Redfall review: A great setup that lets down the boring FPS mechanics

Stephen King Salem lot It opens with chapter by chapter describing the cast of characters and the city they inhabit in Maine. Before it becomes clear that the vampire has come to make his home a new feeding ground, King spends a lot of time charting the history and culture of the inhabitants. It’s an approach taken in a lot of monster stories: give the audience a reason to care about a group of people before they’re preyed on by bloodsucking ogres.

Redfall, the latest from Arkane Austin, mirrors this setting, introducing players to the titular fictional island of Massachusetts after vampires have already drained most of the life from the place. The result – about halfway through the story (our impressions are based on about 10 hours into the solo journey) – is a game that struggles to secure interest in the fate of its fallen town, and struggles to find fresh blood in it. Very fashionable trends in the apocalypse genre.

As one of four characters, all of whom come with supernatural backgrounds and accompanying special abilities, the player sets out to investigate the nature of the vampire invasion, keep a group of his human companions alive, and hopefully escape from the island. The beginning is not very inspiring stuff. Redfall The player begins by creating a secure base of operations—in this case, a fire station—and helping a group of survivors settle into their new home. There’s a stern priest, a gentle doctor, and a greasy gun salesman, each with their own storefronts, and a swarm of other shallow NPCs to go with them. No member of this cast is particularly memorable, and it’s hard to arouse interest in his fate, mortal or not.

Photo: Arkane Austin/Bethesda Softworks

Redfall City itself makes a stronger impression. It features a downtown core lined with centuries-old colonial architecture and outlying attractions, including a lighthouse and museum, that mark its history as a whaling center. With few better backdrops to a horror story than mid-autumn, the city lies beneath large trees with orange, yellow, and red leaves; Many storefronts are decorated with pumpkins.

These locations, along with others—a dry, fish-strewn lake bed or a shady abandoned hospital, to name a few—create an elegant sense of menace enhanced by splashes of bold 1980s paperback red font across the menus and area names. As might be expected from Arkane, a studio known for creating a strong sense of place in its games through its elaborate collection of outfits, the interiors of these spaces are cluttered with everyday items and scraps of discarded writing. These details explain the nature of the characters who once lived there, and hint at the dark secrets behind the vampires’ control.

However, the atmosphere dissipates when the enemies reveal themselves to be neither terrifying creatures from the other world, ruthless special military agents, or evil clerics the game claims are targets in the shooting gallery. A highly trained soldier responds to the first volley of gunfire by running recklessly in the corner of the movie theater, waiting for a rifle bullet to crack his head. The creature of the night unleashes a demon attack by floating in a straight line towards the player, teleporting away from a hail of bullets to back up a bit and try the same tactic again. While enemies sometimes show more creativity — vampires sometimes zigzag around the screen to dodge gunshots, some humans create automated gun turrets — they’re pretty much brain dead, only really threatening when they swarm the player and hide one. Vision.

Photo: Arkane Austin/Bethesda Softworks

It should be noted that the aim is floating enough on the Xbox Series X that the best tactic on the battlefield is usually to attack it from side to side with a shotgun, blasting cultists and vampires as they maneuver their way to the goal. Switching to a Windows PC helped with that slow motion — and general camera roll — but the gunplay still wasn’t exceptional. This is a problem, given the amount of shooting that needs to be done to wade RedfallMasses of cults, soldiers and vampires in any given mission.

Playing as Layla Ellison, a college student with telekinesis, is an attractive wrinkle to the standard shooter design. But its array of special powers doesn’t do much to mix up combat that relies largely on mowing waves of goons with whatever weapon has the highest damage number listed in its description. Lily can project a large purple psychic umbrella that acts as a shield, and she can also summon her ghostly vampire ex-boyfriend to float around enemies. But those powers, along with their ability to summon a glowing mid-century elevator cage that shoots them or other players through the air, rarely add texture to flat, unexciting battles.

story embodied RedfallAn excellent sense of place can help overcome her lackluster combativeness. So far, the story hasn’t provided much momentum to move forward with mission after mission of decent exploration and gunplay. The occasional writing — found in places like old notes or captured flashback scenes in spectral dioramas — is evocative enough to color the plot’s broad strokes with a strangeness and human drama it otherwise lacks.

If that tone takes center stage in the back half of the story, along with plot developments adding some momentum to the proceedings, it might be easier to overlook the game’s weaker aspects and appreciate it as a compelling narrative work. At this point, though, the town of Redfall has become so dry of vitality that players are invested in whether or not the vampires will prevail.

Redfall It will be released on May 2 on Windows PC and Xbox Series X. The game was reviewed on Xbox and PC using a pre-release download code provided by Bethesda Softworks. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, although Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find Additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.

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