Redfall may be open world, but it hasn't defanged Arkane's magic
Have a read of my vampire diary
Remember when Arkane said their co-op vampire 'em up Redfall is more akin to Far Cry than Left 4 Dead? I do! I remember a chill ran down my spine as I cast my mind back to Far Cry 6, where the tutorial island itself was longer than anything else I'd played that year. I was scared Redfall might succumb to a similar fate. I imagined it filling my head with map markers until my head swelled, popped like a balloon, and dropped grey rarity brain matter.
Well, having given Redfall a go for 90 minutes I was, perhaps, being a bit dramatic. The game may be open world, and may have some slightly jarring open world-isms, but I felt like Arkane's magic wasn't diluted by it all. Their talent for storytelling and level design bubbled to the surface constantly, making exploration a genuine joy. Sure, I have some reservations, but I can't deny that I'm itching to play it again.
To set the scene quickly, I was dropped into Redfall quite a few hours into the main campaign and could only play it solo, no co-op allowed. A bit of a shame I couldn't play a co-op-centric FPS with others, but hey ho. It was an in-development build too, so I can't comment on how it might run on our rigs once it launches. Not to mention it all took place in a really dark room with only the red RGB glows from our PCs for lighting, so my notes looked like unhinged cave graffiti by the time I emerged from the gloom.
Once I'd selected my character - a decision which locks you in for the entirety of that save, by the way - Remi De La Rosa, I opened my menu and allocated some skill points. Remi, it turned out, was a support character. I chose her purely because she's accompanied by a cute robot called Bribón who looks like a Boston Dynamics puppy. As you'd expect from a class-based FPS, I could upgrade my abilities in a skill tree, so I turned Bribón into a distraction that would absorb damage for me, chucked some points into my C4 explosive, then made it so my "Rally" flag ultimate would heal me lots within its radius.
Having tended to my tree, it became clear I'd spawned in a fire station that some folks had converted into a hub space. Here I could take on main missions, restock my ammo, buy new weapons, and heal up. I'm unsure whether it expands, if you're able to redecorate, or anything else, really, but to me it seemed like a typical safe space which serves as an anchor for your open world orienteering. My prediction is that you'll return to the fire station between each mission, chat it out, then move onto the next thing.
So far, so unsurprising, eh? My attitude changed dramatically once someone gave me a task to crack on with and I got a taste of Redfall's world. The fire station's popcorn machine was broken, so I had to find somewhere that might hide some parts. While there was no compass or blinking yellow dot when I ventured out into the night, I could open up my map and see exactly where I'd need to go: the theater. Which, it turned out, was filled with lots of vampires.
My time at the movies was spent dealing with regular vamps that whizzed under the floor and popped back up somewhere else, or came at me with their claws. A special Shroud one blanketed me in a glistening bubble, then disappeared under the floorboards to dodge my attacks, or zipped behind me for an ambush like a slippery, bloodsucking eel. So long as you take on vamps in small doses, though, fights are simple, but get caught by multiple and you're in deep trouble. The machine parts? Never did find them.
Part-less, I stumbled into a Safe House, which not only acted as a fast travel point later, but also unlocked a special Safe House mission. It sent me to activate some satellites in a portside town teeming with cultists and vampires. Here, I think, was when Redfall really grabbed me.
The portside town was a gorgeous spot, with loads of colourful houses packed together in what would've been a bright, sunny community before the vamps came along. Across the harbour a dark vampire hovered next to a shipwreck, which was doomed to rest in an expanse of sand surrounded by a ring of blue. A ring of… blue? Then I clocked it - the sea! The sea had literally been blasted outwards, like someone had clicked their fingers and frozen the waves in place after a calamitous explosion. Incredible.
The tight knit community's last laugh lay in the sheer number of rooftops they'd left me as an advantage against the baddies. Arkane's architectural prowess shone through here, as I bounced between roofs to avoid the cultist patrols who wandered around, and the vampires who fitfully teleported below. Some vamps sat hunched atop street lamps, like goblin CCTV. Others snarled inside ruined houses. Little did they know that I was packing heat, what with my fists and my freeze ray gun. So, like, cold heat.
Redfall certainly wants you stealthing about... For my playtime, at least, it seemed like Redfall's arsenal supported action a little more.
Regular vamps harden after a while under the old freeze ray, after which I could shatter them into pieces with a satisfying jab. I also had a stake launcher that rocketed stakes into anything unlucky enough to get in its way. Bribón was sort of useful, letting me take on packs of cultists by absorbing damage, but I admittedly rarely used my abilities. I couldn't tell whether I'd just selected the worst character for solo-play, or if Remi's special abilities would come into their own in a group. Only time will tell.
Redfall certainly wants you stealthing about, as there's an alert meter that raises whenever you cause a ruckus. When it reaches the top, a massive juggernaut vampire comes for you - at least, I think that's what triggered it. I died so quickly, I couldn't be sure it was the alert bar. But I wouldn't say stealth was as gratifying as I'd expected it to be, in that sneaking behind enemies was exhilirating, but there was no cool assassination animation once I were primed for a quick throat slit. I'd punch them in the back to deal lots of damage, or like, shoot them and make lots of noise. For my playtime, at least, it seemed like Redfall's arsenal supported action a little more.
While moseying about, I bumped into a vampire nest, which turned out to be a shimmering door to a distorted reality. Cool. The reality seemed to be a vibrant street sundered in two by a quake, with shops at awkward angles and the main highstreet itself all jagged and rocky. I decked some vampires, then sauntered towards the prize: a gigantic heart connected to lots of little ones. I disconnected the extras and the scenario turned into, effectively, a bank heist, where I'd need to smash and grab as many loot crates as I dared risk before the whole place came crumbling down.
I got greedy and died in the nest. Although, I did emerge with a new Remnant item that upped some stats, so, hooray...? It's too early to tell if nests and loot descend into a tedious grind later on, but a lot of the rarities and numbers felt a bit flat, even if the guns themselves were weighty and pleasing to the fingers. My biggest worry is the game's live servicey leanings and its potential to wring the delight out of progression.
For the final stretch of the demo, I entered a typically excellent Arkane set piece undiluted by the game's open world structure. It was called the Addison Mansion, grand in scale and blown apart by the experiments of a reclusive professor. Vampire CCTV swayed their heads to and fro on the rooftops, and cultists skulked the corridors, so I needed to be somewhat stealthy if I was to successfully infiltrate the place. And man, once I'd clambered inside, it was spooky as heck. I made my way through dark, twisting corridors, and piece the professor's story back together as I went, taking in all the clues left by strewn objects and family rooms. I eventually discovered a doll's house, which belonged to a girl called Amelia, and needed to find three dolls scattered around the estate and return them to their home. Hmmm.
I only went and entered the doll's house, didn't I?! I was in Amelia's mind, a physical embodiment of her thoughts and feelings; an entirely new mansion. I won't spoil anymore as that would be cruel, but it was creepy and heartbreaking in equal measure. It may not have been as complex as Dishonored's efforts, but it was still Arkane at their finest, hiding a story in a building's walls and making it a thrill for the player to discover the secrets locked within.
I genuinely can't stop thinking about Redfall. I really want to play it again, which must be a great sign. The open world was had just the right amount of distraction, and Arkane's level design came to the fore throughout. There's a bit of tension between stealth and action, but it remains to be seen whether those resolve with mates, or later on in the game. Again, my biggest worry lies with the loot and the skill trees and all that slightly jarring, open world stuff I'm not used to in Arkane's games. Fingers crossed they find a balance that lets their strengths sing when it launches on 2nd May.