There is a saying in the creative industries: “You are only as good as the last thing you did.” And therefore, with the release of Redfall, Arkane, the developers of Dishonored, Deathloop and Prey 2016, are a bunch of incompetent timewasters who have as much business making games as a walrus has assembling a LEGO Death Star. Y’know, I usually regret the fact that my reviews come out after everyone else’s, but on occasions like these I can see the advantage. Because Arkane were probably hoping that the initial kicking was over and that they were free to focus on avoiding eye contact with everyone for six months or so until we all forget about this, but no, I haven’t forgotten. I will never forget, Arkane. Let’s look at Redfall. Let’s look at WHAT YOU DID. You know what says something is that even forcing me to register and log into a Bethesda account I have no other use for like a deluded Los Angeles waiter including their headshot with a casting director’s restaurant bill, was only the spun sugar decoration on top of the dogshit croquembouche that awaited. Alarm bells were already ringing ‘cos the game was selling itself as a four player coop shooter that’s just as good played solo, which as I’ve discussed in the past, has never once been true.
You can’t optimise for both experiences, it’s certainly possible for one person to ride a two seater bicycle but you’ll struggle with the extra mass and everyone will think you’re a twat who didn’t notice their spouse fall off. But after picking the one character whose abilities seemed best suited for single playing – the sniper who can turn invisible, as opposed to the one with the group hug healing power or the one who can jump quite high – I was subjected to a very cheaply made cutscene consisting of narrated storyboards, establishing that vampires have taken over the isolated New England town of Redfall and our attempt to flee on a boat was foiled when they did a vampire magic and moved the water. And honestly, intro one step more elaborate than a fucking text crawl on black aside, first impressions were good, after my character awoke on the immobilised ship. The striking imagery of this wall of water folded up like a gigantic used towel, parcelled out from glimpses through portholes before we finally escape the ship and see it looming above us, the dry lake bed strewn with debris leading us inexorably back to the occupied town…
and then a voice calling to us over the apocalyptic scene, a gang of the vampire’s minions, humans entreating us to end our foolish resistance and accept our new masters, it was all really compelling stuff. Until I walked up to the first vampire minion, punched them once in the head, and they instantly ragdollized like a sack of congealed cum. In fairness, it was a stealth attack, but then their mates rolled up to raise an objection, I pulled out the starting handgun and they all dropped instantly from one pop to the head. At that point I wondered what the other three players would have been doing if I’d brought them along – presumably holding my coat or bringing me snacks. Same story unfolded the whole way up to town – I’d stumble upon hunting parties of three or four lads and they’d all die like sleepy chickens in a facility owned by Colonel Sanders. Kind of disappointing to make a big thing of how your game is about fighting vampires and then have us mostly deal with their gun-toting squashy minions; for one thing it brings to mind The Order 1886, the video game equivalent of your toilet backing up at the end of a long day at work. But it wasn’t long before the first vampire enemy, and the game hyped it up well enough.
You go down to a creepy basement, a shadow is cast upon a wall from an upcoming door, a spindly figure hunched over a corpse, exuding menace and bestial power. And then it ate three shotgun shells and died. I’m sure its claw strikes would’ve been pretty devastating had I not outwitted them by slowly getting out of the way. Still, you shouldn’t judge a book by its tutorial, and vampires are a bigger threat in the open world gameplay, especially when they group up and start getting superpowers. Or at least they were until I equipped my first stake launcher, and then most of the vampire threat grumpily slunk off to join their minions in the disabled toilet set aside for one-hit-kill chumps. Am I supposed to have this weapon, game? Starting to feel like the teacher gave me the answer sheet instead of the test. Yeah, the ammo capacity’s low, but I just fill up every time I’m in a safehouse. What else is there to spend money on? Onlyfans? I ended up cranking the difficulty up to hard, and understand how rare that is for me, a cowardly soft-thumbed game journalist who hesitates to attempt to remove stolen food items from the mouth of his small chihuahua, but I was looking for a fun game and so far this was about as fun as murdering baby seals en masse in a car crushing device with a very well-oiled activation switch.
But hard mode didn’t help much because the AI’s so atrocious; Sometimes enemies fight you, sometimes they just run around in circles like they’re sizing up the best wall on which to draw their cave paintings. The intended jiminy cockthroat model of giving you the option of stealth or combat falls apart because why wouldn’t you just plough straight in? What’re you afraid of, alerting everyone and causing them to form an orderly queue at the nearest bottleneck? For all the sense of dread I had from the way “host game” was above “play game” in the main menu, I became more and more dubious that Redfall was geared for multiplayer. I mean, I assume the difficulty’s adjusted for more players, they might even have to deal with, like, three dudes running around in circles at once, but that aside, the critical path is dotted with story missions where we’re expected to basically play an audio log and then sit there paying rapt attention for two minutes before we’re allowed to move on, and I don’t see how having some mates around would help immerse me in the story, because they’d all be standing behind the characters doing finger bunny ears.
It’s about the strongest presence the story has, most of the rest of the time it’s told through more of those narrated storyboard cutscenes, and those leave a lot out. Many characters and situations are just sorta there without formal introduction. We unlock a basement door and cut straight to a montage of us helping citizens rebuild the safehouse. Steady on, guys, I was just looking for the bog. The word that defines Redballs is “flimsy.” From the narrative to the game design to most of the enemies’ skeletons, they’re all so badly put together, a game of half baked combat encounters copy pasted and stretched out to fill an overlarge sandbox map like an ill-judged amount of flimsy tinfoil over the leftovers of a meal that nobody particularly liked. Part of me hopes that it was an act of passive aggression on Arkane’s part, like someone asked them to make a multiplayer shooter with broader appeal than their usual more experimental stuff, and they plopped this down like a resentful spouse with a burnt dinner. But they were working on this for years, “passive aggressive” feels wholly inadequate to describe someone who could sustain that amount of spite for that long. You’d need a better name for that. Something like “my mum.”