Redfall hands-on: A creepy and creative twist on the modern looter shooter
It's like a spooky mashup of Prey, Dishonored and Borderlands with vampires thrown in for good measure.
It seems like every major developer is working on an open-world shooter with co-op and RPG elements. But with Redfall, by drawing inspiration from a number of its previous titles, alongside other standouts in the genre, Arkane Studios has added fun new twists to the typical fps survival game. After getting a chance to go hands-on with a preview build of the game, I’m really excited to see more of how Arkane is adding its own flavor to that formula.
Set in the fictional island town of Redfall, Massachusetts, your goal is to cleanse the land of the growing vampire invasion. However, these aren’t your standard bloodsucking ghouls. Instead of ancient monsters, these vampires are the result of a science experiment gone wrong. This gives high-ranking vampires powerful psionic abilities that elevate them to near god-like status, which they’ve used to convert some of the surviving townsfolk into a cult. But more importantly, the mashup of sci-fi and supernatural in a contemporary setting has some really neat impacts on gameplay as well.
That’s because, in addition to your standard range of pistols, shotguns and sniper rifles, you’ll have to rely on updated interpretations of iconic vampire killing weapons too, especially since bullets only weaken vampires before you properly finish them off. So alongside your trusty stake, you’ll also have access to things like stake launchers, flare guns and even a high-powered UV beam rifle which adds a new dimension to typical gunplay. On top of that, as a looter shooter, there’s a variety of weapon rarities (from standard to unrivaled) with bonus traits like being able to reload faster or having increased accuracy while moving. And if you’re a fan of a particular combo, you can also craft and customize weapons to suit your playstyle.
Sadly, while I didn’t have a chance to play them all, Redfall’s cast offers a lot more personality than your typical roster of vampire slayers. There’s robotics engineer Remi, who uses her mechanical companion Bribon to distract enemies while she blasts away. Alternatively, there’s mercenary Jacob who slays foes from afar using his sniper rifle, cloaking device and mystical “Undead Eye,” or Layla, who has special telekinetic abilities that she can use to create shields or launch herself (or party members) into the air for elevated attacks. However, I spent most of my time playing as Devinder, who holds the curious role of being an occult influencer in “cryptozoology”, while also having an interesting mix of both melee and AOE attacks thanks to his electric spear and UV staff that stuns any vampires in its range.
Then there’s the world itself, which feels alive and fleshed out in a way that many open-world games fail to. Not only does the town of Redfall look like a realistic seaside town (you know aside from the crimson skies and vampires flying around), it's also spooky and atmospheric, and actually gave me chills and goosebumps. In one mission, I even had to resort to smashing all the TVs in a house because the vampires use them to broadcast creepy propaganda to convert more cultists to their side. I mean really, who likes hearing nosferatu whisper in your ear about drinking your fluids?
Then there are other things like vampire nests, which you can clear out to get loot and experience. That said, if you choose to ignore a nest, you could be in for a tough time later as its influence spreads to cover more ground, while also making enemies harder to kill. And while Redfall’s map isn’t the biggest, it’s really dense, with tons of sidequests ranging from finding a popcorn machine to boost the morale of other survivors, to unlocking bunkers and strongholds hidden throughout the town.
In a lot of ways, Redfall has clear ties to the stealthy combat in Dishonored, though it actually reminds me most of another franchise: Borderlands. The main difference is that its pacing is a bit less frenetic, opting instead for a slightly slower, more tactical style of combat, similar to what we got in Prey. There’s a nifty skill tree that lets you enhance a character's abilities, so you can choose if you want to play more offensively by adding extra damage and range to your attacks, or you can play a support role by focusing on healing and recovery skills. And though my preview was restricted to single-player, I feel like the most fun way to play will be with friends, where you can combo multiple characters' skills in a four-person squad to create some surprising team attacks. I’m not going to lie, having a buddy watching my back would have made the game way less scary, which is a testament to Arkane’s success at creating an eerie atmosphere.
My one small complaint is that I wish characters had a dash or roll ability. I often found myself simply circle-strafing while I waited to reload for my abilities to come off cooldown. While Devinder is able to teleport by throwing out a beacon in front of him, it takes a while to do, which makes it feel like it’s better suited to traversing terrain like bridges or cliffs than dodging attacks in the heat of battle.
Redfall isn’t reinventing the genre, but it feels like Arkane has taken the best elements from previous games in the category and mashed them together, while adding its signature blend of polish and creativity. And I am really looking forward to playing more when it comes out on Xbox and PC later this spring on May 2nd.