The town of Redfall, Massachusetts is in dire straits. It’s not just an overwhelming vampire population that’s a major concern for local citizens – it’s that the entire town has been cut off from the real world by a towering plume of frozen waves. There’s no way in, and no way out. Redfall is a hopeless island.
And that’s where you come in.
In Redfall, the latest game from Dishonored and Prey developer Arkane Studios, you are a gunslinger armed to the teeth with an array of weapons and special abilities to aid the infiltration and dispatching of vampire hordes. You are Jacob Boyer, a sniper specialist with a mysterious eye, and a connection to a talking, spectral raven. Or you’re Layla Ellison, a hero with telekinetic powers and the ability to create psychic elevators. You could also be Remi De La Rosa, a robotics expert, or Devinder Crousley, an avid cryptozoologist armed with high-tech gadgets.
Whoever you are, you’ve get a tough path ahead – as the roads in Redfall are winding, and danger crawls around every street corner. During a recent media preview, I was able to get hands-on with the upcoming adventure, and found a deliciously gloomy, open-world trial-by-fire that packed a walloping punch.
Hope at the end of the world
To kick off my journey in Redfall, I chose to play with Jacob Boyer, sniper extraordinaire. While his story, and the early chapters of the adventure were locked off in the gameplay segment available to media, context clues and mission tidbits painted a bloody picture of Boyer’s history, and how Redfall collapsed against a tide of vampires.
(Note: While the game is playable in four-player online co-op mode, only solo gameplay was available in this media preview.)
As detailed in chapter breakdowns (and a recent story trailer), Redfall began its descent after scientific experimentation birthed a new species: the vampire. Their numbers quickly grew, as did their abilities, leaving the townsfolk to struggle against new, super-powered overlords. While some citizens attempted to escape, Redfall was soon cut off from the world, leaving the free people to scrounge for aid and form factions to fight back.
Boyer is one of many heroes who end up in a resistance movement against the vampires. From a base Fire Station, these heroes set out alone, or in teams, on a variety of story-based missions and side quests to destroy vampires, and discover the catastrophic dominoes that inspired the end of the world.
Players are free to choose from a variety of these quests, which are fairly standard in their form: you can mark out safe houses by destroying vampires, travel into vampire nests, and investigate overarching mysteries along the way.
Of these quests, littered around a gorgeous open world map, the most fascinating by far was the Vampire Nest sub-quests. These locales are pigeon holes where vampires roam freely, in devotion to giant, crystalline beating hearts. To complete your goals, you’ll need to take on vampire hordes in close combat, and eventually shatter the nest’s crystal heart, which leads to a MediEvil ‘Hilltop Mausoleum’-style rush to an exit, as the nest begins collapsing around you.
While combat can be difficult and unwieldy due to the sheer number of vampires in these locales, this only ratchets up the tension as you take down each base. While they’re not the only horde-based challenge you’ll face in Redfall, Vampire Nests make for action-packed breaks from the typically stealth-focused exploration you’ll find in the overworld.
Redfall: Jacob Boyer gameplay
Playing as Jacob Boyer added an extra quirk to these more frantic battles, thanks to his sniper specialty. While he can equip a range of guns, his most powerful weapon is a sniper rifle. He’s less agile in close quarters, and in Vampire Nests, this can quickly become a weakness. Vampires tend to move quickly, and this means requiring constant adjustment in the field, and always having a method for escape.
I frequently wound up as dinner, attempting to run in without a plan. But given one, and time to assess his surroundings, Jacob can be a powerful, stealthy fighter.
His abilities were particularly suited to infiltration in the later part of the Redfall demo, when slipping into the spooky Addison Mansion. For one thing, he has a raven companion who can mark enemies – allowing you (and presumably your team) to spot threats in your path. He also has access to temporary invisibility, which allows him to slip past hordes unnoticed, and disappear in active combat.
Once you activate the ability, you disappear completely. Vampires will sense you, and will remain on high alert, but they won’t attack – giving you a window to step back and replan your approach. This gives you some breathing room to escape to higher ground, where Jacob can mark out his prey and begin taking down enemies. Most vampires can be taken out with a single sniper shot, while others require multiple hits, and a stake to the chest with a special, modified rifle.
Swapping between weapons is the best way to balance these needs, and ensure you’re never caught flat-footed by multiple vampires. One alone is usually fair game – but once you’ve attracted attention, getting out of dodge is much harder.
There’s always a creepy mansion
The primary mission in the Redfall media preview was an exploration of Addison Mansion, where vampire enemy The Hollow Man formerly resided. By exploring these grounds and each room inside the mansion, more of Redfall’s science-infused story is revealed, with Addison and his family playing a central role in the events of the game.
While a creepy mansion is hardly a groundbreaking feature in a tale of vampires and growing evil, Redfall spices up common tropes with twisting gameplay and exploration that makes every step feel unknown. The mansion itself has several paths that lead into it, which encourages some tactical analysis. Go through the front door, and you’ll need to take on platoons of vampire-allied humans.
Take the outskirts, along the path that leads to Redfall’s frozen shore, and you’ll have a much easier time – particularly if you deploy Jacob’s stealth capabilities to slip past enemy vampires, and up a set of hidden stairs. The mansion is guarded by watcher vampires, so you’ll need to dispatch these with some well-placed shots.
You will need to take the most efficient path, however, as killing these watcher vampires (and other specials) will attract the attention of a brute vampire known as The Rook, who is extremely difficult to kill. Once he appears, all bets are off. You need to go out all guns blazing, or you’ll die. Avoid this fate however, and entering the mansion is just a matter of stealth-running to the nearest door, and praying you’re not spotted along the way.
Inside, Redfall reveals yet more genre twists, as the mansion exists in a strange reality cataclysm, reminiscent of The Void in Dishonored. It’s not just a mansion – it exists in a different time, with some rooms splitting apart and descending into the darkness, complicating your path. Making your way through this locale, you’ll find even more strangeness, as solving the mysteries of Addison Mansion require you to enter a haunted doll house and explore the dream-like memories of the Hollow Man’s sick daughter.
It’s spooky, skin-crawling, and perfectly sets the tone for future adventures in Redfall.
While the Redfall gameplay segment shared with media was a distinct vertical slice designed to show off the game’s ingenuity and the strength of its gameplay, it hinted at a wild, horror-filled adventure packed with trope-busting encounters and creative set pieces that combine Arkane’s traditional first-person gameplay style with darker, fantasy-infused scenarios.
The world of Redfall, Massachusetts is beautiful, and so far, it feels like there’s a real freedom to the game’s exploration and unfolding tale. In every corner of the world, there’s something new to marvel at – and a sense of originality that elevates the game’s tale of vampire dominance.
Playing in solo mode only means we aren’t sure about the game’s co-op potential just yet, but it’s clear where Redfall leaves room for multiplayer antics, with a multi-layered story and missions that provide plenty of opportunities to explore in packs, and discover hidden secrets and opportunities in each nightmarish corner of the game.
Whether Redfall can maintain this level of excitement and personality in the later stages of the game is yet to be seen. For now though, we have high hopes for this bloody, gorgeous romp.
Redfall launches for Xbox Series X/S and PC on 2 May 2023.
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