Redfall is my biggest disappointment of 2023. As a massive fan of developer Arkane Studios’ previous work, from Dishonored through Deathloop, my expectations were high for the company’s new release. However, this vampire-hunting first-person shooter is messy, plagued with technical flaws and head-scratching design decisions counterintuitive to the game itself. The result is an often-bland experience, made frustrating by occasional glimpses of potential, and it’s sucked the life out of me.
The fictional harbor town of Redfall, Massachusetts, is overrun with vampires and their cultic worshippers. Your goal as one of four unique protagonists is to restore the haunted region to its former state. Standing in your way are the Vampire Gods, a wealthy group of scientists-turned-monsters whose backstories never impacted me despite the campaign’s surface-level attempts. That’s about as much as the introduction gives you before throwing you into the action.
After completing Redfall’s introduction, you conduct story and side missions from a centralized base of operations. The first few hours of the narrative follow The Hollow Man, a mysterious entity proselytizing from the town’s radio signals. The Hollow Man seems to have been everywhere you go, and his presence is unnerving. This stretch features Redfall’s best missions and locations, which require you to explore a dilapidated mansion and its gruesome past, fight a powerful enemy at a cliffside lighthouse in a lightning storm, and rescue hostages from a boatyard that The Hollow Man’s followers control. Unfortunately, the game tries to replicate its early hours throughout its remainder; hard-to-follow story revelations, repeating side activities, and a second, less-interesting map leave it feeling hollow and formulaic. Lastly, Arkane presents the Vampire Gods’ storyline via flashbacks in which you stand in an abandoned space watching vaguely humanoid ghosts speak to each other. The result is largely forgettable.
On a positive note, I like the four launch protagonists: Remi and her robotic companion Bribón; a teleporting cryptozoologist named Devinder; Jacob, who is a marksman with a psychic eye; and Layla, a biomedical engineer who inherited telekinetic powers after a medical trial gone wrong. Each character has unique skills you can upgrade via a straightforward-but-sufficient skill tree, but with only three total abilities per character, you won’t use them nearly as much as your firearms. The experience could’ve been more interesting if I could pick and choose from the game’s 12 abilities to carve my playstyle, but sadly you must select one character and their pre-determined skillset for the entire game.
Redfall’s shooting mechanics and armory of weapons are serviceable, with the heavy-hitting stake launcher and ultra-violet raygun – which petrifies vampires – being the highlights. You’ll discover new weapons as you explore the world and complete missions, each slotting somewhere into the rudimentary tiered-loot system. Despite guns having randomized perks, like increased damage to petrified vampires, I didn’t pay much attention to them because the loot system recycles the same dozen or so weapons repeatedly, with slightly higher stats each time. Notably, it does the same with enemy vampire types, too. I’d often fight the same kind of vampire frequently, but my character would remark that it was a new vampire simply because it had a different name.
Looking at the world of Redfall, I become sad by its wasted potential. For every great location, there are a handful of forgettable ones. The result is an empty-feeling game with several puzzling problems, like a lack of proper stealth takedowns, a tedious quest and waypoint system, and the inability to pause gameplay in single-player mode. Rampant technical issues hinder brighter moments, including frequent server crashes during multiplayer, inputs failing to work, broken animations, and numerous other bugs that make playing Redfall a frustrating experience. For a game about fighting the undead, Redfall feels soulless in all the wrong ways.