I was ready to let Redfall into my heart. Developer Arkane Studios has a track record for offering thought-provoking games with exciting twists. From the supernatural subplots of Dishonored to the mind-bending time loops in Deathloop, Arkane has delivered plenty of memorable and unique experiences since its founding in 1999.
Unfortunately, Redfall bucks this trend substantially. Despite having an interesting premise, this vampire-hunting, occult co-op shooter feels like an unfinished mess. Clunky systems, mediocre gunplay, and constant performance issues blight what could have been another entry in Arkane’s roster of great titles.
The opening mission was a bland slogfest, which saw my comrades and I contending with bullet-spongy enemies reminiscent of the worst parts of Borderlands 3 while navigating an uninspired environment that seemed pulled from a mediocre shooter from the early 2010s. Suffice it to say, we were not impressed.
However, all is not lost for fans of co-op horror. There is another title that may yet sate your desires, and it’s available on Xbox Game Pass, too.
Warhammer 40,000: Darktide is the latest co-op offering from Fatshark Games. Taking place in the gothic sci-fi horror of the 41st Millennium, Darktide has you take on the role of a group of convicts who are pressed into service on behalf of the authoritarian Imperium of humanity.
As with Redfall, Darktide sends you into a hellscape of occult horror. Set in the towering megacity of Hive Tertium, Darktide’s band of protagonists are tasked with rooting out a cult of Plague God worshipping fanatics, hordes of zombies, and the occasional super-powered mutant.
Purge the unclean
Darktide is far from perfect. Its classes leave something to be desired when it comes to variation and, beyond its stellar opening, the plot is razor-thin. However, if you can look past these failings, you’ll come across a title with incredible combat fundamentals – something that Redfall sorely lacks.
Guns in Darktide feel weighty and unrelenting, supported by immersive sound design. The Bolter, a massive gun that fires rocket-propelled shells, feels just as dramatic and satisfying as you might hope. Conversely, the lighter weapons, like the Lasgun (think laser assault rifle), feel responsive and versatile. The weapons are distinct and tactile, reminiscent of Doom Eternal in their weight and feel.
The fundamentals of Redfall’s combat feel profoundly dull by comparison. Enemies are spongy with far too much health and gunfire feels unresponsive and unsatisfying. For comparison’s sake, the original Borderlands had substantially more impactful weapons and combat way back in 2009.
Darktide, meanwhile, benefits from excellent encounter pacing. Enemies come at you in ebbs and flows, giving you room to breathe between frantic, high-pressure engagements which often force players to make difficult choices.
Making an entrance
The contrast couldn’t be more evident than in both games’ opening sections. Darktide forces you to make a series of backstory decisions about your character. The majority of these have no impact on the game proper but serve to give you some much-needed context for the struggles that are about to ensue. Cut to a prison ship where your character, convinced of their innocence, uses the cover of a cultist attack on the vessel to break out of their cell and join forces with the Imperial holdout.
Throughout the sequence, the industrial, gothic bleakness of Warhammer 40k oozes off of every surface and line of dialogue. It’s a treat for fans, but also a great jumping-in point for newcomers, as it requires no prior knowledge.
By contrast, Redfall’s opening is bewildering and disjointed. Though the opening cutscene writes a big check, showing off the rise of Redfall town’s vampire cult, it does little to ground the characters or to give a wider context to the conflict. In the first few minutes, the protagonists, having attempted to leave the town via boat, find themselves run aground by occult sorcery.
After aimlessly wading through cultists, they eventually happen upon a firehouse which apropos of nothing, is transformed into a base of operations, not by the heroes of the story, but by a cast of supporting characters.
Teamwork makes the dream work
It’s no surprise that co-op shooters are difficult to get right. Constructing compelling levels which allow for properly paced encounters while also delivering on a moreish gameplay loop is a tall order. Perhaps after a couple of large patches, the performance issues and lackluster feel of Redfall’s gameplay might well be fixed.
Darktide certainly ran into its share of performance issues on launch, and is now far more stable thanks to the ministrations of Fatshark’s patches. In that respect, the two titles have something in common. The key difference, however, is in the gameplay fundamentals: Darktide is kinetic, responsive, and satisfying while Redfall, in its current state, is anything but.
If you and a handful of friends are looking for a cooperative experience that’ll stick with you, then Darktide is your best bet on Xbox Game Pass at the moment. It’s certainly not perfect, but it will deliver dozens of memorable moments through its smart mission design, immersive environments, and a deeply enjoyable selection of weapons.