorance or paranoia in the days before an apocalyptic event. That deeper storytelling pokes through in the gameplay, too. For instance, some vampires drop wedding rings as loot after death, serving as a sobering reminder that they were once human. Details like that are why Arkane is one of the gaming’s most celebrated studios.
Unfortunately, none of this is benefited by Redfall’s multiplayer component. Cutscenes are glorified slideshows so the game can easily slot the character being played in and out of the images, and a lot of dialogue is delivered in a soulless, NPC-like fashion that’s typical of a lot of multiplayer games. As a result, Redfall feels like a significantly less polished and less delicately crafted single-player experience than any of Arkane’s previous titles despite some strong writing. That’s a shame, because Redfall’s narrative strengths don’t work as well in multiplayer.
It quickly becomes apparent that single-player isn’t the best way to experience this game.
When I tried multiplayer, I skipped reading notes to avoid falling behind my teammates. I couldn’t pay attention to much dialogue that diegetically played because a friend was talking in my headset. Meanwhile, side content like Vampire Nests look stunning with their twisted, otherworldly distortions of the real world, but because they are repeatable world events that players can fight through together, these visually inspired bits forgo any narrative significance.
When playing through Redfall alone, it quickly becomes apparent that single-player isn’t the best way to experience this game. Even when I found morsels to savor in Redfall, I’d think about how it’d probably be even better in a solely single-player, offline adventure. Because so many sacrifices were made for the sake of multiplayer, one would hope that experience is near flawless. That’s far from the reality.
Not fun in multiplayer
In an attempt to make content that appeals to both single-player and multiplayer, Redfall fails to excel at either. Right off the bat, it’s impossible to switch characters mid-campaign, and each character levels up independently, so you’re likely to be underpowered when visiting an experienced player’s world or overpowered when visiting a newbie’s. I assume it’s set up like this so players are encouraged to play through the game four times, but that comes at a frustrating cost.
Redfall hasn’t cracked the case on how to make a multiplayer immersive sim.
Story mission completion in someone else’s session isn’t carried over to your own, so you’ll have to go back and repeat missions in your own campaign, even if you’ve already played through them with others. Thankfully, progression does carry over, and so do supplies, the game’s primary currency. which becomes a shared resource whenever you enter multiplayer. Spend a lot of supplies in your friend’s campaign, then be prepared to dismantle a lot of weapons and grind for supplies once you return to your world.
More minor issues are equally embarrassing for this studio’s first co-op outing. For example, a ping system seems helpful, but every player’s ping is the same color, so it’s impossible to tell what’s what unless you aim your reticle directly at it. Animations often break, so it looks like your co-op companions are just sliding around. It’s impossible to matchmake with random players around your level; you’ll need to throw out your progress and play as a brand new character, be very overpowered in a friend’s world, or deal with them being vastly underpowered in your campaign.
Of course, there is something that’s always inherently fun about playing a game with others. I enjoyed finding unique ways to help each other with our characters’ powers and there was less pressure when several vampires attacked at once. Unfortunately, a flurry of smaller issues all stack up to make this a subpar multiplayer experience. Redfall hasn’t cracked the case on how to make a multiplayer immersive sim.
It doesn’t feel like it does anything much better than the plethora of other cooperative games already out there. Those looking for a new co-op shooter to play with friends will likely be able to enjoy Redfall for a time, but I doubt it will draw anyone away from Destiny 2 or one of the other better-designed multiplayer experiences already capturing their attention.
Struggling to come together
On top of everything I’ve mentioned, Redfall is a technical mess in its current state. It only runs at 30 frames per second on Xbox Series X/S right now and struggles to keep that consistent. The PC version doesn’t fare much better. I suffered multiple game crashes and several server disconnects while playing in single-player. One late-game boss fight felt nearly unplayable due to lag. Enemy character models and lighting often glitched on me. Audio would occasionally get choppy. Kill animations would miss their targets. Aiming down sights and using powers would sometimes not work correctly. My list of gripes goes on and on, and I’m not confident they can all get ironed out in the game’s lifetime.
Redfall is a mess in almost every way. Yes, there’s a fairly basic open-world shooter here that plays well. But whether you’re playing alone or with friends, design and technical issues will frequently pop up to actively worsen the experience. Any promise from the game’s earliest moments quickly dissipated into a subpar adventure that feels misguided at its core.
It’s OK for a studio like Arkane to want to take risks and make something that feels different from the rest of its catalog, but the game that results from that still needs to feel coherent and run properly. Redfall most certainly does not and feels conflicted no matter how you try to play it.
Redfall was reviewed on Xbox Series X.