Skip to main content

Redfall is secretly a game about staking billionaires through the heart

Redfall wants us to bite back against the one percent and show them they’re as mortal as the rest of us

In 2018, PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel put out a surprising statement: “I’m not a vampire.”

My ‘I’m not a vampire’ T-shirt has people asking questions already answered by my T-shirt, indeed.

The billionaire Trump supporter had been linked to a company called Ambrosia, which offers “longevity” treatments, including a process that takes blood from young volunteers and infuses it with your own. Trials on mice had shown that young blood invigorates older test subjects, but human trials have not yielded similar success. Thiel denies using the service, but other elites certainly have.


Whether it’s research into cryogenics, colonizing space, uploading their consciousness to the cloud, or investing in nuclear-proof bunkers, billionaires think they can bribe the Grim Reaper. Redfall, the next game from Arkane Austin, wants us to bite back against the one percent and show them that they’re as mortal as the rest of us.

Before the events of the game, a biotech company called Aevum Laboratories accidentally discovered vampirism while trying to uncover the secret of eternal life through blood research. Rather than being horrified by their discovery, they experimented on themselves and transformed into vampire gods, blocking out the sun and freezing the tides to create an impenetrable base on the island of Redfall, Massachusetts. As one of four vampire hunters, it’s up to you to find out if they still have hearts, and to stick them with the pointy end if they do.


“You can play Deus Ex, Dishonored, or Redfall just as a fun, surface-level action game, but monsters are always metaphors,” game director Harvey Smith says. “There's always a thematic, whether you're aware of it or not. Prior to starting this game, we had just gone through a bunch of years, from Thatcher and Reagan, of tax cuts on the wealthy. That undermines the infrastructure of the entire country, bridges will be falling apart, and people whose kids get insulin will be fucked, but let's do it anyway. It just feels predatory, for the tiny elite to have better lives at the expense of everyone else.”

You can see this same kind of social commentary in Smith’s previous games, too. In Dishonored, the aristocrats brag about profiting from selling the plague elixir, which echoes what happened in real life when pharma bro Martin Shkreli made life-saving medication unaffordable for everyone but the rich. Deus Ex also dissects the plutocracy through technology and government control. Stories are a product of the writers’ lived experiences, and Arkane is refreshingly, unashamedly open about that.


“[For Redfall] we were thinking a lot about just making a fun, spooky action game, but we've just gone through the Trump years,” Smith continues. “It felt like we had all this progress with Obama, and then suddenly we start sliding off toward populism and comforting the comfortable and afflicting the afflicted. And you have stories like Elizabeth Holmes from Theranos servicing this billionaire class of people with this unicorn company that was going to test blood and make lots of money – it's all a scam. You have the Sackler family billionaires making their money off the back of the opioid crisis.

“Our game is not a disease vector zombie game where I can accidentally give you vampirism. It's elective. The founders of Aevum Therapeutics, they're the kind of people that were already vampires. They were the 0.1% feeding on everybody else. And so this is obviously a game where you run around and shoot monsters, but underlying it all, there's clearly some thought about the relationship between the powerful and everyone else.”

Redfall isn’t just a game about driving a stake through vampires’ rotten hearts, then. But it also means more to Arkane than it seems on the surface. It’s also a hail mary from the developer, who makes critically acclaimed masterpieces that never sell as well as they deserve.

Part of this is because they’re challenging games to quantify. Call Dishonored 2 a stealth game and you’re only a quarter of the way there. Sure, Prey is a sci-fi shooter, but how do you explain everything you can do with the in-game physics in a screenshot? On paper, Redfall should be much easier to summarize. An open-world vampire shooter with up to four-player co-op. Done.

But even this game has fallen under the Arkane curse of being completely misunderstood by an audience who, based on the first cinematic trailer, assumed it’s another Left 4 Dead.

It’s finally time to put that to bed. Preferably in a coffin.


Redfall sees you take control of one of four vampire slayers as they attempt to liberate the island town of Redfall from an army of bloodsuckers and their fanatical followers.

The Arkane spirit is there in the rich world, characters, and the snippets of conversation you hear as you creep through the streets. It’s in the notes you find, and the powers you wield alongside your usual array of guns. It’s in the inventive weapons you have access to, such as the stake launcher, the flare gun, and the UV beam. You’ll see it in how the various factions interact and fight in dynamic encounters – as if you’re just one part of this ecosystem, rather than a sole agent of change. It’s in the intricate, open-ended level design, full of looping routes and secret flanking spots.

During a recent hands-on event, I got to spend a bit of time exploring the open world and tackling a main mission in single-player. A few things struck me straight off the bat.

What most surprised me about Redfall is how combat feels like the right way to play. Stealth here seems to be more about setting up angles before you and your squadmates pull the trigger, rather than a focus. There isn’t a traditional melee stealth takedown in the game right now, and that massively hampers your ability to go silent.

“We hope to add that in,” Smith tells me. “If you walk up and hit them, you get a damage bonus. But there's a whole suite of animations we need to do for synced kills and rifle butts to the back of the head and things like that. We got in trouble with the animation schedule. We had to prioritize the schedule and do everything we could to finish. The beautiful thing about this game is, there are ups and downs to it being online. We can collect data on, ‘Oh, people are falling a lot and dying, let's reduce damage from falling’, or whatever. We can just patch little things in constantly. So we hope to do that.”

If melee butt punches aren’t your thing, you can take out a few of the human enemies with silenced headshots before the fight, at least. Still, however sneaky you think you are, there’s gonna be a fight.

This is likely where co-op comes into play. In my session, I found a nice rooftop vantage point that was perfect for my character, Jacob, who comes kitted with a high-powered sniper rifle and the ability to cloak. When on your own, the town descends on you as soon as you fire the first shot, but I can already see the potential in setting up all four characters at the perfect angles for an ambush.

When alone, you also only have access to a couple of powers specific to your character. In games like Dishonored, you have a whole suite of powers that can interact with each other, but that only really comes into play in Redfall when you mix characters and play in co-op. Again, I didn’t get a grasp of that with this being a solo session.


“I would say that some of that is there,” Smith explains. “And as you play, you find more things like that, but certainly when you mix characters. There's a scene in that story trailer where Remy throws down her C4 and jumps as she detonates it. So she boom jumps, then she flies through the air and lands on Layla’s lift and springs further – the player just crossed like 100 meters of game territory, so I do think there's some of that. Whether there's as much or not you'll have to say when you've played the full game, but for sure, some of it is more spread across multiplayer. There are trade-offs for doing co-op.”

Still, it’s completely doable as a lone wolf, whether you want to go in guns-blazing or use your smarts to get an advantage by, for example, setting something flammable on fire or blowing up a nearby car to do damage. It doesn’t have the same level of physical objects as Prey or Dishonored because you have to make concessions when you’re rendering an entire open map for four different players, but Arkane’s best-in-class level design still sings in an open-world environment, allowing you to come at the enemy from a variety of different routes. Keep it quiet in the streets and you can easily bypass entire groups, fighting only when you have to.

Redfall feels like a big departure for Arkane. It’s unlike anything the studio has ever made and feels much closer to more mainstream hits such as Far Cry than it does to Dishonored. Whether it will still appeal to the hardcore immersive sim audience or not remains to be seen, but four-player co-op games are an underserved market so it has the potential to bring in a whole range of new players so they can see what all the fuss is about.

I personally hope that Redfall becomes Arkane’s Elden Ring and brings in a new audience that then goes off and plays its stellar back catalog. It feels cliche to say I feel like I only scratched the surface, but I still discovered new things in my third playthrough of Dishonored 2. Whether it’s a deep, layered story filled with monsters and metaphors or surprising new ways to cover 100 meters, you’ll need more than a single bite to get the full taste.