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Redfall

Redfall

Arkane's vampire action game is here, but is it the winner Xbox needs, or a blot on a usually fantastic developer's record.

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Bethesda has really had their hands full with this one. For the past few months, the concern surrounding Redfall has seemed to expand and expand, something which reached a bit of a boiling point when it was revealed that the game wouldn't be able to support 60 fps on consoles, despite it both solely launching on Xbox Series systems and 60 fps being almost the standard for new games in this era of console hardware. Even though Arkane has a fantastic pedigree and has created a narrative idea based on classic horror monsters (vampires) that delivers intrigue, there are clear red flags about this game. But, should you actually be concerned about Redfall? I'm disappointed to say... yes.

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Arkane Austin has generally been very, very good at creating single player video games. The developer clearly understands level design, gameplay, narrative, and so on, and uses its talents here to deliver experiences like Dishonored and Prey. But with Redfall, they've blatantly dropped the ball, in every single area.

This game asks you to save a town from a vampiric siege. As one of four characters, you suit up and head into the quaint town and surrounding woods to hunt vampires, unravel the mystery as to how these soulless creatures came to be, and in the process, help a bunch of at-risk locals. In theory, there's a lot to delve into with this concept, yet Arkane has done everything in its power to suck the life out of the narrative. And this is because Redfall has an incredibly drab mission design structure, and uses a mission format that belongs in the early 2000s. You don't just undertake missions, and then complete an array of side quests while travelling across the map to the next story beat - like most open world games. No. Here you have to specifically select a mission from a hub location that is essentially split from the main open world, with the missions themselves being repetitive tasks that either revolve around finding an item or piece of information, or simply killing a specific vampire. What you see in the opening 30 minutes of Redfall is pretty much what you get for the rest of the game from a mission design standpoint.

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But at least the open world and the side quests make up for this, right? They don't. The side quests use pretty much the exact same mission format as the main missions, and the open world itself is a hollow and flat nightmare. When you explore the world of Redfall, the majority of the buildings you come across cannot be entered, and the ones that are accessible usually don't have anything of interest in them. If there isn't a mission taking you to a building, then that building is absolutely not worth your attention, unless you treat finding lore extracts and manually picking up junk (like pliers, tape, wire, etc.) a fun element of gameplay. Before you make an assumption as to what that junk is used for, let me just shut that down right away and say that Redfall has no crafting or gear upgrading elements whatsoever, and the 'junk' is simply auto converted into a currency when picked up, which you can use to buy items from a very small collection of vendors.

One of the biggest secondary mechanics of the game is finding and securing Safehouses, which are essentially bunkers that you can fast travel to and get a moment's respite from vampires. Every Safehouse is unlocked the same way, following yellow wires to a generator that needs to be activated. Once that's done and you enter the Safehouse, you can start the first of two side missions that revolve around reducing the local vampire threat, even if there is no noticeable difference after doing these. While the first can be one of around four different objectives, the second mission is always to kill a slightly more powerful vampire, to get a skull that is used in the main narrative at certain instances. And because there is very little to do across the world besides these Safehouses, you best get used to doing 15+ of these things by the time the credits roll. If you have a problem with Ubisoft and its use of 'viewpoints', this mechanic will become very boring, very quickly. There are also Vampire Nests to head into, but these are generally not very different to being out in the open world and killing vampires as you usually do.

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Anyway, let's talk about the enemy variety because one of the key factors of Redfall is its vampires. Over the course of my time with the game, I came across around five different actual vampire enemy types, and each of these despite their unique gameplay elements, approached combat the same way: running at me in a straight line. Sure, the Angler occasionally grapples and pulls you in, and the Shroud severely reduces visibility, but when it comes to actually landing damaging blows, the vampires seem to act like a hive mind, and attack like mindless drones. There are at least a few other enemy types to deal with, including human factions, who use different weapon types to attack, as well as explosive Bloodbags, and a few other macabre types, but if you've fought one of the highly predictable vampires, then you've experienced a crash course in how every other enemy will attack: by running headfirst at you with no respite. It really does take the joy out of the combat, and puts tons of emphasis and pressure on the characters and your loadout choice.

However, this isn't the saving grace that it needs to be either. The characters are solely set apart by three unique abilities each, but none of these abilities come across as that effective in practice, and so they ultimately aren't that important. And as for the loadout options, you can choose three unique weapons to equip at once, as well as a vampire relic and vampire blood option to slightly alter how a character plays, with each being defined by a rarity colour adding a bizarre and unfulfilling loot system to the game. The catch is that all of these are affected by Redfall's progression, which sees enemies becoming stronger as you level up in-game, but as there's no gear upgrading options, you are actually forced to swap weapons as the story advances for no real reason. It's essentially a slightly unique approach to weapon durability, as while guns won't break, they become far less effective the more underleveled they are, which means you have to move on from them. It is an unrewarding and frustrating gameplay mechanic.

And the levelling system isn't even saved by the perks you can acquire to improve each character, because none are that effective, and they don't drastically change how a character plays. When you think of the great skill trees found in games like Borderlands 2, where different perk combinations severely affected the way a character performs, in Redfall, they barely make an impact whatsoever, meaning there is very little to appreciate here in the form of buildcrafting. Granted, there is no endgame, so it's not a huge deal that the buildcrafting is abysmal. Once the credits roll, that's it. Either restart the game on a harder difficulty or with a new character. There's no further activities to unlock and explore, and considering I managed to beat the game, alone, on the hardest possible difficulty out of the gates, and do everything I could sink my teeth into all within less than nine hours, there's not even much to appreciate in the form of content.

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To me, Redfall feels like a game that Arkane had a very specific idea for, and over time, the desire to introduce serious cooperative play elements ultimately came at the cost of pretty much every other part of the game. Because, while you can play with friends - and yes, this will make the world that little bit less drab - this isn't a game that needs co-op support, and Arkane hasn't done marginally enough to make a compelling experience that draws players in, alone, or in a group. I strongly believe that this would have been a better title, if it was single player, and the player got to build out their character into something that combines the abilities of the four characters that are currently available, because as it stands, not are very intriguing individuals, and their uniqueness is so limited that it barely affects the gameplay at all.

Matching all of this up with the fact that Arkane's response to difficulty in Redfall seems to simply be to throw more drone-like enemies at you, and how the map and compass is so counterintuitive and dated that it actually makes me mad at times (despite having a mission objective to head towards, you have to manually place a marker on the map if you want a direction marker on the compass in your HUD), there is a lot that Redfall fails to do well. But before signing off, let's talk about the elephant in the room: the performance.

Gamers do not like it when a title is poorly optimised at launch, and Redfall might just be the final straw for a lot of folk. On PC (with my rig supporting an 11th Gen i9-11900KF, RTX 3090, and enough DDR4 RAM to fly to the moon and back), Redfall was delivering highs of 115 fps in the closed off hub areas, and then lows of 25 fps in the built up open world towns. Despite these abysmal frame rates, the game also suffered from textures popping in, hard crashes, glitched enemies, T-posing NPCs, and this is all on top of a movement suite that fights you as you play, making traversing the vertical parts of the map frustrating. I highly recommend playing as Layla, because her leaping Lift ability is a great solution for getting up cliff faces and over walls that would otherwise be impossible to cross. I've personally yet to experience the Xbox Series versions of this game, but what I've seen of the PC edition is shocking at times, and it makes me wonder how the game even boots up on a Series S console.

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Redfall is a humongous disappointment, as there are parts of this game that still feature semblances of that Arkane brilliance. The map has potential, there's just nothing to do in it, and the story delivers intrigue at times and shows that the small town America-meets-vampire concept is still very much alive and well. But, this game is an unmitigated disaster at times. It does very little to make you want to keep playing, and even if you do find something to enjoy, the horrible and outright disgraceful performance does everything it can to kill that passion in you. I'm glad that Redfall is here, because now Arkane can put this nightmare behind them and focus their efforts on getting back on track to deliver something far more suited to their talents.

04 Gamereactor UK
4 / 10
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The map has potential. The story has its moments. Gunplay is fine.
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Performance is atrocious. Progression is uninspired. Character design is forgettable. Lacks depth and variety.
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REVIEW. Written by Ben Lyons

Arkane's vampire action game is here, but is it the winner Xbox needs, or a blot on a usually fantastic developer's record.



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