Despite looking a whole lot like Turtle Rock Studios' Left 4 Dead or Back 4 Blood in its latest gameplay trailer, developer Arkane Austin wants players to know that its upcoming open-world, cooperative first-person shooter Redfall is not like those games. After talking with Arkane Austin studio director Harvey Smith and Redfall co-creative director Ricardo Bare, I came away thinking Redfall looks and sounds more like Arkane Austin's take on a Borderlands-like game, not Left 4 Dead.
"Once in a while, we get compared to Left 4 Dead," Smith told GameSpot. "But this is a big campaign that is persistent and you play through the story and level your character up and you can do that alone or with other people. We love Left 4 Dead, but [Redfall] is not Left 4 Dead in any way really, other than colorful characters. When you play alone in our game, you have one character, there aren't bots. We don't have the whole party together."
Redfall takes place in the titular fictional Massachusetts city, which has come under siege by an army of vampires. That army of the undead has created an endless night by blocking out the sun and also prevented any and all escape by cutting the island off from the rest of the world. Those humans who are still alive have either joined a cult devoted to sacrificing everyone to the vampires or are struggling to find a way to survive the nightmare.
You fall into the latter camp, playing as one of four survivors--cryptozoologist and inventor Devinder Crousley, combat engineer Remi De La Rosa, ex-military sharpshooter Jacob Boyer, or biomedical engineering student Layla Ellison. All four can wield the abundance of loot you'll uncover in Redfall (all of which is divided into color-coded tiers of rarity and power), but each brings their own specialties to combat with their unique abilities. A medical trial gone wrong has left Layla with telekinetic superpowers, for example, while Remi uses her inventive mind to outfit her robotic companion with supportive tech.
Whichever character you pick is who you're playing as for the entire campaign, which you can tackle solo or with a group of up to four players. Whether you play alone or in a group, it seems like you'll get largely the same experience--there are no powers that only work in multiplayer, for instance. "We made a decision very early on," Smith said. "We're not going to make features that are like, 'If I'm playing single-player, I feel I'm missing out on some big thing.' And so as much as possible, we try to keep the campaign one-to-one [in terms of] what you see if you're playing single-player or multiplayer. The only additional thing is obviously interaction and the banter between squadmates and any co-op synergy that you have between them."
"Yeah, and there's definitely nothing like, 'This is the co-op campaign and this is the single-player campaign,'" Bare added. "It's the same content. We do try to do the thing where [each character's] abilities, as an example, are 100% cool in single-player, but then also have nice compliments if you happen to be playing multiplayer. So an obvious example would be Layla's elevator. It's useful in single-player for her to shoot herself up onto rooftops. But it's obviously also cool when you're playing with friends [because] your friends can also use it."
As you play, you'll not only uncover loot, you'll also earn points to put into skill trees, unlocking additional perks tied to your character's specific abilities. Anyone who has played a Borderlands game or similar titles (like Destiny 2 or Outriders) should be familiar with what Redfall is offering. The major difference Arkane Austin seems to be bringing with Redfall is stealth-driven combat mechanics, which aren't usually seen in such a traditionally action-heavy style of game. But Smith and Bare indicated that Redfall won't be as heavily stealth-focused as previous Arkane games like Dishonored or Prey; instead, the game will have a healthy balance of stealth and action, with a player's experience largely depending on whether they're playing solo or in a group.
"It really goes back to the heart of why we [use] stealth systems to begin with," Smith said. "This is not a pure stealth game. This is more a game where stealth enables a certain kind of play. And the main reason we do it, I think, is because of the AI that you get, by definition, when you make a stealth game--at least an analog [type of] stealth game [like what] we like."
That does mean there isn't too much of a focus on stealth in Redfall--which, to be fair, does feature incredibly loud firearms like bolt-action sniper rifles and shotguns. It's an option for you if you want it, but Smith said stealth isn't as important a consideration as it is in games like Hitman or Dishonored.
"Even if you would not consider this a pure stealth game, stealth is a part of it," Smith said. "[Stealth] allows you to get the drop on people. It allows you to get into an interesting vantage. It allows you to skip some combat [sections] if you are vulnerable, if you're in a bad situation, your health is low, whatever. And it also generates these moments where you think you're moving through an area and no one hears you, no one sees you, but suddenly you have a tail and you're kiting one set of enemies into another set of enemies."
You shouldn't have to worry about trying to stealth and wondering whether your allies will do the same. Arkane Austin has created a context-sensitive ping system for Redfall, allowing players to communicate with each other even if not everyone is on mics. It's just one of several accessibility features that Arkane Austin has put into Redfall, which Smith indicated has become a greater priority since the developer's parent company, ZeniMax, was acquired by Microsoft. Not much else has seemingly changed under the new leadership, however, with Smith saying that Arkane Austin still enjoys a great deal of creative freedom.
"From our perspective, nothing's changed because we still report to ZeniMax and they're not very prescriptive--we've always had an enormous degree of creative freedom," Smith said. "But one of the benefits so far working with Microsoft is a lot of insight into accessibility and the importance of that, and so we have more of that that we'll talk about at some point in the near future."
Unlike similar games, Redfall does not incorporate a respec system, meaning that once you make a choice in your character's skill tree, you're stuck with it. Additionally, the game does not balance combat behind the scenes in the case of different-leveled characters entering the same game. If you're playing as a level 20 Layla and you're joined by your friend who's a level 5 Remi, your friend is just going to have a rough go at it (though the higher amounts of experience they'll earn should help them level up faster). Arkane Austin's hope with this is that it promotes the idea that your character is an accurate reflection of your choices, all of which have lasting consequences on your experience with the game.
"There's a lot of decisions that you have to make as soon as you start making a co-op game," Smith said, "And over and over during the project, we found ourselves coming into contact with those [decisions]. All of us had worked on multiplayer games at some point, even though it's not our forte, it's not our specialty, but over and over, we had to answer questions about, 'What do we do here? How do we gate that?' And there's a lot of features, I think, in modern games that are sort of niceties or quality-of-life features that actually hurt the game in some ways, like giving yourself the ability to just fluidly respec constantly."
Smith added, "And if you go play with a friend and you guys do whatever mission, that's fine, that's cool. The host gets credit for it, for sure--it's part of their progression. But if you then start the campaign, you have to play those missions [again]. Again, there's a lot of stuff that at first feels quality-of-life that ultimately undermines the authenticity of the experience somehow."
Redfall will have a linear campaign, but much like Prey, there are plenty of optional side quests and nuggets of story for players to uncover. Bare confirmed there's far more lore and backstory to discover in Redfall in comparison to Prey--even if you can't enter every building, Redfall's city setting is far larger than Prey's space station, meaning the team had to include more to find in order to prevent the open world from feeling empty.
"I think there are advantages to the kinds of games that we've made like Dishonored and Prey where it's very single-player," Smith said. "But with an open world, you can go anywhere. You can be meaning to go here, but look out across a baseball diamond and a graveyard and a trailer park and see something that you want to do over there and then get into this whole thing because the AI heard you and followed you and kited you into something else. And then you wander upon a vignette of some petrified vampires and a UV light on a tripod because some lady sniper from Bellwether set up a tripod there with UV lights and turned them off so that the vampires start thawing out and she's fighting for her life and you can just walk off or you can help her, or you help [the vampires]. And suddenly an hour has passed and you're just like, 'Oh my God, I haven't even gotten to the mission yet.' And that's really what we love about open-world games."
Both Smith and Bare reiterated that environmental storytelling is a big part of Redfall, even with the multiplayer focus. They acknowledge that Redfall doesn't look quite like Arkane Austin's previous work, but the studio's creative values are still represented in some form or another.
Originally slated for Summer 2022, Redfall has been delayed to the first half of 2023. The game is scheduled to launch for Xbox Series X|S and PC, and will be available on Xbox Game Pass on day one.
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