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Redfall review: dreadfall

Open-world vampire shooter is an epic fall from grace for Arkane

Redfall review lead

Xbox was looking so rosy for 2023. Hi-Fi Rush surprise released at the start of the year alongside a seemingly confident Developer Direct stream, suggesting the drought of first-party Microsoft titles was coming to an end and finally its Xbox Game Pass service could be onto some big hitters. That’s certainly what Redfall was shaping up to be, anyway.

It’s the latest title from beloved studio Arkane, who last graced us with the wildly fun and inventive Deathloop. While that actually came from the firm’s Lyon studio, Arkane Austin is nonetheless headed up by veteran developer Harvey Smith, responsible for the acclaimed Dishonored series. What could possibly go wrong?

A lot, as it turns out. Redfall sees Arkane, a studio best known for immersive sims that let players find their own solutions through a range of gameplay mechanics, belatedly making an open world, co-op looter shooter a la Destiny. Except the result is more like EA’s disastrous Anthem – but somehow even more soulless.

Your city’s a (blood)sucker

There’s an interesting premise around Redfall, which at least isn’t just another zombie-infested post-apocalypse. The main undead threat here are bloodsucking vampires who have invaded the titular fictional island town. That this outbreak is the result of a greedy biotech corporation that’s been exploiting the town also makes it a timely satirical metaphor to eat the rich. It’s just a shame that the sucker here is actually you, the player.

The contemporary Massachusetts setting isn’t just lacking the presence of either Dishonored’s Dunwall or Deathloop’s Blackreef; it’s also another very empty open world that even often feels short on enemies. Oh, and a lot of objects just happen to be glorified red barrels that easily ignite and blow up after being hit with a few bullets. As the vampires are supposed to be representative of the filthy rich, it makes sense the place isn’t teeming with the one percent. This actually means your main adversaries are more often than not human cultists who gladly welcome their bloodsucking overlords, the only enemy type more clichéd than zombies.

Regardless of who you encounter however, they’re all unimaginative to fight. At least Deathloop’s dumb AI meant you could use your powers to mess around with them, but there’s nothing so reactive here. Instead, we had moments when the AI would just completely bug out and the enemies just don’t even react. When we encounter vampires indoors, they almost always behave as if they’re Blair Witch victims, with their backs towards us, open to a few shotgun blasts before we finish them off with a stake to the heart.

Of course, to truly kill these immortal beings, a stake or fire is the way to go before they regenerate. But it’s a far cry from Doom’s glory kills, either in reward or a satisfying animation. On one occasion, a vampire had glitched out of shot and our stake went into thin air. But if you thought that looks bad, taking out human enemies while crouched behind them is just unintentionally hilarious.


Even discounting the litany of bugs that have impacted our interactions with enemies, environments, and the menu UI (plus a couple of hard crashes), it’s hard to escape a feeling of cheapness in every facet of Redfall. Sure, it’s a Game Pass title so it’s ‘free’ for subscribers – but it’s also a first-party Microsoft game you can buy on Xbox or PC for a whopping 70 quid. So you’d be at least expecting some decent production values, right?

We often see dismissive comments about something looking like a PS2 game, but as a new-gen exclusive (tested on Xbox Series S), Redfall does look and feel an awful lot like a 360-era game – and that’s not just because it’s only playable in 30 FPS on console at launch. This game has characters that share the stylised aesthetic of Arkane’s past games but they look like lifeless mannequins with proportions at odds with their environments.

While we can’t fault the voice acting or the sound design overall, which makes Redfall a great atmospheric game to play with headphones on even if you’re not in co-op, it’s all disjointed. Other characters you meet simply talk at you or your character monologues to themselves.

The story itself is also presented through little more than awkward stills, perhaps in an attempt to imitate comic book panels. Really they’re just shots of static in-engine characters and environments; clearly all the budget for animated cinematics went into the game’s trailers. More narrative is otherwise found by reading through the usual tired method of lore-dumping: notebooks and post-its, not ideal while under attack since you can’t pause the game. We’ve played lower budget games that manage to do more with less, but here it feels obvious how corners have been cut.

Not all wight

There are still some elements Arkane fans will recognise. Jacob, one of the game’s four playable characters, seems to especially embody the classic stealth character. His powers include a magic raven that can mark enemies as well as a cloak that makes him invisible for a short period of time. Some immersive sim ideas are also present in how you’re still given various ways to approach a location, as well as items to pick locks or hack traps and sentry turrets.

But that sense of freedom quickly evaporates once you reach the core of each mission, which boils down to finding a specific key or item to progress to the next point. Sometimes you might trigger a wave of enemies, but some missions also end so anticlimactically where you just pick up the macguffin you’ve been asked to retrieve and then just fast-travel back to your hideout.

Some attempts to up the ante come with entering vampire nests, procedurally-generated mini dungeons  where you only fight vampires and are tasked with destroying the literal heart of the nest at the end with the chance to score some rare loot. There’s also a more powerful vampire, a Rook, that will occasionally come after you in the open world once you’ve done enough to anger the vampire gods, denoted by a rising gauge. But again, these are let down by a mixture of busted AI and a half-baked loot system that carries little conviction in what it’s trying to do.

The gunplay is also just downright poor, with a default aiming sensitivity that feels too much on a controller. It makes it hard to aim down sights fast, especially when you’re being assaulted by fast-paced vampires warping around the place, even if they’re immediately undermined owing to how simple it is to strafe their attacks. Indeed there’s a lot of circle-strafing involved as you wait for your weapon to reload agonisingly slowly, and there’s maddeningly no radial wheel or other method quick swap to one of the three guns you have equipped apart from manually cycling through each.

Co-op out

We were hoping to test Redfall’s multiplayer once the game was out but unfortunately it actually doesn’t feature online matchmaking, which feels like an incredible oversight for an online multiplayer game in 2023. On the other hand, we can also see that it would be tricky coordinating with randoms in an open world – let alone trying to go stealthily while another just goes in guns blazing.

But with the emphasis on having four bespoke characters on the box and a focus on narrative, we had expected that we might be joined by AI companions during the campaign rather like Left 4 Dead. But no, if you play single player, you’re just out there by yourself, and can’t switch to another character unless you start a new save file. If you opt to only play in single player, that also renders a good portion of your skill tree obsolete as some upgrades are purely designed to help team members.

Even if you have a foursome revving to go, it’s still hampered by the fact that story progression only carries over for the host player, meaning everyone else will still have to play through the same missions again, if they weren’t already tedious enough. It’s no surprise many would just rather go it alone, or not bother at all.

Redfall verdict

Redfall review pier

What should have been a daring leap into new territory for acclaimed developer Arkane has resulted in it draining the life out of all the elements it excels at while falling flat on its face.

There might have been good ideas and themes from the outset but it’s hard to imagine how Redfall can be salvaged. Patches might get rid of bugs and improve performance down the line, but that’s not going to fix a tedious and hackneyed experience that feels half-heartedly stitched together from better games. If Microsoft and Bethesda think this is good enough for Game Pass, then they must think Game Pass subscribers are a bunch of suckers.

Stuff Says…

Score: 2/5

A huge disappointment. The best way to escape Redfall would be to just avoid it.

Good Stuff

Intriguing premise

Atmospheric sound design

Bad Stuff

Lifeless open world with bland missions

Awful UI and half-baked implementation

Dull enemies with buggy AI

No matchmaking or shared progression in multiplayer

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