Redfall Review - Competent But Not Compelling
Redfall is a game I wanted to love. The idea of a Borderlands-style romp through a world inhabited by all sorts of vampires put together by the team over at Arkane was enough to sell me on the idea right off the bat. That concept has so much potential, I was certain that it would be a hit, a game that I could happily immerse myself in with friends for hours on end. After diving into the game and hitting about the halfway mark, I realised that those expectations were way off and sadly it wasn’t to be. The remaining half of the game only confirmed what I had begun to expect at that point, which was that Redfall is fine and nothing more.
Don’t get me wrong, Redfall isn’t a bad game, in fact, there are some parts I really like, but as a whole, especially considering the pedigree of the developer, I feel it underwhelms which is often more disappointing than an outright bad game. The clearest example of this is the story and setting. As I said, I can get behind the idea of a science-based vampire invasion taking over a rural town, but it never quite lives up to that potential. The story teases that there is more to it, that there is a deep and engaging tale to be told, but it just never gets there, instead relying on surface-level exploration of the setting and themes. There is an obvious “greed is evil” thread here that is basically boiled down to “rich guys do bad things” and never explored in any detail at all. There is simply no nuance, no hook to the story, a fact that really lets the game down as you reach the unsatisfying conclusion. In a lot of video games, this is fine, all you need is an excuse to shoot some baddies in the face, but from the team that brought us Dishonored, Prey and Deathloop well it is hard to not be let down.
The town of Redfall itself ranges from stunning to indistinct. There are some parts of the map, most notably the edge of the island where a giant wall of water has been erected by the vampires towers over the land (another story thread that is barely even mentioned) to keep people trapped. Other parts struggle to be easily identifiable and blend together. The sign of a good open-world map is that you can instantly know where you are on the map just by observing your surroundings, this is sadly not the case here. Forests, hills and farms tend to be indistinct and therefore forgettable. Once again these are not unforgivable sins, but they are sins nonetheless.
The combat has a lot going for it, it is endlessly satisfying to stake a vampire and the variety of vamps add to the combat cycle nicely. Weaponry is generally great, with each weapon earning its place in your arsenal. Having a mixed selection in your kit bag for the various different situations you find yourself in is a must, in fact the only weapon I had equipped at all times, no matter the situation, was a sniper rifle, which is just too handy to leave on the bench. This then leads me to the biggest problem with the combat and the only outright bad part of Redfall, the enemy AI. To say the AI, especially in the human enemies, was aggressively stupid would be an understatement. Throughout the game, I would whip out my sniper rifle and take ou dumb cultist after dumb cultist as their buddies all stood around and watched, barely even reacting let alone acting like they were under fire. I mean, I get that these people are supposed to be on the, shall we say, intellectually challenged side of things, but even the stupidest of people know to take cover if three of your buddies just sprouted bullet holes in their forehead.
Perhaps the biggest problem I have with Redfall is that it is structured so much like Far Cry in a lot of ways that it almost feels redundant. Don’t get me wrong I love that formula, more than most I feel, but Redfall never takes the foundations anywhere new. It is all stuff I have done before, in a game that has been doing it well for years now, so it ends up feeling like a knockoff and not the developer’s own spin. As a result, I felt like I was just going through the motions for a large portion of the game and simply checking things off a list instead of actively enjoying my time. The crime of mediocrity is often more disappointing than the crime of simply being terrible and that feels especially true here.
There are some new and exciting things that Redfall does however and they do deserve praise. The first is Vampire nests. These are essentially loot dungeons that transport players to some sort of parallel world infested with bloodsuckers. Each has its own twists and conditions like different enemies and environmental hazards that mix them up and to complete them, players have to get to a central location, destroy a giant beating heart and then pinch as much loot as they can before getting the hell out of Dodge before the parallel world collapses. It is a simple little formula, but one that works, especially in the context of the game, and one I never tired of. The second great thing that Redfall does is the boss battles. I found them super enjoyable and they presented the right amount of challenge. I played through on Normal difficulty and found the game to be tough but not overly so and that carried through to the bosses. Each one took me down a few times, but as I learned their patterns and weaknesses I eventually triumphed. They are classic video game boss battles in every sense, but ones that are done really well.
In the lead-up to its release, Redfall has been copping a bit of stick about only having 30fps at launch. Look that stick is probably deserved. I can live with 30fps in a lot of different genres, but in this day and age, it just feels backwards for an FPS. It doesn’t break the game as such, but it is noticeable. Performance over flashy graphics every day, people. The rest of the game’s tech showing was once again fine. It didn’t wow me with its graphical flourishes, but it didn’t disappoint me either. Stability was also just ok. I had two crashes in 19 hours or so of gameplay which isn’t ideal, but hardly the worst offender. There were also instances of glitching graphics and the occasional mission marker bugging out, once again not great, but not exactly a broken game. Thankfully co-op seems to work as described, I managed a couple of co-op matches, including a four-player session with the P2 Editorial team and we had a blast. That, I suspect was because I was playing video games with good people and not so much the game. That said, it is probably the best way to play the game. Story progression is host only, but levelling, experience and loot are for everyone.
If I seem harsh on Redfall it is because I had such high expectations. Arkane is responsible for so many excellent and unique FPS titles that I couldn’t help but be excited for Redfall. Even my time in the preview session lead me to believe that we were getting more of that Arkane magic. Sadly the final product just didn’t deliver. What it did deliver was a competent, co-op FPS that’s setting is the only thing that sets it apart from other FPS titles that have been using the same formula for years. Redfall isn’t broken or even bad, it is just average, something I never thought it would be.
Redfall was reviewed on the Xbox Series X with code kindly supplied by Bethesda Australia