When Arkane Austin announced its vampire-slaying shooter Redfall last year, it was understandable that some of its community were a bit skeptical. Why did the creators of Prey and Dishonored move away from meticulous, handcrafted precision in favor of the chaotic chaos of co-operative open worlds? A year later I learned that, well they didn’t. Determined to translate Arkane’s trademark into a game that can be enjoyed by four players cooperating, the minds behind Redfall begin with what the studio has always done best: single-player.
“We put an inordinate amount of work into making the single player feel right,” said Harvey Smith, Studio Director at Arkane Austin. With no desire to separate solo and multiplayer modes, Smith and his colleagues set out to create a game that would work as both a satisfying single-player game and a great co-op experience.
“It was very important to us that we make it possible for you to play the game alone,” says Smith. “So you can find your way around very slowly, play at your own pace, observe things remotely, plan, formulate, harvest resources, do all the things that you probably enjoy doing in an Arkane game.”
Fans of the studio’s previous work will no doubt be relieved that all of these elements are taken into account and that Redfall isn’t, as some have feared, a replica of Left 4 Dead. These fears were not unfounded either; With Arkane’s critical track record but commercial struggles, it was easy to believe that a co-op shooter was the studio’s attempt to go a little more mainstream. But that is not the case. “We set out to do the most ambitious thing we could,” Smith assures me.
However, Smith recognizes that the experience changes as other players join the party. “Once you have a second person, if that person is another idealized Arkane fan, there are times when the game still feels that way [a single-player Arkane game] with someone else,” he says. “But it’s less likely. It’s more likely to be something new. Even more likely things will get out of hand.”
This understanding perhaps influenced Arkane Austin’s decision to align with the action-packed ambitions of Deathloop (created by sister studio Arkane Lyon) rather than the insidious sensibilities of Dishonored. But like Deathloop, that doesn’t mean the popular stealth vs. action choice that characterizes so many of Arkane’s games isn’t part of Redfall’s DNA.
“Stealth is important to this game, but this isn’t a stealth game,” says Smith. Rather than Redfall calling for silent, surgical strikes against unconscious targets, stealth is a tool that aids in exploration of Arkane’s first open city world. An important part of this work is the enemy AI; Legions of vampires will not inexplicably descend on you just because you entered their patrol bubble.
“What works for us is hearing, sight, distance, cones of vision, and all that nerdy stuff we love,” says Smith. “Because it means while I’m moving, if I’m walking across a parking lot, climbing a small wall across the street and going onto the roof of a building to rewire the antenna for this little side mission I’ve got going, me.” triangulate. On the go, stealth is useful for this. It helps you avoid encounters so you can get where you want to go.”
Sneaking or roaming the outdoors is just one of the choices you’ll make as you explore the town of Redfall, Massachusetts. In full arcane tradition, key locations will have multiple spawn points, each offering a different challenge.
“Especially if it’s a campaign mission […] We have quality and design checklists where we say, ‘There must be at least three ways,'” explains Ricardo Bare, Redfall’s co-creative director. “And they have to entail different trade-offs for the player. This entrance is not guarded but locked, it has security systems. This entrance is open, but there are guards patrolling. There is a roof entrance. And there is another way through the sewers, but there is a danger like flames or poisonous stuff that you have to deal with. This is our general approach to most infiltration style missions.”
Where Redfall differs from a game like Dishonored is that these locations, referred to as “tourist traps turned fortresses” by playable character Devinder in the game’s latest trailer, are just part of a much larger open world. The urban sprawl that fills in the gaps, Smith admits, will feel different than the meticulously designed campaign sites. “You have to choose where to do it [hand-crafted] things,” he says.
Redfall – Xbox and Bethesda Games Showcase 2022 screenshots
But while the move to the open world means that not every street can have the focus of, say, Dishonored’s Lady Boyle’s Last Party, they still lend themselves to the gameplay loops that fans of Arkane love. Choosing paths, assessing enemy patrols, and uncovering hidden stories are still woven into the fabric of Redfall’s streets. “We try to infuse story into every space we create, even if there’s no heavy-handed plot,” says Smith. “Every square inch of the environment is infused with story content.”
Locations with clever level and narrative design are just one factor in Arkane’s rulebook. Another reason is the interlocking and reactive game mechanics that bring the land to life. Redfall’s open world offers a unique opportunity here, and Arkane is rethinking how the style of emerging events, first developed by Rockstar’s cities, can interact with the studio’s own signature mechanics.
“Systems that are part of the open world can crash [campaign missions] and disrupt them in a way we’ve never done in the past,” explains Bare. His example is a dynamic world event known as Vampire Nest, which drops a psychic door into an area that overloads all enemies in a radius around it. Although this is an optional activity separate from the main campaign, the way it affects the world can affect your main mission goal.
“If you happen to do the Shipyard mission, the nearby world might spawn a vampire nest door,” says Bare. “And if you ignore it, it could be that the shipyard mission is now encompassed within the area of effect created by the Nest. And suddenly the shipyard mission is much more difficult and I am faced with a decision: should I clear out the nest first? Or am I just going to grit my teeth and try to beat these guys while they’re super charged?
In this example, Redfall makes perfect sense as a co-op game. As a solo player, I would probably tackle this nest before going into the yard. But with two or three people supporting me, the decision to take on charged bloodsuckers becomes even more tempting. That, I believe, is the “something new” Smith is promising is coming with co-op: a whole new level of choice.
As Redfall’s new gameplay trailer shows, multiplayer opens up a whole new set of tactics for Arkane. Stealth-obsessed duos can synchronize sniper shots to quietly take out an area’s guards. More action-oriented players can combine their characters’ unique powers, such as using the telekinetic Layla’s spectral elevators to launch a friend into the air so they can drop an explosive in the middle of a group. This type of synergy between characters is important to Arcane, but never at the expense of the individual player.
“Our approach is to ensure that [abilities] complement each other in interesting ways so players can create cool strategies,” says Bare. “We didn’t do the thing where they locked themselves like a lock and key, where it’s like, ‘You have to do this and then do that, or you can’t kill the vampire.’ We expect players to find cool combinations that work [their own playstyles].”
“There’s probably a bunch of powers out there that would be super awesome if they just worked with this other combination,” says Smith. “But once you do that, you’re saying the single-player persona has a less valid experience here.”
By making sure the abilities are complementary and not dependent on each other, it means that a party isn’t pressured to have specific characters in their party. “All four players can choose to play as Layla if they wish,” Bare confirms, although he notes that doing so would mean that such a group would miss out on all the dynamic conversation that takes place between a properly mixed group.
Instead of worrying about party composition, you’re free to choose which of the four heroes are your favorites and discover the coolest ways they can work together. I’ve already had my eye on Devinder, a cryptozoologist equipped with a variety of bizarre DIY hunting gear capable of petrifying vampires, but sniper Jacob and his ability to turn invisible appeals to my sneaky side (plus an added bonus: He has a spectral crow attack). The synergy between these two, Layla, and the last of the four, robotics expert Remi, isn’t clear yet, but hopefully experimenting will be part of the fun.
Co-op isn’t just about making the most of compatible character abilities, it’s also about finding the gaps between other systems that can be filled by another person. While discussing guns, Smith describes the UV ray, first seen in Redfall’s theatrical trailer debut, as “a mobile means of petrifying the vampires. Of course it wears out, so if you stop, they start to thaw, and you need to act beforehand [they become active again].” I can already see Koop adding to such a device; If another player is ready with a stake launcher, you don’t have to turn off the beam and risk thawing the frozen vampire.
A co-op FPS is definitely unlike anything Arkane has done before. But Redfall, or at least what Redfall Smith and Bare describe, is everything I want from an Arkane game. Its setting might mean we’re not getting anything as intricately brilliant as The Clockwork Mansion, and its structure prevents it from having the elegance of Deathloop’s overarching rulebook, but there’s an undeniable temptation to being able to share an immersive simulation with someone else. For years I’ve told my friends stories about the coolest things I’ve done in Dishonored, Deus Ex, and Prey. Redfall, if it’s anything Arkane Austin promises, means we’ll get through it together.
Matt Purslow is UK News and Features Editor for IGN.