One of my favourite horror novels of all-time is Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, memorably and poorly adapted for the big screen into the 2007 film starring Will Smith. The plot of the novel is wildly different from the film; set in a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles in 1976, seemingly sole survivor Robert Neville has to venture forth to gather supplies during the day, and then barricades himself inside his house at night, in an attempt to ward of attacks by packs of roaming vampires.
It was one of the first novels to posit a scientific theory for vampirism, explaining that it was caused by a bacteria which infected the blood. While Matheson’s vampires are really closer to zombies, his novel inspired a vast array of post-apocalyptic fiction. Redfall, the latest game from Arkane Austin, owes at least some inspiration to Matheson, as well as to the novel’s of Stephen King, most specifically ‘Salem’s Lot.
Redfall is an open world first-person shooter, with vampires. It’s set in the modern day, in the small town of Redfall, Massachusetts, where after an experiment by a bio-technology company goes wrong, a horde of supernatural vampires has invaded, permanently blocking the sun in a perennial solar eclipse, plunging the town into chaos and killing a large majority of the population. At the same time, all TVs and radios have been hijacked by the signal of The Hollow Man, which has inspired a cult of human survivors to pledge allegiance to him and kill anyone else. The gang of intrepid heroes must join up with the remaining survivors, establish a base of operations and then fight to slowly retake the town from the vampire menace. The story is alright, but fairly lightweight for most of the game, being the kind of thing you can tune out if you want to, similar to Tom Clancy’s The Division.
Either individually or in a cooperative gang of four, you can roam around the town of Redfall, fighting groups of vampires and their still human accomplices. Each player chooses a hero as their character. I chose Devinder “Dev” Crousley as my main character, a British-Indian cryptid hunter turned author who happened to be in Redfall for a book tour. Each hero comes equipped with their own special abilities; Dev can throw an electric lance, temporarily immobilising and damaging enemies. He also has access to a translocation device which acts as a short range teleport; a bit like a paired down version of Dishonored’s Blink ability. Indeed, most of the heroes have at least one ability lifted from either Dishonored or Deathloop, which are usable on a cooldown. Jacob the sniper has the ability to turn invisible for short periods, while Layla has a telekinetic shield which can protect her from damage.
Most of the time though you’ll be shooting, which broadly feels satisfying, with most guns having the same weight and punch as existed within Deathloop. Some weapons are better at taking down vampires, while others are best used against humans. For example, the flare gun is great at burning vampires, while the stake launcher as the name suggests can impale vampires under a hailstorm of stakes, allowing them to sometimes be killed in one hit. All vampires need to be staked in order to be permanently killed, meaning shooting them with a normal gun isn’t a permanent solution unless your weapon has a bayonet (thankfully many have). All loot is also colour and level-coded, meaning as you gain level, you’ll find more powerful guns with better rarities. Likewise as you gain level, you’ll unlock new abilities and upgrades to enhance your vampire-fighting skills.
The game might like to think it’s still within the “immersive sim” style of game design, but very little of that ethos remains in reality, already having been paired back significantly in Deathloop. This is ultimately a shooter where you can also occasionally read bits of in-game lore, as well as being able to loot various items in the world, which then is converted into your “supply” score. Scavenging for things like medicine, food and other necessities increases your supply, which can then be traded in at safehouses to either buy new weapons, or refill your health packs, lockpicks and ammunition.
Despite trying to tout various gameplay styles as options for the player via in-game tutorials, choosing between shooting someone with a shotgun or a sniper rifle isn’t innovative gameplay, and the environments are rarely open enough to truly facilitate different approaches. Stealth is all but non-existent, as vampires have the ability to teleport and fly, so can easily spot you coming, as well as being able to warp to close by as soon as they spot you, slashing at you with their claws. Silenced weapons don’t seem to exist either, meaning if you shoot one human guard, others are likely to hear you and come running. Enemy variety isn’t too bad with some specialist vampires thrown into the mix such as the Angler who can reel you towards them like a fish on a line, as well as occasional boss battles against a number of Vampire Gods, which form a major part of the main story.
Graphically this game is “fine”; it reminded me of Campo Santo’s Firewatch in some regards especially the character styles, but ultimately looks very similar in terms of level of detail to Deathloop, although with a more realistically grounded world design. The problem is a lot of the open world is simply rather bland and boring; Redfall’s picturesque Massachusetts countryside and small town vibe never lends itself towards creating particularly memorable places, although the maps are fairly busy with locations to explore. The world might feel moderately small at first, but actually encompasses two separate districts of the town which you wouldn’t anticipate simply by looking at the in-game map when starting the game, effectively doubling the playable area (although the other district remains inaccessible until you’ve advanced far enough in the story).
Technically the game is playable and didn’t crash, but suffers from many significant problems on launch. Shadows appear to be totally broken no matter what quality setting you select, dancing around and resolving incorrectly. This extends to foliage on trees, which flickers constantly and distractingly. The framerate isn’t particularly stable, especially in some areas of the map where the performance just tanks for seemingly no reason depending on which direction you point the camera. Likewise there are no framerate target options in the in-game menu, which is very poor. I also encountered some bugs such as vampires being able to glide through geometry, lacking collision and being impervious to damage, while also being unable to spot the player. Enemies also had the unnerving ability to suddenly respawn out of nowhere right next to where I was standing.
Redfall is absolutely, firmly average, and therein lies the problem. There is nothing really inventive here; nothing which has half of the style of Dishonored or the gameplay variety of Prey (2017). It’s a standard open-world shooter in the vein of Fallout 76, Far Cry 5 or Tom Clancy’s The Division; a relatively mindless Skinner box where you run, shoot, loot and repeat. Considering Bethesda already has Fallout 76 as a cooperative open-world looter-shooter, I genuinely don’t know what purpose Redfall serves, since it’s too small to be a real “live service” and is lacking in the gameplay variety of some of its competitors.
It screams of being designed by a marketing team first and a gameplay/development team second, or with an eye towards selling copious DLC, rather than first and foremost being a satisfying experience in its own right. If you lower your expectations and can disengage your brain, Redfall is decent, mindless fun, despite some bugs which will hopefully get patched out. But as a game from esteemed Arkane, it’s a disappointing sign of a studio which seems to have lost its spark.