Review | Redfall

Bumbling, bloodless around the Bay State.

When Redfall was initially revealed back in 2021, I was intrigued not just because the game takes place in my home state of Massachusetts but because I enjoy playing cooperative first-person shooters with my pals. Although the FPS genre can feel bloated at times, the velocity in which quality co-op experiences release are laughable compared to their PvP cousins. So with the pedigree of Arkane Austin and Bethesda behind Redfall, I was hopeful that this vampire shooter would have a tad more blood pumping through its veins.

From the outset, all you really can surmise is that this isolated Massachusetts town has been overrun by vampires. As you choose one of the four heroes– Layla Ellison, Jacob Boyer, Devinder Crousley, or Remi De La Rosa– you’ll awaken in a pool of blood and the fangs of foes to come happily greeting you. As the story progresses and you complete missions you’ll realize there’s more brewing than just thirsty nocturnal nibblers, a brooding cult roaming the streets of Redfall, MA, and a small group of truth seekers looking to uncover and share the answers with the remaining living residents.

Redfall‘s story chugs along at the pace in which you choose to play main missions that take place over three main areas of this fabricated island town. In two of these large, open-world areas is where the bulk of the game will take place, with varied environments within, plenty of enemies to mow down, and side missions to discover. Each main mission will start with a cutscene that expands the overall plot forward, while exploring the environments will continue to flesh out the mystery of the world and the people inhabiting it. There were seemingly endless amounts of notebooks, posters, and other interactable items scattered throughout Redfall that would spit waves of text at you but I rarely felt compelled by many of these items. There were glimmers of intrigue during certain main missions or discoveries during my time but the overall feeling I was left with after rolling the credits was wishing it had connected with me in a deeper way or that there was something else driving me back for a second character playthrough.

My biggest recommendation for jumping into Redfall is to play the first hour or so in single player. First-person shooters with cooperative multiplayer can be some of the best gaming experiences one could have, I know I’ve had my fair share of memories constructed while storming the beach in The Silent Cartographer or hunting for loot with friends on Pandora but the cooperative gameplay in Redfall didn’t always feel like it belonged and the early game is probably the most egregious example I experienced. Some of my favorite moments in my time with the game were in multiplayer sessions hunting for secrets or taking on vampire nests, but the majority of my time visiting the vampire infested town was alone.

Although only parts of the story and world created within Redfall were alluring and interesting, the gameplay was going to be what truly swayed my time with the blood-sucked shooter. Before getting into the nuts and bolts, it is worth mentioning that this game does have some overall concerns when it comes to performance. I played on an Xbox Series X and aside from having moments where the 30fps was excruciatingly noticeable, I didn’t have too many other bugs that some of my friends on PC were experiencing. Unfortunately, I think your mileage may vary depending on your PC build until Redfall gets better optimization patches in the future. This isn’t to say it’s perfect on Xbox, this was just my 20 hours or so with the game.

Aside from those technical issues, the overall gameplay, like the narrative, had its moments where it felt unique and genuinely fun. Nailing a vampire with a stake launcher in an aggressive swarm of enemies was always a satisfying shot, but aside from certain late game encounters, I never felt like the game or the enemy AI every really challenged me to play creatively or smarter. Which often led to me not necessarily changing how I approached encounters. You can absolutely choose to sneak around through an alternative way or combine your abilities in unique ways to traverse rooftops or evade a swarm of cultists but ultimately a fully loaded shotgun and charging head first usually did the job. Of course there is a harder Midnight difficulty and an unlockable Eclipse difficulty for an even greater challenge, but I don’t know if increasing enemy health or amount of enemies would coerce me to play much differently either.

Aside from the gunplay, the main additional gameplay mechanics focus around the unique abilities each hero possessed. Leyla with her psychic defense focused abilities, Jacob with his offensive stealth skills, Remi with her tactical support options, and Devinder who felt the most well-rounded to me. I primarily played Redfall as Devinder Crousley, a cryptozoologist and author who washes ashore in Redfall, MA while on his book tour. His three abilities each offered something different, one for traversal, one for attacking, and another for buffing Devinder and the squad. The first of which is Translocate which allows you to toss a disk which can transport you and your squad between the space you are standing and where that disk lands for a period of time before the portal closes. Next up is Arc Javelin which creates a small area of affect slowly damaging enemies depending on where you toss it. Finally, Blacklight sets up an area surrounding the skill that will damage enemies, petrify vampires, and buff teammates. All of these proved useful and beneficial, especially Blacklight, late game and combined with some of the other heroes abilities could potentially lead to some interesting scenarios, but I never saw that realized in my multiplayer sessions. The initial reveal trailer for Redfall showed us cinematically the potential these characters could have, but unfortunately I never quite felt as cool as the trailer made me hope I could.

The final stake in the heart for Redfall is how this game handles multiplayer, which isn’t a secret as Arkane has been up front about how these systems function, but having only the player who hosts the multiplayer session gain story progression is quite mindboggling to me. If Redfall had it’s fangs deeper in me and I felt compelled to replay its story missions or re-open safehouses or other landmarks on the map again on my own then it could potentially be less of a negative, but after my initial few hours in multiplayer I couldn’t imagine spending long sessions in someone else’s Redfall. When I booted up my local session and my level 8 Devinder awoke on the shipwrecked boat at the start of the game it was a sort of reality whiplash that I wasn’t prepared to face, which ultimately led me to play the majority of my time during the review period playing solo. On the other side of the fence now having completed the game, I could see myself helping a friend on their playthrough of the game, but aside from main mission progression for them, I’d feel even less compelled to do any side stuff simply because aside from the experience points, weapons, and grave locks all of that other progress never amounts to anything on my end. This design choice remains one of the most baffling to me as it almost compels players to avoid multiplayer.

Even with all of the criticism I have for Redfall, I don’t want to sit here and say Redfall is a bad game, because I don’t think that. Overall, I enjoyed my time in this distorted seacoast town. Even after I finished my first run I have gone back into the town of Redfall and meandered around a bit even though I don’t see myself playing another character route unless I am playing multiplayer. I did enjoy certain aspects of the game, the aesthetic works, the trippy moments and vibes concocted in certain story missions and vampire nests show signs of something that could’ve been great. I think Arkane tried to do something special, they invested in a new world, gave us a unique cast of characters, it’s just that poor performance at points, lackluster combat scenarios, and a not always compelling story left me more often than not feeling as though either me or Redfall had one too many encounters with a vampire and not enough blood left to keep a heartbeat. This isn’t my farewell to Redfall, glancing at the achievement list I can see myself poking around a bit more and potentially seeing some of the more unique side quests I may have missed. There are games I uninstall immediately after finishing them or realizing I have lost interest, Redfall is still on my Xbox Series X for what it’s worth. I think some more story-focused DLC could shine some sunlight back into the Massachusetts town, but let’s just hope not all of its residents have moved on by then.

For all things Redfall, be sure to keep it locked to Pass The Controller. For a deeper dive on all things gaming and nerd culture, listen to the Pass The Controller Podcast with new episodes weekly on your favorite podcast platform. Want to continue the conversation with us and our community? Join our official Discord server.

Redfall launches on May 2nd, 2023 for Xbox Series X | S, Xbox Game Pass, Windows 10, Epic Games Store, and Steam. We reviewed this game on Xbox Series X with a code provided by the publisher.

If you do plan on enjoying Redfall, why not enjoy a Redfall-Rita while you play? Or if you still aren’t sure if this game is for you, check out the first hour of gameplay here.

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