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Redfall Review: Permanent Midnight

Redfall's fun with friends, but there are a few problems with the formula.

The elevator pitch on Redfall is that Arkane Studios, the developer that made Dishonored, Deathloop, and 2017’s Prey, made a cooperative “looter shooter,” where you get to play as one of four eccentric vampire hunters.

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Up until now, Arkane has been known for its immersive single-player games. Its world-building, characters, and open-ended level and encounter design are some of the best in the modern business. The question with Redfall was whether Arkane could still bring all those strengths to the table in a co-op multiplayer game.

The answer, as it turns out, is “kind of.” It’s complicated.

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Redfall is set in an island town of the same name, which used to be a pleasant New England tourist trap before the vampires showed up. After a few weeks of murder, paranoia, and cult activity, the vampires have gone loud and now openly run Redfall.

You play Redfall as one of four human survivors who try to escape the island by ferry. This annoys the vampires so much that they don’t just sink the ferry but push the oceans back from Redfall’s coastline and block out the sun. Right when it looks like you’re out of options, however, you happen across some information that gives you a chance to fight back and kick the vampires off the island.

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I’ve put about 25 hours into Redfall at the time of this writing, between a long solo run in its campaign and a shorter co-op session. I didn’t end up finishing the story yet, because I did what I always do with Arkane games and spent a lot of time poking around the corners of the map.

Redfall feels real and lived-in, with a hundred little handcrafted tragedies hidden in its margins. Many of the random houses and buildings across the island can be explored, to find loot or collectibles or just some small, human story from before or during the vampire takeover of Redfall.

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This is one of Arkane’s least fantastical environments, but that makes it more effective. The contrast of that uniquely bucolic small-town American aesthetic with vampire horror works surprisingly well. If you’re like me and you enjoy digging through all the environmental storytelling in Dishonored or Deathloop, you’ll have a field day here.

I wish I liked the rest of the game as much. It’s not simply that Redfall is an underwhelming action-RPG, but it feels like those mechanics were only added under protest. Right from the start, you always find the same dozen guns in lockers and boxes, just at varying levels or degrees of quality.

Every so often, you’ll find an “unrivaled” gun with a unique model and a few extra abilities, like a Destiny 2 exotic, but most of the time, you just end up choosing between green, blue, or purple versions of the same pistol, pump shotgun, or sniper rifle.

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There are a couple of unique and cool anti-vampire weapons, to be fair. I’ve spent a lot of time with the stake launcher, a handheld pneumatic ballista that lets you propel sharpened fence posts a couple hundred meters. If there’s one thing about Redfall I can unequivocally recommend, it’s sneaking up on some mopey Lestat wannabe perched on an antique store’s roof and letting him get halfway through a little speech about how cool and dark he is before you fire a pool cue through his chest.

It’s a high spot in what’s otherwise an annoying experience. Redfall is designed to be played in co-op, in ways that the game makes sure to reinforce. Alone, it’s easy to end up in difficult or unwinnable situations, because the whole game’s built around the expectation that you’ve got backup. Vampire nests, in particular, are a problem (a pain in the neck?), because they’re all about rushing you down with four to six vampires at once, and most of the cast can’t handle that solo.

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It feels like Redfall takes the basic toolkit from another, similar action-RPG/FPS, such as a Far Cry, and splits the mechanics up among its four playable leads. Jacob can mark distant targets; Remi’s the only one who’s got a “grenade” or can cause an effective distraction; Layla can conjure bounce pads or a bulletproof shield; and Devinder’s got all the area-denial abilities.

In a group, that’s actually a cool dynamic, because it enforces cooperation; you’ve all got at least one vital tool. Working together also builds a Trust meter between your characters, which gradually offers both mechanical benefits and bonus dialogue. If you’re solo, though, you miss out on all of that, and you’re forced to constantly go alone into situations that are visibly balanced around four players. It’s a recipe for frustration.

Redfall Review — The Bottom Line

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Pros

  • Arkane’s world-building and lore are still the best in the business.
  • It’s got a unique dynamic for co-op.
  • The island offers a lot to explore.

Cons

  • Playing Redfall solo just isn’t fun.
  • The graphics get the job done, but that’s really about it.
  • Remarkably glitchy AI behavior.

There are a lot of nits to pick with Redfall. I’ve seen a lot of enemies bug out, a few strange visual bugs, and a couple of mechanical issues like items in co-op that one player couldn’t loot. I never had a problem with raw performance on the Steam version of the game, but I did run into some weird visual glitches, particularly with highlighted items in my environment.

What I wonder is if Redfall started development as a single-player game, where you played as somebody like Devinder who would use stealth, guile, and detective skills to slowly learn the truth behind the vampires. Then, once Arkane was halfway through production, some executive kicked down the door and forced the addition of looter-shooter elements out of some misguided attempt to fast-follow Destiny or Borderlands. Like I said, there’s real craftsmanship here, but all the action-RPG stuff comes off like it was added as a contractual obligation.

At the end of the day, I’d call Redfall a decent to good co-op experience (high 7, low 8) that’s got a bad single-player game attached for free. Anyone who jumps on this for an immersive, weird Arkane Studios solo run – if you’re looking for Prey or Deathloop, now with vampires – is going to walk away not just disappointed, but bitter.

[Note: Bethesda Softworks provided the Steam code for Redfall that was used for this review.]

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Redfall Review: Permanent Midnight
Redfall's fun with friends, but there are a few problems with the formula.

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Author
Thomas Wilde
Survival horror enthusiast. Veteran of the print era. Comic book nerd.