A Buggy, Boring, and Bewildering Experience

Anna was giving birth in the back of an abandoned vet clinic, screaming for her life.

The vampires were coming. Her cowardly husband tried to sell her — and their baby! — as part of a twisted blood pact. I sprinted outside, acting as bait to draw them away. I narrowly defeated a monstrous mega-vampire and returned just as Anna gave birth to a baby girl named Hope. Days later, I saw Anna and Hope recuperating at a safe house. There was a lot to talk about. So I’ll never forget what she said when I approached her.

“[sigh].”

That’s it. Yet, that perfectly sums up Redfall, Arkane Austin’s new co-op looter shooter. It’s a tantalizing build-up to something that ultimately leaves you bored and underwhelmed.

Hope you enjoy reading coughs, sighs and throat sounds.

Bethesda Softworks

Redfall is buggy, bland, and bereft of the flourish fans expected from the studio behind GOTYs like Dishonored and Deathloop. The promise of an immersive world, arguably Arkane’s trademark, is broken early and often. Without it, a very vanilla shooter emerges that falls short of every conceivable metric for a AAA title.

Journey Into Midfall

Comparison is the thief of joy, and it strangles Redfall. Whether you’re comparing it to Arkane’s legacy titles, or the standards of the day, it fails to impress. Whether in single-player or co-op mode, players are tasked with combating the vampiric takeover of once idyllic Redfall, Massachusetts. There are four characters to choose from, with a range of special abilities that are designed to compliment each other in group play. I went with Devinder for this review.

The cookie-cutter AI and middling shooting mechanics don’t inspire creativity, as most problems can be solved with headshots. Any experimentation is likely the result of boredom, not in-game challenge.

At every turn, Redfall displays a fundamental lack of balance. Stealth combat, another pillar of Arkane’s previous offerings, is treated as an afterthought. There is no animation for stealth melee kills, a shocking oversight. Yet stealth is ridiculously OP, thanks to some of the stupidest enemy AI in recent memory.

Guards barely react to their teammates’ heads being popped by sniper fire, let alone dive for cover or flank strategically. In most cases they march like ants, sprinting in a straight line right towards you. Even vampires and the bosses are laughable thanks to the Stakelauncher, which destroys most foes in three shots or less.

Even the monstrous Rook, a baddie sent by vampire gods, is no match for a half-dozen broken pool cues.

Bethesda Softworks

Deflated expectations aside, there is some fun to be had in Redfall. Yes, the combat lacks sophistication and genuine challenge, but I did enjoy the power fantasy as I leveled up. Your early hours are tense and slow, but once you unlock a few basic skills and collect a half-decent arsenal, you gain the confidence to go headfirst into danger. Killing your first few vampires feels triumphant and then you’re quickly obliterating them five at a time.

Add in the co-op, and the accompanying japery you get from goofing with friends online, and Redfall delivers a certain B-movie appeal — if you don’t take it too seriously.

But a “so bad it’s good” vibe is likely not what Arkane, Bethesda, or Microsoft wanted after five years of development and a marketing war chest that included paid TV spots. And if you’re an Arkane fan like I am, or just love a good looter-shooter, it’s not worth $70 and it’s not a compelling reason to purchase Game Pass, either.

Vampire nests can offer some excitement in between long bouts of boring.

Bethesda Softworks

Six Hmms In a Row

I can look past a lot of underwhelming gameplay if it’s offset by a good story. That’s not the case here. Cutscenes have been replaced by film-grain filtered slide shows, a lazy shortcut that undermines any investment players may make in the plot or characters. The supporting cast is woeful. Anna’s blandness is not the exception, it’s the rule.

In another memorable moment, I defeated a Blood Tree (think haunted tree with a vampire inside) that had wrapped itself around a safehouse, trapping everyone inside. I was eager to talk to the citizens in the liberated safehouse who were, moments ago, facing a grim death. Surely there would be some colorful dialogue? Instead, I got six “Hmm”s in a row. Every citizen just said “Hmm.” And, spoiler alert, most named characters spew “Hmm” by default after delivering one, maybe two, lines of dialogue. I wanted to care, wanted to find the trademark Arkane charm I told myself had to be here somewhere.

But it wasn’t. In its place are vapid NPCs and an empty game world mostly filled with two enemy types: humans with guns and vampires that melee. There are no jump scares, no creepy creatures lurking in its caves or on its drained, sea-less beaches. I was begging for some bats or spiders or snakes but, alas, it was always just the same dumb dudes with guns and vampires T-posing in the sky.

Get ready to blast a lot of these bland motherfuckers.

Bethesda Softworks

Occasionally, you encounter special vampires (more regularly if you increase the difficulty) that can drain your health or cloud your field of vision with black fog. None of these pose much threat, though. Boredom is the real threat in Redfall, and you need to actively find your own reasons to keep going because the gameplay and story aren’t enough.

Bugs in a Beautiful World

The best thing I can say about Redfall is that the maps and level designs are good. From the topography down to minute details, there’s a distinct New Englandness to everything that feels like an organic place. I was especially impressed by the interior layouts, which incorporate multiple floors and doors to create tension inside spooky old houses. Less impressive, unfortunately, are the long list of bugs in the game, even after a day-one patch.

Eerie, foggy streets and creaky old houses with dark attics are a pitch perfect setting.

Bethesda Softworks

I hit a few crashes, including one during a boss fight. There are blurry logos and fonts that don’t display properly, characters spontaneously go invisible or duplicate themselves, and there is noticeable chug during some kill animations. And that’s just what I encountered in MY game. A cursory search online turns up dozens more. Just as paper-thin NPCs undermine any narrative immersion, persistent bugs and rough edges pull you out of a world that you’d like to get lost in.

Redfall isn’t the game anyone wanted it to be, and what is there is just OK. It’s a freak show, a roadside attraction, inviting you and your friends to come and gawk at one of god’s failed designs for an evening or an afternoon. The longer you stay, the less fun it gets, but curiosity and the low cost of admission (for Game Pass subscribers anyway) is likely enough to keep up a slow trickle of players.

It’s also set up for a great redemption arc. My hope is that it’ll follow the likes of Elder Scrolls Online and Fallout 76. Both games had rocky starts, but over the years steadily cultivated a fanbase thanks to regular updates and support. Arkane deserves better. And so do gamers.

5/10

Redfall is out now on Xbox Series X|S, Game Pass, and PC. Inverse reviewed the Xbox Series X version.

INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: Every Inverse video game review answers two questions: Is this game worth your time? Are you getting what you pay for? We have no tolerance for endless fetch quests, clunky mechanics, or bugs that dilute the experience. We care deeply about a game’s design, world-building, character arcs, and storytelling come together. Inverse will never punch down, but we aren’t afraid to punch up. We love magic and science-fiction in equal measure, and as much as we love experiencing rich stories and worlds through games, we won’t ignore the real-world context in which those games are made.

Anna was giving birth in the back of an abandoned vet clinic, screaming for her life. The vampires were coming. Her cowardly husband tried to sell her — and their baby! — as part of a twisted blood pact. I sprinted outside, acting as bait to draw them away. I narrowly defeated a monstrous mega-vampire…

Anna was giving birth in the back of an abandoned vet clinic, screaming for her life. The vampires were coming. Her cowardly husband tried to sell her — and their baby! — as part of a twisted blood pact. I sprinted outside, acting as bait to draw them away. I narrowly defeated a monstrous mega-vampire…