Redfall Hands-On: Arkane x Vampires

March 23, 2023

When Redfall was first announced at E3 2021, a lot of people, including myself, weren’t quite sure what to expect. The initial trailer gave off Left 4 Dead vibes, and its development has come amidst a sea of similar-seeming big 4-player co-op action titles, like Gotham Knights and Suicide Squad Kill the Justice League. However, after sitting down with a small, single-player, section of the game, the overwhelming takeaway I had from Redfall is that it feels right in line with Arkane Studios’ oeuvre – a new fast and fun first-person shooter with interesting movement options, and an open world to experiment in.

While co-op was not available in the preview session I was part of, I was able to pick my character from the four available – Jacob, Devinder, Remi and Layla. They each have their own special abilities, which can be upgraded via their own skill trees, which rely on cooldown timers during gameplay. I chose Layla, as she seemed to have the most interesting set of unique abilities. Gifted with telekinesis, she’s able to summon spectral elevators that act as bounce pads and boosts to reach rooftops, or to easily avoid crowds of enemies by bouncing above them. She’s also able to generate a psychic umbrella which stops bullets from reaching her, before blasting them back like a shotgun. The cutest idea is her ultimate ability, which summons her vampire ex-boyfriend to fly around and fight alongside her, which makes for a great way to handle large groups if you’re getting overwhelmed in combat.

The basic set-up for this section of the game is that the town of Redfall is under the control of vampire gods, particularly a vampire known as ‘The Hollow Man’ in this part. These entities have come about through the shenanigans of an expectedly unethical corporation, and your character finds evidence of The Hollow Man’s former identity before his transformation, leading them to investigate his mansion and lab. However, Redfall is an open world, meaning that the journey from your safehouse to the actual mission can go any number of ways, with plenty of places to explore and enemies to fight on the way.

As you roam through Redfall, you’ll encounter mobs of both human cultists, which can be dealt with like normal FPS baddies, and as well as vampires, who are not only tougher and have the power of flight, but can also have an array of other abilities like sucking the health out of you from a large range. Thankfully, they also have vampiric weaknesses – if weakened enough, you can close-in for a stake-to-the-heart finisher to get rid of them for good. Stake launchers are a class of weapon that are immensely powerful against the creatures, and if all else fails, there are also high-powered UV light weapons you can equip that will harden vampires into stone, allowing you to melee them into pieces if you’re quick enough.

The town of Redfall is quite detailed, with some cool visual touches. The whole area seems to be frozen in time, with the sea held back by some invisible force that prevents waves and ships from reaching the town’s shores, and the town perpetually held at night, where vampires can roam. It’s also home to all kinds of landmarks, from the evil offices of Aevum Clinic, to the Custom House Museum and the Overton Theatre. Exploring these locations on your own merit will uncover various files and pieces of information about the town, but there’s not always a set objective in a location that’s clear at the time you visit. For instance, when roaming past Aevum, I was able to get down into its basement and activate an incinerator, but there wasn’t any real clue to what that was achieving, although maybe it’s linked to another enemy or mission. Simpler to understand are vampire nests, these are trans-dimensional doorways which appear around the town which strengthen vampires in their radius until you deal with them. Entering their glowing arches transports you to a corrupted version of Redfall with strong enemies, as well as a literal connected ‘heart’ that has to be destroyed, before you escape the nest with rewards in tow.

Although Layla doesn’t have access to a teleporting ability, Redfall still felt very much in line with Dishonored and Deathloop. Her psychic elevator ability adds a different element to traversal, as it can be upgraded to allow you to lay down multiple lifts to bounce along a path, or to scale taller buildings to get a better vantage point on enemies in the distance. You can sneak up on enemies, but this isn’t really a stealth title, and you’ll more often than not find yourself fighting multiple foes at once, which is where your cooldown powers come in handy. If you die, you’ll have to revive at one of your safehouses, which will either be your main home base back at the town Fire Station, or one of the other safe-houses you unlock around the town by clearing them of vampires. These safe-houses can also provide special missions. At the Fire House, you might notice that the survivors’ popcorn machine is out of order, so a sub-objective gets added to your quest log to find a repair kit at the Overton Theatre, which you can check out whenever you’re in the area. Unlocked safe-houses have more specialised objectives, such as preventing grossly bloated ‘blood bag’ enemies from feeding a vampiric device.

The mix of powers and weaponry in Redfall feels good, as does the threat the vampires present around town. While you can usually handle most mobs of enemies, continually foiling the vampires’ plans and racing into combat can alert them (with a GTA-esque attention meter) to send a super-powerful vampire after you, known as a ‘Rook’. If you get a Rook on your tail, you’re as good as dead, unless you have a lot of ammunition or heavy weapons to take him on.

As mentioned, this preview ends with a story mission set at The Hollow Man’s mansion. Now, throughout Redfall, The Hollow Man is a constant presence in most locations, as he broadcasts threatening messages on TV’s around the town. The story mission allows you to glimpse a little into his past, as first you find the remnants of a psychic explosion which has literally carved out a hole in his house, which is presumably where his transformation took place. Later, you find a dollhouse, requiring three dolls from around the property to be complete, upon which it sucks you into a past-version of the house, populated by ‘Sin Eaters’. Defeating these Sin Eaters unlocks memories of The Hollow Man when he was Dr. Addison, a man attempting to heal his sick daughter, although apparently also possessed of a somewhat sick mentality himself – his first instinct upon seeing his daughter’s fascination with a particular butterfly is to have it killed and mounted for her. These memories appear in Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture-esque moments of glowing models, but convey the story very effectively.

If you’re a fan of Arkane’s work in the past, particularly Dishonored and Deathloop, then Redfall feels like a logical and welcome evolution of their FPS work, with a detailed open world full of opportunities to play around with cute and kooky powers. While it remains to be seen how the game is affected by co-op, the single-player at least feels fluid and fun, particularly if you choose a character that matches your playstyle – although trying out every character will likely add some replayability to the game as whole as well. While initially I didn’t know much about Redfall‘s actual gameplay and structure, I’m personally super keen now that I know I can experience it as a single-player story-focused open world shooter, especially one informed by the mechanics of Arkane’s other games. Redfall is currently on track for 2 March, 2023 on Xbox Series X|S and PC.

We played Redfall as part of a 90-minute hands-on session in Sydney, travel was provided by Bethesda.