A special vampire stalks through the middle of a road, as it bites into an unsuspecting victim in a suburban neighbourhood. Freshly restocked from a trip back to a safe house, cryptozoologist and aspiring inventor Devinder “Dev” Crousley lines up his sights and nails a headshot, spurring all hostile forces – both undead and human – into action. A click signals an empty sniper barrel, and he swaps out to a semi-automatic firearm, unleashing a burst of bullets onto the horde. Deal the killing blow with a stake, reload, and repeat the process.
It’s a comforting tempo that has found a home in Redfall, the upcoming co-op first-person shooter (FPS) from Arkane Austin, the studio behind the Prey and Dishonored series. In it, players will have to fight their way, either alone or with other allies, through a legion of vampires on the island town of Redfall, Massachusetts, and uncover the mystery behind their sudden appearance. A 90-minute hands-on session has pegged it to be a little like Valve’s popular zombie shooter Left 4 Dead 2 and its spiritual successor Back 4 Blood, but with some tweaks that spice up a familiar formula.
Similar to the two titles, it runs up to a four-member team; unlike them, each of the characters have their own set of tactical and Ultimate abilities, which can be upgraded via a skill tree. Dev, for example, comes armed with the Arc Javelin and Translocate skills, allowing him to shock enemies for some damage or reposition to a new location respectively. His Ultimate, meanwhile, petrifies all who stand in his way, and stops them in their tracks momentarily.
Likewise, the other characters have their own kit that benefits different play styles. Biomedical engineering student Layla Ellison boasts telekinetic powers, is able to absorb and deflect incoming damage with a conjured Umbrella, and has an Ultimate that summons her vampire ex-boyfriend (yes, you read that right). Remedios De La Rosa, or Remy, a combat engineer, can send a robot out as a decoy, launch or place explosives within an area, and heal herself and allies with her Ultimate, while ex-military sharpshooter Jacob Boyer is equipped with a spectral raven that reveals enemies, brief invisibility, and the Heartstopper Ultimate, which calls forth a ghostly rifle that snaps automatically to enemies for a short period of time.
These hero-specific skill sets introduce more nuance to the usual shooting fanfare, as players are encouraged to act creatively, particularly in combat situations, and explore how to best utilise their character’s abilities in Redfall. Dev is ideal for those who like some form of mobility, whereas Remy proves handy for fighting at a distance. Remy comes highly recommended for self-sustenance, and Jacob, with his well-rounded build, is a reliable, beginner-friendly pick.
Depending on one’s play style, the approach for those playing the same character can differ. Take Jacob for instance – a stealth-oriented player is likely to sneak past enemies while invisible, but a more aggressive counterpart might choose to sneak up attack them from the back instead. In a similar vein, Dev works great for those who like to teleport to hard-to-reach locations and take out hostile forces by sniping, though there’s also the choice to relocate behind them, activate his Ultimate, and strike them down in their petrified states.
It sounds simple enough on paper; in reality, the execution is a little rough – the trajectory of Dev’s translocator is hard to spot, feeling like a shot in the dark at times. Movement also had a slightly wooden quality to it, although the sliding mechanic did allow for greater maneuvering ease.
A lot of this flexibility boils down to player choice, starting from the skill tree. Taking a leaf out of the RPG structure, it offers multiple paths and options that can be invested in, with the more powerful upgrades requiring more points or prerequisites to unlock. The open-world setting (bigger than the world of Dishonored, at least) also means players are free to explore and progress as they wish, which includes completing side quests, destroying vampire nests, and other activities.
Then, there are the firearms. As per most post-apocalyptic shooters, the island town has safehouses scattered over the map, and it’s where players go to restock their ammunition, change their weapon loadout, and replenish their medical supplies. Redfall features a total of seven weapon categories (Stake Launcher, Flare Gun, Portable UV Beam, Sniper Rifle, Shotgun, Assault Rifle, and Pistol), and three equippable slots, but most will likely find that it isn’t quite sufficient, because ammo management is easily one of the most difficult parts of gameplay.
Indeed, running out of bullets is a very frequent occurrence in the vampire shooter. During the media preview session, there were multiple instances where Dev had to quick travel back to a safe house in the midst of a mission, as stray ammunition isn’t commonly found. Swapping equipped guns for another type is a viable alternative, but comes with a risk if you’re overrun by a vampire horde and aren’t familiar with their workings, such as effective shooting distance and iron sights design, especially for heroes without a means of quick getaway.
On the note of enemy types, there are quite a few – both humans and vampires – to hunt down in Redfall, even if they can be difficult to spot at times. Special vampires include the Siphon, the Bloodbag and The Hollow Man, each with a distinctive design and to call their own. Killing them raises a warning metre of sorts, and unlike Hollow Man Cultists, the general vampire population can only be killed by a stake, fire, or electricity after being wounded by gunshots; failing which, they will regenerate some health and regain their bodily form.
Shooting mechanics feel largely polished, if a little clumsy at times. Vampire-killing gameplay could also afford to be more intuitive – players have to always switch back to the firearm with the stake attachment to deal the death blow, so it’d be nice to have more gun types that can equip it. Fortunately, these faults are often forgotten in the sheer satisfaction and joy of vanquishing enemies in as many different ways as possible.
Here’s a fair warning, though: there are civilians loitering around the vampire-infested neighbourhoods, so do take note to reel in the trigger-happy instincts. It’s unclear if there will be any repercussions for killing or saving them, but given the team’s track record with Dishonored, it won’t be surprising if such a system is in place.
By leaning into a familiar formula, Redfall is able to deliver a fun and enjoyable time, with its mish-mash of genre influences evoking a sense of comfort for shooter fans. The hands-on session has teased a colourful, high-energy game world filled with intrigue, and the chaos will only increase with good company in the co-op and multiplayer modes. Only time will tell if Redfall can retain the Arkane magic, but for 90 minutes at least, players have some excitement to sink their time – and teeth – into.
Redfall is releasing on 2 May 2023 for PC and Xbox Series X|S, with Day 1 access for Xbox Game Pass subscribers.