One last stroll through Redfall, at the pace it was always meant to be played

May 11, 2024
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Calm seas and sunny skies. I had not been back to Redfall in a while before this week, when events meant I suddenly knew I had to check in again. Spring has finally arrived in Sussex, so when I turned the game on one morning and sat down to play, a warming sun was already slanting in through the windows. The promise of summer! Redfall, of course, worked its spell. On the screen, a US flag hung limply from a pole against louring skies, while a stray breeze gathered and then scattered dry leaves, eddying, dithering, round and round. It was like stepping out on an Autumn evening. October Country. Everything that I wanted.

My idea was just to wander. Like a lot of people I struggled with Redfall as a fast-paced co-op action game, because it so clearly didn’t want to be a fast-paced co-op action game. In my mind, perhaps unfairly, I see the pitch that I imagine was handed down from above as being something like: can you get us Stranger Things and Left 4 Dead in a single package? Arkane Austin was – feels weird and grim to say “was” – a famously smart bunch of people. I cannot believe the team didn’t know where its strengths lay. Its strengths lay in slowing down, savouring the environmental storytelling and tactical options. Slow down, and this is still the game that Redfall is – the storytelling part at least. But you have to play across the game design to see it. You can’t meet it head on. You have to go hunting for the magic, ducking around the gunfights, which are fine, and the bottlenecks they create. But the magic is here waiting for you.

My favourite moments playing Redfall the first time around were all on the first of two open-world maps. I loved the locations that spoke to a realistic, slightly up-itself seaside town in New England. There were boss fights and magical-realism moments in which you travelled inside a doll’s house, but I preferred finding the gorgeously restored old cinema, itself a kind of doll’s house contrivance with its brass railings and tip-up seats and classic movie posters. My favourite bit of storytelling wasn’t about how vampires had taken over and messed with the sun. It was about a safe house that had once been a painfully contemporary smoothie bar where influencers could film themselves drinking luminous protein-and-berry blends filled with activated almonds.

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