Redfall’s biggest missed opportunity

redfall missed opportunity

Redfall has already been rated poorly for its bland visuals and dodgy AI. But its failure to deliver on a brilliant premise is arguably its big missed opportunity.


It’s not finished, really, is it? That’s the phrase I kept thinking to myself as I spent my first hour or so plodding through Redfall’s curiously empty world.

I was still on the stricken ferry – Redfall’s opening chunk of environment – when my suspicions were first aroused. The game had only just begun when I noticed a letter, lying next to a dead NPC’s hand, clipping through the floor. The floor looked curiously like Lego. Moving to the next area, the texture on the side of a lorry refused to load. 

Tutting, I made my way outside. A bunch of cultists in the wastes beyond the ferry quickly spotted me, a rash of faintly comical question marks popping up over their heads. I braced myself for a nasty gun battle, but the cultists just sort of hung about, speaking their lines, getting stuck in bits of geometry, and generally waiting for me to walk over and kill them. It all felt a little bit sad.

That scintillating moment when a character slides a low-res leaflet towards you. Credit: Arkane Austin.

A while later, I cleared out a fire station of various swivel-eyed cultists, and dutifully murdered the vampire minding its own business in the basement. I went back upstairs to free the civilians holed up on the top floor, thus completing the mission. The screen went black, and then the game placed me back in the basement.

Cut-scenes are equally chaotic rushed-seeming, comprising what look like bits of early concept art sliding over one another and character models hurriedly forced into poses. A generous use of voice-overs neatly side-steps the need for expensive performance capture or lip-synching.

Had Redfall come from some third-tier studio on an independent budget, none of this would seem quite so remarkable. But Redfall comes from Arkane, one of the industry’s most loved and respected studios; it’s also bankrolled by Microsoft, which has pockets so deep, they may as well be infinite. 

But it’s not the game’s unfinished nature, its lifeless open world, or its clueless AI, that most disappoint me about Redfall. The biggest missed opportunity, I’d argue, is that there’s so much potential in its premise that has so far gone largely unfulfilled. Redfall came frustratingly close to being the world’s first bona-fide Richard Matheson-’em-up.

redfall missed opportunity

There’s nothing necessarily wrong with voice-over and static cut-scenes, but storytelling isn’t the strongest aspect of Redfall. Credit: Arkane Austin.

For the uninitiated, Richard Matheson was a hugely prolific US author of horror and sci-fi, perhaps best known for his 1954 horror, I Am Legend. That book has been adapted for cinema multiple times, first with The Last Man on Earth, starring Vincent Price (which despite its low budget, is rather good), The Omega Man, starring Charlton Heston (I’m still not sure what to make of this one) and I Am Legend, starring Will Smith (pretty good for the first half, but the CGI vampires were awful).

I Am Legend has never been officially adapted into a video game, but Redfall appears to take an awful lot of inspiration from the novel. Like Redfall, I Am Legend is a post-apocalyptic survival story of sorts, with protagonist Robert Neville hoarding what he can to protect himself against the blood-sucking army that has swept the globe following a pandemic. 

Redfall takes a more comic book approach to its premise than Matheson did, but the threads of the author’s earlier work are still there. Redfall is as much sci-fi as it is horror, again like I Am Legend, with players scavenging materials and using high-tech weapons like stake launchers to kill vampires. (As in the book, stabbing a vampire with a stake has a spectacularly messy effect.)

redfall missed opportunity

Redfall’s weapons actually feel really weighty and fun. There are certainly glimmers here of Arkane’s usual brilliance. Credit: Arkane Austin.

There are all sorts of differences from the book, of course. Redfall is too insistent on quips, co-op and chitter-chatter to dwell on themes of depression and loneliness, as Matheson did. But Redfall’s vampires are scientifically-created, like Matheson’s, are intelligent, again like Matheson’s, and the notion of a cult of human vampire worshippers certainly sounds like something the author might have dreamed up.

The basics are all in place for a great, tense, open-world shooter with some absorbing world-building, then. Even beyond the sterling premise, there are glimmers of a good game in Redfall. It doesn’t waste much time in giving you some of its meatier, more satisfying weapons, and they’re fun to play around with – the UV gun and stake launcher make the slaughter of vampires gleefully crisp. Even the simple, haven’t-we-seen-this-somewhere-before loop of repeatedly blasting a vampire with a regular firearm to wear down its health, then zipping in for a finishing stake through the heart, feels satisfying – partly thanks to some splashy death animations.

With all that going for it, Redfall should be far more fun than it is; it’s easy to see what the developers were going for, as you go out on missions, rescue civilians, hunt for supplies, then return to base to regroup. It could have emerged as a more approachable take on S.T.A.L.K.E.R., albeit with co-op and a more upbeat cast.

redfall missed opportunity

Credit: Arkane Austin.

Instead, Redfall is currently brought low by all those things listed above, and a few other things besides. I really dislike the painfully long time you have to hold a button down to deploy a medkit. The pop-up boxes of text designed to introduce you to the game’s mechanics take up a third of the screen and take what feels like an age to dismiss. Character models look wooden and awkward. The missions I’ve played so far are repetitive, and the enemy AI is so painfully dim that it constantly breaks my immersion. Cultists and vampires alike seem oblivious to the screaming gun battles going on a few feet from where they’re standing, and are often content to let me run right up to them and melee them straight in the face. 

After a few hours, I feel less like Robert Neville, anxiously eking out his existence in a hostile world, and more like the first visitors to Mauritius, who discovered that the poor old dodo was so tame and defenceless that it would happily let a human walk up and hit it on the head. 

Or, to put it in a less depressing way, I noticed that having the subtitles on while playing Redfall will cause the game to describe some of the guttural sounds the vampires make. As I was skulking around one dilapidated building, one of the ghouls made a sound described as a “bored groan.” I couldn’t help but nod in agreement.

Xbox’s Phil Spencer has recently talked about his “disappointment” at the reaction to Redfall, and has pledged that Microsoft and Arkane will continue to support it with updates. If that’s the case, then maybe there’s still a chance that Redfall can fulfil its potential as a truly immersive Matheson-’em-up.

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