Arkane's latest outing really does put the studio outside its comfort zone and for the most part, Redfall passes with flying colours.
Up until now, most gameplay previews painted Redfall as a sort of Borderlands come Left4Dead style RPG shooter; mixed together with the sort of gritty adult sensibility you might expect of Arkane's past work.
Fair to say then, Redfall is a bit of a departure from what we've come to expect of the studio and it would be fair to say Redfall feels like a more approachable mainstream title from the studio, even before you consider its multiplayer offering. Thankfully, it retains the familiar trappings that made the likes of Dishonored, Prey, and more recently Deathloop (admittedly by Arkane Lyon), such a hit with long-time fans of the studio.
So really, Redfall is the best of both worlds, a blend of something new, mixed with the studio’s signature gameplay, and despite a limited time with the game, I can clearly see Redfall being a big hit on Xbox Game Pass at launch.
Months back, Arkane's studio director Harvey Smith talked about "risk" and also the "creative strengths" that come with the studio developing a game with more of an open world. Arguably this is where you can see the team adapting to their new environment and also some of the challenges they've faced.
I'll be honest, before the preview I was fully prepared for a gun-toting Borderlands style co-op vampire shooter, and I was already primed for it not having the same amount of intrigue when it came to the storyline. The truth though is probably somewhere in between. There is, of course, a backstory that holds everything in place, but beyond what is explained in the official story trailer (above), I couldn't honestly tell you anything more about what's going on in the town of Redfall despite having played the game.
When you're playing solo (as we did), we might have hoped to be more invested in the storyline, but it felt rather secondary. The open world potentially plays into this too, as you might find yourself traveling from one small cluster of buildings to another, skirmishing enemies in between, but always thinking about the next encounter. The storyline, never really entered my thinking as I merrily blasted my way across the town. Even when I did turn back to the critical path and worked my way towards one of the boss fights, it still felt rather flat.
It could be that this all changes when I've had time to play the game from the start, or perhaps had more time with the world itself beyond a brief 90 minutes. But so far, I could safely say that I wasn't exactly raring to dive back into Redfall for its story. Thankfully though, everything else you experience when playing Redfall is such a delight that it didn't really phase me, akin to how I love Destiny in spite of its rambling space nonsense (Witch Queen campaign aside).
That's because, mechanically, Redfall is every bit the Arkane game you know and love, but (surprisingly) with far better shooting and some top-notch combat that feels really engaging.
The town is littered with human militia standing in your way, but they're serving the vampires who are the true stars of the show. They're certainly challenging given their superior health, speed and ability to quickly zig and zag towards you, phasing through the world to get up close. We started our preview several hours in and from memory I must have encountered roughly 3 or 4 different types of Vampire enemies; a good sign that there's a decent level of variety to the enemies, and hopefully plenty more we're yet to see.
Despite their obvious otherworldly strengths though, you never feel particularly outmatched. By this point in the game, we had a veritable arsenal to utilise, from your everyday machine guns, and shotguns, to more nifty UV light guns, and a high-powered stake launcher. It felt like there was a good variety to the weaponry, which felt equally up to the task of taking down the creatures of the night. That said when you encounter more than one it immediately ups the stakes (no pun intended) and created a more engaging and wholly difficult challenge to overcome.
What was quite surprising though, was just how good the weapons felt. Ironically one of the questions I was asked by a colleague whilst writing this was ‘please tell me the shooting feels better’ and safe to say if you’ve struggled with Arkane’s squishy guns in the past you won’t have any real issues here. The biggest compliment I can give really is that I simply didn’t notice it whilst playing. The guns all felt distinctive, whether it was a snappy pistol, or a more weighty high-caliber sniper. A big relief given how much the game appears to have set itself up as a multiplayer focussed co-op shooter and certainly an area Arkane fans need not worry over as we approach launch.
Of course though, if you’ve watched the trailers - or played any Arkane game - you’ll know it’s not just the weapons that are part of your toolkit, you’ve got abilities too. Unfortetly, our playthrough only meant I could experience one character, which in my case was Layla, who could summon a lift to help provide a jumping boost, a telekinetic umbrella that blocked bullet fire (and send it back), as well as one final ability to summon her Vampire Ex-Boyfriend to join the fight.
As you’d expect, there’s a whole skill tree system involved where you can pump points into improving or tweaking your characters abilities, but I wasn’t able to dig too deep into this side of the game in the timeframe. That being said, the abilities did add an interesting extra mechanic to use when things get too hairy or you need an extra edge.
Strictly speaking as someone who only got to experience the game in its single-player format, there's certainly a lot to enjoy and I'd certainly be itching to unravel the full story from start to finish. Not to mention, to give other characters a try to see what their unique toolkits bring to the party.
If anything, some of the biggest issues I had with Redfall mostly stem from the open world it's set in and the somewhat less engaging storyline that's been spread across this town. But, Arkane has earned the right to stretch their legs and try something different, and it certainly still retains that Arkane magic under the hood.
Part of me wonders if perhaps, when played in a group of 2-4, if those bugbears will wash away, drowned out by the chaotic multiplayer mayhem unfolding around you. For now, I'll have to wait and see, but I'm certainly intrigued enough to want to sink my tooth into more of Redfall when it's released in May.
Redfall will release on Xbox Series X/S, PC and Xbox Game Pass on May 2, 2023.