There’s a dissonance to shooting a vampire in the head with a sniper rifle. Open-world RPG shooters like Redfall are dime a dozen at this point, so skulking across a roof with a sniper rifle looking for a vantage point is as natural to me as spending skill points, following a glowing in-game path to my objective or pausing a game so I can hoover down an entire pack of Tunnock’s teacakes.
The vampires contained within Arkane’s newest title are one of the things that’s most striking about Redfall and they work a little differently. They’re faster than you, stronger than you and can break the logic of the game in ways that might – at first – feel unfair. When a vampire becomes aware of your presence you might be in trouble, as they phase through the world itself to attack you from behind, teleport into your blind spot or even just yell and yell until every enemy within 500 metres has joined the fight. It’s not all hopeless: as the player you always feel like you’re smarter, fighting a guerilla war against a superior foe by using stealth, your character’s powerful abilities and even, occasionally, a high-caliber sniper rifle.
It makes every encounter with a vampire in Redfall feel immediately engaging. You won’t just be shooting vampires: several human beings have joined the vampire cult, swayed no doubt by the fact many of the people who don’t sign up are being drained of blood and hung out to dry. These mooks are easy kills. One tap to the head from an assault rifle, or even a body shot from a flare gun, will put them down like turning off a switch, and they’ll die just like thugs you’ve killed in scores of different games.
Vampires – not to keep going on about them, but they really are very well done – even die differently: do enough damage and they’ll enter a fragile state, stunned and needing you to thwack ‘em with a stake, electricity or even fire to get the job done. Redfall is generous here: if you’re prowling around the place with a shotgun you have a barrel-mounted stake you can hit them with, but the aforementioned flaregun, an explosive barrel, or even a long-range stake launcher – incredibly powerful but difficult to find the ammo for – will get the job done with the minimum of fuss.
The shooting is a real surprise. I’ve struggled with the shooting in several different Arkane games up to this point, avoiding combat entirely in Dishonored and begrudgingly accepting I’d have to do a whole lot of murder in Deathloop despite the squishy shooting. This has always been worth it because the worlds and systems that Arkane builds are always so excellent. Redfall’s shooting, meanwhile, is not just bearable but actually rather good, with snappy weapon handling and impactful guns elevating it far above its stablemates.
Better yet, that same Arkane DNA, the kind responsible for the incredible worlds the developer’s stories and characters live in, and that same DNA that transformed Prey from a generic space station into a place that felt warm and lived in despite the death of all of its inhabitants? It’s still here, and it elevates Redfall from a simple loot-and-scoot shooter and into a mystery you will be desperate to solve, even if your only real method to interact with the universe around you is with gratuitous ultraviolence.
The game isn’t an immersive sim, and in fact there’s really a sense that Redfall is Arkane’s attempt at appealing to a more mainstream audience. There’s a strong multiplayer focus in addition to contemporary mechanics like a collection of lootable weapons with different stats , crafting items and a minimap full of icons to explore, shoot or hoover up.
In play, it’s the least Arkane game Arkane has ever made. Elsewhere, everything is very Arkane indeed, although with that Austin’s Prey flavouring rather than the sci-fi stylings of Deathloop’s Isle of Blackreef. Several locations feel like short stories, densely packed environments that tell a story if only you are willing to stop shooting long enough to pay attention. However, the actual story in the chunk I played felt flat. Nothing in the cutscenes, written notes dotted around the place or even spoken by the characters themselves had the same mystery. It feels like it still exists and the whole thing feels like it hangs together cohesively, but at this stage the politics and gradual decline as you turn from smalltown to vampiretown is being hinted at but not shown.
Some slight wobbles are to be expected though. Arkane is trying to create a game that is all things to all people: speaking ahead of our play session Arkane’s Austin’s studio director Harvey Smith said that Redfall is designed to work as both a single-player “classic” Arkane game in addition to a four-player co-op shooter that could happily sit alongside titles like Back 4 Blood, The Anacrusis and even Vermintide 2. However, these aren’t really appropriate touchstones as they’re both mission-based instead of the open world of Redfall, and mostly often unplayable with a single player, but here solo players are getting an open-world shooter with some oddly detailed environments, something most people are going to be happy enough to tool around in.
Playing together feels like the move though: the character that I played, Devinder ‘Dev’ Crousley, had a translocation beacon that was basically a tossable teleporter. I could get myself up to roofs, into sealed buildings by lobbing it through a window and even use it to Telefrag vampires. I never found a weapon that would let me truly utilise the vantage points I could find, whereas another character, Jacob, was a sniper with an undead vampire eye grafted into his head. Considering the rest of Dev’s toys, many of which work best at close range, I’d love to dig into the cooperative mode to see what synergies appear.
After my time with Redfall, I think the attempt to balance being a multiplayer and single player game might work out. Redfall’s environments probably only work as storytelling spaces when you’re playing it alone or as a pair, but I think if you’re tooling around as a vampire-slaying quad you’re likely not going to care about storytelling, instead relying on enemies that feel interesting to fight and guns that feel nice to shoot. We didn’t get to play co-op at our hands-on, but the mechanical side of the game seems to actually hold up
Redfall then. It’s Arkane, but not as we know it. I hope it finds its audience.
Redfall releases on May 2, 2023.