Redfall review: A pain in the neck

Redfall review: A pain in the neck
Images via Bethesda

Written by 

Dave McAdam


2nd May 2023 01:00

I have never encountered a game that wanted me to dislike it more than Redfall. And yet, after many hours of playing the game, I want to like it more than I do. It feels like the more I try to like it, the more the game smacks me down for even trying.

For every step in the right direction, Redfall takes two or three backwards, either through its numerous technical issues or just a lack of interesting evolution to its core shooter mechanics.

GGRecon Verdict

Redfall tries to bite far more than it can chew and delivers a package with a middling presentation, a lack of interesting mechanics, and some pretty woeful performance.

Despite its issues, and perhaps like its cultists, I want to love it - it just won't love me back.

Setting the stakes

Leaving the firehouse and exploring Redfall for the first time
Click to enlarge

Redfall is a first-person looter shooter in the same vein as Borderlands, with a vampiric theme. The titular town of Redfall becomes overrun by vampires, and as a small city on an island off the coast of Massachusetts, places to hide are in short supply. It isn't long before the island is completely under the control of the vampires, and the remnants of the island's inhabitants must flee.

The game begins with our heroes on the last boat off of Redfall. Unimpressed by the humans' attempt to flee, the vampires turn the waters around the island into a giant wall, leaving your boat stranded on the floor of the bay. Making your way back inland, you come to a firehouse, clear out the cult members and fight your first vampire in the basement.

Once the building is clear, the survivors hiding in the upstairs bathroom are free to come out. It is here that we meet our supporting cast; the doctor who heals us, the couple who run the armoury, and the Reverend who coordinates the group.

The first bite

Meeting Reverend Eva, the leader of the survivors in Redfall
Click to enlarge

This is where we encounter one of Redfall's first major shortfalls. Rescuing the survivors triggers a cutscene, and like every other cutscene in the game, it is just a series of still images. You see the people emerge, stake their claim on this firehouse, and then it becomes your base of operations.

When you regain control of your character, you are back in the dank basement where you just fought a vampire, only now it is a sleeping quarter and there are people all over. It feels like the "let's build a house" scene from Red Dead Redemption 2, but the storyboard version. It feels unfinished, which is a feeling much of Redfall gives me.

From here, you start taking missions from the mission board and exploring the island. Redfall offers an open world, and the island city itself is probably the best thing in the whole game. It isn't massive, and it won't be too long before you have travelled the length and breadth of the area, but the city is so well realised, with so much detail in every neighbourhood and every building, that it can be quite a joy to explore.

A draining experience

Encountering vampires and cultists while exploring Redfall
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Or it would be if encountering enemies wasn't quite so unpleasant. Somehow, enemy encounters are a strange mix of jarring and dull. Most of the game is spent shooting dudes with guns, so much it starts to feel like a Call of Duty campaign. You start off shooting cultists, and then a bunch of mercenaries show up. Before you know it, walking down dark streets in this spooky vampire game has the audio palette of Black Hawk Down.

Many of your encounters with vampires while out exploring have all the pomp and circumstance of bumping into a wild Zubat. They have the subtlety of sledgehammers and they scuttle around like cornered badgers. I couldn't help but think back to the vampires in Vampire Rain on the Xbox 360, and how deeply unfun they were to encounter.

Redfall imports many of the traditions and superstitions attributed to vampires; they don't like running water so they have dried up all the rivers, they can't be out in the sun so they covered it up (despite the fact that it is still perfectly bright out during the day).

One superstition that seems to ring a little too true is the one about vampires needing to be invited into your home. I cannot tell you how many times a charging vampire has stopped dead in their tracks at the threshold of a doorway. I'd like to give credit to the game, but this is just one of the many ways enemy pathing is a mess.

Whether you're fighting cultists, mercs, or vampires, AI feels outdated, or nonexistent. I have often picked enemies off with a sniper from a distance and noticed their comrades don't bat an eyelid at the pool of blood that used to be their friend. In short, enemies are dumb and they are not fun to fight.

A bit lifeless

Entering your first safehouse in Redfall
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The writing can be a little all over the place as well. One of the survivors in the firehouse quite nonchalantly asks you to check the last known location of his brother. He is fairly certain he has been captured by the cultists, but he doesn't seem too pushed about it. When you return to tell him you found an explosive trap that used a recording of his brother as bait, he seems even less fazed.

Then there is a series of missions where the doctor of the group asks you a very personal favour. He wants you to leave his father's pocket watch on his mother's grave so they can rest together. Once you place the watch on the grave, inexplicably, you are given the option to steal it. The subsequent missions are all worded to suggest you may have stolen the watch, ham-fistedly shoving in an element of moral ambiguity that is completely absent from the rest of the game.

Those missions for the doctor, where you place a pocketwatch, then get a shotgun from a car boot, then kill one vampire, are an entire questline that makes up a significant chunk of the first part of the game. This is to say, not only is Redfall lacking any semblance of pacing, but it is also not very long.

There isn't a huge amount to do, and outside of the main missions you have neighbourhoods to liberate. This is done by completing one short mission, and then killing one vampire underboss. You could say that Redfall rarely gets repetitive, but that is damning with faint praise - although some environmental storytelling occasionally makes for a macabre wander off the beaten path.

Like trying to ice skate uphill

Entering Redfall hospital, and encountering a vampire who refuses to walk through the door
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Then what about the player characters? Again like Borderlands, you have four characters to choose from (more coming with DLC), and each character has unique abilities. Unlike Borderlands, or most games in this genre, there doesn't feel like much to do with these character abilities. They can work together quite well, which is another reason why Redfall feels it'll be much better with friends.

By themselves, looking through all the skills, I just don't see any way you are going to create a character that is interesting or unique. If you are hoping for some RPG depth in your character builds, I'm afraid to say that Redfall is a huge letdown in that category.

For example, I played mostly as Remi, as she has a robot companion and knowing I would be playing mostly solo, it seemed like the way to go. The robot companion's main ability is to stand where you tell him to and attract enemies, which can later be upgraded to do damage.

She can also throw C4 and can create an area around herself which heals everyone nearby. How exactly you take these things and turn them into anything other than a discordant set of abilities that have nothing to do with each other is beyond me.


Fighting vampires on the streets of Redfall
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Performance is an odd topic with regard to Redfall. Ahead of the launch, word got out that the game would not run at sixty frames per second on Xbox Series S or even X. When the specifications for the game appeared on Steam, eyebrows were indeed raised. For whatever reason, Redfall seemed to be an extremely demanding game.

While my frame rate was steady on a modest rig, there have been plenty of regular texture pop-ins, weird bugs, and effects just not working as you would expect. For example, one early mission has you investigating the local cinema. This task was made especially difficult for me because, for some reason, the entire building was filled with fog. This has happened many more times, leading to situations where I simply cannot see where I am going.

A light in the dark

The view of Redfall city at night
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There are aspects of Redfall that I really like. Despite the lack of cutscenes, the characters are very talkative, and never in an annoying way. With a coat of polish, I could see the town itself being an absolute joy to explore for Halloween fans. Despite all other aspects of the game, lifeless is not a quality you can give to the city of Redfall itself.

One interesting idea that the game has is the Rook, a powerful vampire boss that shows up periodically. After a certain mission, you are given a meter which represents the vampire gods' attention. As you kill powerful enemies and complete missions, the meter fills up. When it is full, they send the Rook in this bombastic red lightning storm. Shame, then, that I just shot him a bunch like all the others, but at least it looked cool.

Most of the time, the game's worst characteristics are unobtrusive. Sure, running around shooting guns at dudes who are shooting guns at you isn't much to write home about, but it can be some fun with friends.

It sucks

Fighting Hollow Man, the first major boss of Redfall
Click to enlarge

Let me finish with an anecdote that might encapsulate the whole experience. When I got to the first major boss of the game, the vampire leading the cult, I encountered a bug that made all health bars disappear. Not ideal, so I restarted the game. This put me back in the firehouse, on the opposite side of town.

I made the slog to the boss fight again and began the fight. The boss is a giant vampire in the middle of a circular room. He has three attacks (two of which are repeats from regular vampires), and three phases.

The third phase is when he uses a butterfly attack, which killed me the first time. When I respawned downstairs, the butterflies were still flying around the room, meaning his phase three attack was still active before starting the fight again.

After four sketchy attempts, I managed to take him down. To finish a vampire in Redfall, you need to stake them in the heart. I hit the button to stake the boss, and just as my character picked up the stake, I was kicked out as the game disconnected from the server. I was playing solo. I still have not been able to get back into the game.

Redfall hates me, and I think I'm starting to hate it too.

The Verdict

Redfall tries to bite far more than it can chew and delivers a package with a middling presentation, a lack of interesting mechanics, and some pretty woeful performance.

Despite its issues, and perhaps like its cultists, I want to love it - it just won't love me back.


Reviewed on PC via Steam. Code provided by the publisher.

Dave is a Senior Guides Writer at GGRecon, after several years of freelancing across the industry. He covers a wide range of games, with particular focus on shooters like Destiny 2, RPGs like Baldur's Gate 3 and Cyberpunk 2077, and fighting games like Street Fighter 6 and Tekken 8.

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