Preview: 'Redfall' beautifully meshes Arkane’s hallmark gameplay with an open world

'Redfall' game could make vampires popular again. — Bethesda/TNS

It’s been a minute since vampires were explosively popular. The heyday for bloodsuckers has come and gone when the likes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and True Blood wrapped up and zombie epics such as The Walking Dead took off in the public’s imagination.

That could all change, and one of the first projects that could make vampires popular again is Redfall. Arkane Austin’s latest game has been in the works for five years and takes the studio’s hallmark gameplay and adds a fresh twist to it.

“All Arkane games, there’s two things we try to do,” co-director Ricardo Bare said. “One is to invest in the world building and build a sense of place and the second is to invest in gameplay mechanics that let you be creative.”

That paid dividends in games such as Prey, Dishonored and most recently Deathloop. With Redfall, Bare said the team is adding two things they’ve never done. They built an open world and they let players jump in with friends for a cooperative experience.

Meet the cast

I had a chance to experience the open-world gameplay at a recent demo event in San Francisco. I had a choice between four characters though Bare said two extra heroes would be available down the road. They were the following:

Jacob Boyer — Although all characters can play stealthily, this special-ops commando specialises in the play style. He has a ghostly raven that he can summon to scout and a gadget that allows him to cloak for a limited time. His ultimate move allows him to go into a super-sniper mode to take down targets fast.

Layla Ellison — She’s a college student who volunteered for a medical trial because she had trouble making ends meet. In the process, she ended up with crazy telekinetic powers. She can summon an elevator that can lift players or enemies into the air. She has an umbrella shield and a vampire ex-boyfriend, whom she can summon for help.

Remedios “Remi” De la Rosa — She’s a search and rescue specialist and has a robot companion that can take aggression and heat from enemies. Her powers are related to her robot as players can use the little helper to distract enemies to escape or use it to bait them in for ambushes. For example, she can toss C4 on the bot and send it off into a patrol. Her abilities revolve around buffing and healing.

Devinder “Dev” Crousley — He’s an Internet-famous author known for his research into cryptids. Finding out that vampires really exist is a boon for him. He gets around quickly with a teleportation device. He can throw one node in a multitude of spots like a roof and whisk himself there. He has a javelin that shoots out lightning that stuns enemies and a staff that releases ultraviolet light that turns enemies to stone and can also heal him and others nearby

Getting used to the tools

I liked the idea of throwing a disc to teleport to different areas, so I chose Dev. I wasn’t disappointed. He was the perfect character to explore Redfall, Massachusetts, the setting of the game. This island town has been taken over by ridiculously powerful vampires. They’re strong enough to freeze all the water surrounding Redfall into place, trapping the survivors inside while also attracting cultists who believe that the most powerful of them are gods.

Despite being on an island, Redfall has a large and detailed environment that’s full of points of interest. On my first outing, I ran into cultists at a house and took them down with a bit of trouble. Although characters have two special skills and an ultimate, the combat relies heavily on the three weapons and a handgun players carry with them. Players can collect more arms and store them on their person but they have to equip them to different slots to switch them out in combat.

Even within those weapons, players have to differentiate between arms that specialise in defeating vampires and ones that kill humans. Guns like the Snipe Hunter that shoots out stakes are excellent at killing vampires but aren’t as strong against armoured cultists. Meanwhile, an automatic assault rifle does wonders against humans but may not be as effective as the vampires.

Don’t get me wrong, players can still gun down a vampire and stun them long enough until you can stake them with a bayonet but it may not be as efficient. In fact, there are just three ways to kill vampires. A stake through the heart, burning them to death or using ultraviolet light to turn them to stone and smash them.

Going to the movies and a nest

One of the two sidequests I did involve fixing the popcorn maker at the Fire Station base. I had to venture to the movie theater to fulfill that request. Unfortunately, it’s infested with vampires and their cultists. In classic Arkane fashion, I was able to sneak by them by tossing my teleporter to the top of the marquee and sneaking in through the second floor.

From there, it was easy to wander through the cinema and pick up the parts I needed. It wasn’t all easy. I did run into a vampire miniboss, and I nearly ran out of ammo while dispatched it with the stake launcher and flare guns.

The other second quest I tried out was the vampire nests, which proliferate on the map. Players need to take these down or else vampires within its radius will be tougher to take down. They operate almost like an instance. Once players touch the portal, they’re transported into a dreamlike world where different parts of Redfall are mashed together.

It feels like a randomised dungeon, where players hunt down vampires until they get to a beating heart. They’ll have to knock out the nodes connected to the heart in order to eliminate the core of the nest and destroy it. In the end, the nests collapse and players will have to hunt for an exit to survive. It’s a fun diversion that rewards players with perks that do things such as boost health or attack power.

In between those two side quests, I managed to free a safe house by destroying the vampires guarding it and restarting a generator. Once established, the spot acts as a fast travel spot and a hub where players can restock ammo and even take on safehouse-specific sidequests. It starts off empty, but it eventually fills with survivors.

Melding gameplay and storytelling

The main mission in the demo was called House of Echoes, and I had to investigate the origins of the Hollow Man, one of Redfall’s vampire gods. An investigation revealed his ties to a mansion, and I had to search for clues on how to defeat him.

Of course, that’s easier said than done. It’s patrolled by vampires, including Watchers that are stationary and act almost like security cameras. I had to sneak up behind them and kill them from behind before advancing. The mansion and the estate were multilayered, but what’s notable is how Arkane Studios blended the narrative of the Hollow Man’s beginnings with the environment itself.

Every room in the mansion offered some insight into the Hollow Man’s previous life. It revolved around a hospital and a young girl named Amelia. Part of the quest had players looking for dolls inside the house. The key to the whole mission lies in the mansion’s attic, and if players can make the right connection with the setting and a dollhouse, they can figure out how to get to the bottom of the Hollow Man’s backstory.

It’s masterfully done and shows how Arkane can blend narrative and gameplay effortlessly even in an open world. It will be interesting to see how this subtle storytelling meshes with the chaos of a cooperative game, but if anyone can find a way to do it, it’s Bare and his team. Perhaps in the process, Redfall can start the ball rolling on a vampire renaissance that fans of Buffy and True Blood are looking for.

Redfall is scheduled for release on May 2 on Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S and PC. – Bay Area News Group/Tribune News Service

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