Originally published at: Review | Redfall - XboxEra
Redfall is finally here, and I loved it. Trapped on an island off the coast of Massachusetts, you and up to three of your friends will shoot, loot, and scoot your way across gorgeous landscapes as you fight for your lives. The “Vampire Gods” have taken over, cutting off travel in or out, and it is your job to help the people take back the town piece by piece. This is an Arkane immersive sim through and through, though on both easy and normal I’d call it by far their most accessible to the masses.
A surprise Day Zero patch hit mid-day on Monday. I’ve only gotten an hour or so with it on Xbox and PC but it appears to have improved performance on PC and I’ve run into fewer bugs. I’ll need to play more to know for sure, though.
Coverage around this title, especially since its delay roughly a year ago, has always trended negatively to me in ways that didn’t make sense. Arkane is a studio that rarely if ever, misses. From my discussions with friends in the industry, I appear to be the outlier. I’ve sunk over 25 hours into Redfall in the past few days both solo and in co-op and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. There are issues, and we’ll go over all of them in due course.
First things first though, as always I’ll keep this as spoiler free as possible. The game takes place in Redfall, Massachusetts, a fictitious island off the coast. You begin by choosing between four main characters, with two to come in post-release content. These characters are:
- Jacob Boyer: He is a sniper, focused on marking targets and stealth movements. His backstory states that he was a special forces sniper who ended up working for Bellwether Security (more on them later). Trapped on Redfall after being assigned there for work his ultimate is cheat mode, where a ghostly sniper snaps from target to target in quick succession for easy kills.
- Layla Ellison: A college student who gained telekinetic powers after being treated at Aevum Therapeutics for migraines. Layla can summon a ghostly elevator to lift herself and her comrades as well as an umbrella that soaks up bullets before unleashing a massive damaging blast. Her ultimate summons her Vampire ex-boyfriend, who sacrificed himself to save her but still retains enough of his humanity to fight by her side.
- Devinder Crousley: A “Cryptid Hunter”, author, and ghost chaser. Dev, as he’s known, was in town to promote his latest book before getting trapped. Utilizing an Arc Javelin that stuns and damages enemies and a translocator teleportation device, Dev is the team’s resident nerd. His ultimate sees his greatest creation, the Blacklight, which can stun humans and petrify vampires for an easy kill.
- Remedios De La Rosa: A combat engineer with a degree from MIT, Remi and her robot Bribón were helping train Redfall’s Coast Guard when she was trapped. Her moves include a powerful C4 charge along with utilizing Bribón’s alarm to confuse and entice enemies. Her ultimate is called Mobilize and it creates a rallying point where Remi and her companions can heal over time.
My co-op playthrough saw me playing as Layla, while Devinder was my choice for solo action. The game begins with your failed attempt to evacuate the island, and the scenery around this is jaw-dropping. A lot has been made of Redfall’s lack of a performance mode on Xbox Series consoles, and compared to the silky smooth 60-100fps I averaged on PC it is noticeable. I think the game looks fantastic, and this starting area is one of the best-looking that Arkane has ever produced. Redfall is an open-world looter shooter. That may turn a lot of people off, and I get it. There are more great games than ever, and the thought of a huge, bloated map game isn’t always appealing. Thankfully, Redfall is a tight, focused experience. There is no icon bloat to be found and I beat every side and campaign mission in just over 16 hours solo.
Stick Together or Go It Alone
There are two locations in Redfall. I spent roughly seven hours in the first and ten in the second. Both share similar setups. You’ll have a variety of main missions, optional side missions, and non-optional safehouse missions. Only the host in co-op gets progression in missions, though you keep any experience or drops gained when playing with friends. The game scales enemies to the highest-level player, which can make it impossible to play together if you’re more than a few levels apart. This system is why I had a co-op and solo set of heroes, and I hope they change it up eventually post-launch. Games like Saints Row and Halo Infinite have shown you can set up a system to allow co-op play without having to start over from scratch.
Main missions lead to eventually hunting down the Vampire Gods, of which there are four. To gain access to them you’ll need the skulls of three Vampire Underbosses. To get these you’ll need to find safe houses and complete two missions in each. You’ll come across various side missions in your main hub area, which is a firehouse in the first part of the island. These add flavor to the game and are the only optional part of it. There weren’t that many and without realizing it I unlocked the achievement for completing all of them when I still had 4 main missions left. Mission objectives, especially the safehouse ones, are built with replayability in mind. Every playthrough can have different objectives in different locations for these, while the main and side missions seem set in place.
As there isn’t a ton of mission variety the runtime felt right. This is not Arkane’s take on Destiny, it’s much more in line with a less bloated Far Cry title. The map is never full of random icons, and the only collectibles in the game are the Grave Locks of which there are 100. I found a massive twenty in my playthrough, and each one gives you a snippet of audio backstory for the game’s campaign. Exploring Redfall was something I was allowed to do, and not forced. There is a ton of backstory available through the various text logs you can find, though that was a problem area in co-op. For some reason whenever one player reads a text file no one else can access it by pressing X. Instead, you need to either make sure you hold the menu button down quickly enough after it’s first accessed, or go into the archive part of the menu system and find it.
The other main activity on the map are the Vampire Nests. These are procedurally generated “Psychic Mindscapes” where Vampires live. They appear on the map as a blue door icon surrounded by an ever-expanding ring. Any enemies within this zone will be buffed massively, and on the higher difficulties, they were truly a nightmare to fight. Once you locate the door and head inside you’ll be met with a random assortment of in-game areas that are stitched together in various physics-bending ways. Your goal is to reach the end, fighting an army of vampires along the way, and destroying a giant heart. There are randomly chosen modifiers that affect what you’ll face, and once the heart is destroyed you’ll have 30 seconds to find the right exit and make it out to gain an experience bonus. The nests were a fun diversion, but the landscapes inside repeated too often for me. By the end I mostly avoided them, and only went inside if they were making a mission too difficult to complete.
Your main hub and safehouses can be used as fast travel spots. On both Series X and PC fast travel was typically 4-6 seconds long, which was a huge help as there are no vehicles to get you around the map more quickly. Historic landmarks dot the landscape as well, offering up more fast travel opportunities as you find them. A quick interaction will set off a flare and from that point off you are able to travel back there at any point outside of combat.
Redfall’s combat is heavy. Bullets are impactful, and the variety of skills and guns on hand is excellent. What isn’t good is how it all feels on console by default. The game’s aim acceleration curve is way too high when you first load the game up. Even low is still higher than I’d like, but if you do set that down and slightly raise the aim sensitivity it becomes Arkane’s best-playing console title. Now that isn’t saying much, as they have struggled mightily to get aiming right, but this is the first time where I felt like some minor post-launch tweaks can make the game feel legitimately great. Running at 30fps on console is another issue.
It is a smooth 30 (which we’ll hit more on later), but even a smooth thirty is nothing compared to a locked 60. My wife has played with me in co-op for over seven hours and after some light tweaks, she has had no complaints. I started out on console to get footage for this review and get a feel for things before swapping to PC. On mouse and keyboard, the game feels incredible, again typical for an Arkane title. The left and right triggers aim and shoot respectively, while your left and right bumpers control your main abilities. Once you’ve leveled enough to unlock it you’ll press both bumpers together to use your ultimate. A jumps, X interacts and reloads, while Y swaps through your three weapons, and B crouches/slides.
On PC you can use 1, 2, and 3 to swap between guns. On console, you have to press Y repeatedly to go through, and there is no weapon wheel. For the love of heck Arkane, please patch in a weapon wheel when holding in Y for controller users A.S.A.P., please! Left on the d-pad is used as a per-player ping system/mark on the map, holding down will use your healing item, and right activates your extremely powerful flashlight. Redfall can get dark at night or indoors, so make sure you don’t forget to use your flashlight instead of upping your brightness far too much like I did for my wife’s TV. Up is used for push to talk, left stick in runs and right stick pressed in is your melee. It’s a standard setup that works well, though on PC it did take me a while to get used to using Z, X, and C so often.
The gunplay mechanics feel great overall, and my only issue lies with the enemy AI. It is stupid to the point of being brain-dead on the easier difficulties. You can shoot people dead directly next to their comrades with no one noticing if you’re far enough away, far too often. It mostly crops up in the open-world sections in between missions. The vampires are far more aggressive and deadly by default and the boss fights were different enough from each other that I never grew bored of the fighting despite how stupid certain enemies were. There’s a variety of human and vampire enemy types, along with different factions for each.
The majority of the brain-dead enemies make sense, lore-wise. They are the human cultists who have devoted themselves to the four Vampire Gods. Random, untrained people who have picked up arms hoping to be turned into creatures of the night as a reward. The more deadly variants are the snipers who deal massive damage with accurate shots that take a while to go off. Bellwether Security agents are deadlier than their cultist foes, and you’ll find them routinely fighting each other throughout your time in Redfall. They suffer from the same “I see you, let me take 5 seconds to actually attack you” issue that the cultists do, though which is disappointing. They dish out far more damage though, and I found myself dying routinely to bigger groups on the higher difficulty if I wasn’t careful.
For the vampires themselves you have an assortment that gets added to slowly over time. There are a ton of rank-and-file vampires who love to float up in the sky and talk to themselves. A hit with a stake launcher can take most out unless they’re buffed by a nearby nest. There are elite vampires that have various abilities like the Shroud who can put a bubble around you that limits visibility until they are defeated. Blood Bags are another enemy type whose only goal in life is to run at you as fast as they can while cackling in creepy tones until they explode in your face, covering you in their damaging hot goo.
The level design is great, with multiple routes into every major mission area. It is still an Arkane game, just one built to be more approachable. Alongside various routes, you’ll find tons of electronic locks to rewire and locks to pick. There is gasoline to light up everywhere, along with tons of explosive and shocking environmental hazards to use against your foes. Various items dot the landscape such as bleach, wrenches, hammers, and more. Picking any of these fodder items up turns them instantly into cash, which you can spend back at the hub to restock your ammo, buy new guns, or pick up medkits. Looting can be finicky on a controller in multiplayer, as the money items are not per person. Picking them up routinely failed for me and my wife, though I never had this issue in solo play on PC. Guns and item crates/backpacks are per person, and as best I can tell they can not be traded between players.
Tools of the Trade
Outside of your per-character abilities, you’ll mainly be shooting enemies to death in Redfall. Things start out simple with pistols and shotguns. Quickly you’ll find more exotic weaponry like UV Beams and Stake Launchers, which can vary in their rarity. Using a familiar color coding system, you’ll start out with gray “regular” items, and quickly move on to green “uncommon”, blue “rare”, purple “epic”, and yellow unique ones. For pistols, there are Glocks, revolvers, and desert eagles. Shotguns come in pump action, double barrel, and drum barrel varieties. Assault rifles have a handful of types which can be automatic or burst fire. Burst fire routinely didn’t work correctly for me, as if you didn’t hold the button down to shoot it did one weak shot and not the full burst. There are sniper rifles, flare guns (which set enemies aflame), and the aforementioned UV Beams and Stake Launchers.
My favorite weapons were the unique ones, which looked like they were pulled straight out of Destiny and the Division at times. Every gun has random perks and rolls on its stats, except for the unique items. Those are only changed by the level at which you acquire them and are static otherwise. There are 40 levels in total, though I beat the game only reaching level 20. Once you complete the final mission you are instantly set to a new game + and cannot go back to the map to clean things up, so keep that in mind. The skill trees for each character share a similar setup. Your abilities have a section for each one, with an ultimate upgrade requiring every upgrade before it. Each character can spec to carry more ammo for certain weapons, give more health to friends when reviving them, and gain more health back when you are low. The top of the skill tree has four unique skills per character, such as Dev gaining more money from trash items, or Layla gaining more Psychic residue from enemy kills. That residue is what powers up your super ability and is represented by glowing blue orbs in the environment.
Overall, I think the gear system is Ok, but not great. It does its job of letting you tailor the gameplay to your preferred method well but lacks variety outside of the unique items. You will loot and break down the same types of guns hundreds of times throughout a playthrough with little care for making a build. I mainly focused on how much I liked using a gun. Something like the drum barrel shotgun did massive damage but took a full four seconds to reload, making it incredibly difficult to use when fighting any large crowd.
I love this game’s combat, and it is by far the most enjoyable if least immersive of any Arkane offering not called Youngblood. All the tools a character like Corvo would have been split between four players, and in co-op, they blend together beautifully. Sending my wife flying off a lighthouse with Layla’s lift ability and watching her slowly glide down hundreds of feet or saving her with a quick umbrella pull as she blew a group of vampires to hell with some C-4 was extremely satisfying the entire time.
The Elephant in the Room
The biggest question about Redfall is its performance. On Xbox Series X the game is set to run at a 4k resolution and 30 frames per second. On Series S it appears to be running at 1440p and 30fps. A performance mode has been promised as a post launch patch, though no timeframe has been given. 30fps for a shooter isn’t good, especially if it’s a choppy and unresponsive 30. Thankfully, Redfall’s 30 fps has been rock solid and felt smooth as silk for both myself and my wife throughout our time playing on console. I have also spent a lot of time on PC playing on my 5800x and 6700xt AMD rig. Utilizing a mix of high and epic settings I’ve averaged between 60 and 100 FPS outdoors depending on how taxing the area is. Indoors I’ve routinely held well over 100 FPS, even reaching my max refresh rate of 165 in story sections.
The texture quality in Redfall is excellent when it loads. This is an Unreal Engine 4 game through and through. The weaknesses we’ve come to expect from this industry standard are here, including an odd bug where certain environmental textures could take up to a minute to fully load in. The floor of the fire station where the main logo is located was a common culprit of this bug, alongside various signs and billboards around town. When everything is loaded in the game looks great, and is Arkane’s best-looking title by far. It doesn’t come without some all-too-common launch bugs though. One of the biggest being severe graphical pop-in on console and PC, no matter the settings. UE4 is not good with open worlds, and the pop-in while walking around can be jarring, often.
The main gameplay affecting bug was one where sniper rifle scopes would break, and instead of looking through the sight, you would get a broken barrel texture in front of your face instead. Non-gameplay bugs include things like co-op partners appearing as if they were falling through the ground while running, and t-posing NPCs. Sikamikanico played on PC using an ultrawide monitor and the game utilized it well, stretching the viewable area out correctly. There is a field of view slider that defaulted to 90 on Series X with a warning that going higher (it caps at 120) would result in a loss of performance. PC has a fair number of options, including AMD’s Fidelity FX Super Resolution 2.1, which I used to great effect. I gained roughly 20-30fps using the performance version.
The worst-looking part of the game was the occasional shimmering I would get when traversing through the open world. Foliage would get a strange hazy reconstruction effect on it which happened whether I had FSR on or not. It was maddeningly inconsistent on when it would happen, and I’m not sure what the trigger was. We hadn’t seen any footage of the game running on console before launch, and review code didn’t arrive until 11 am Thursday, the week before launch. While I hope the performance mode patch isn’t too far off, if 30fps doesn’t bother you then the game performs well enough at launch that it’s worth playing on console. If you have a halfway decent PC you should be able to tweak your settings easily enough to get a relatively high framerate as well.
Story, Audio, and the Rest
Redfall’s story is odd. At times it is engrossing and heart-wrenching. Other times a plot point hits out of nowhere, making little sense. On the whole, I loved it, though the choice of diorama-style 3d still image cutscenes was peculiar. They’re stylish as hell but feel like something you’re more likely to see in a low-budget indie than you are in a big first-party Xbox release. In each cutscene, your playable character will talk things through from their perspective, even in co-op. The people involved in the cutscene will change depending on the number of human players. NPCs will take over all three spots if you’re going solo, but if any friends are with you both they and you will be wearing your in-game clothing. There is a large number of items for each hero, though a lot of them are wolf suits strangely.
The game has a ton of text logs you can read through to get context and backstory, along with a handful of audio logs. The story itself is a mix of humor and darkness that blends well. It had me on the verge of a sniffle or two a few times, and I found the end to be satisfying and what I was hoping for ultimately. The voice acting is great, with no weak performances in the main cast. It’s helped by excellent writing that creates a setting that allows for a variety of interesting story beats. Each character felt fleshed out. They didn’t exist within a box and surprised me with their takes on certain situations. The interplay between Remi and Layla in my co-op run was full of empathy and varied viewpoints that make me excited to see the game through again with a full four-player group. One thing I loved is how each character has varying levels of skill when playing instruments. Dev kills on a grand piano when you interact with it, sounding like a pro, while Layla just mashes the keys like a person with no fingers. It’s the little things you’ll find over time that add up to making this a special type of game.
The soundtrack is excellent, with a mix of old-school and new to give a unique take on the horror genre. Redfall gets real spooky and the music knows when to match its energy. There are huge, bombastic songs for combat and haunting melodies to play alongside the more serious story segments. Big shoutout to Bethesda PR who gave us 7 songs from the OST for the video review of the title. Sound effects are sharp, and both the weapon hit, and headshot effects are immensely satisfying. It might be the best headshot sound effect since Halo Infinite for me. Repetition when solo was an issue. There is a trust system that raises as you earn experience in co-op play. This led to more story conversations that happen between your characters at random. When playing solo this isn’t a thing, and Dev repeated the same lines time and time again to himself, which became grating by the end.
Bug-wise it was mostly visual and not game-breaking. The few game-affecting issues that did hit were frustrating and we have been given no word on any planned patches. The term “coming in hot” seems to apply here in multiple ways, though I beat the whole thing with far fewer issues than I had with another UE4 title in SW Jedi: Survivor.
Wrapping Things Up
Redfall is fantastic in most ways. A few baffling design decisions around its co-op implementation and some frustrating technical issues hold it back. It is fun as hell solo, and ridiculously so in co-op. With a little post-launch support it is going to become something special. This may end up being Arkane’s worst-reviewed title ever, but it is going to be their most successful. Alone or with friends Redfall is a game any fan of the genre should play.