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With Redfall, Arkane mishandles Stephen King’s legacy — and its own

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red fall Stands in the shapely shadow of Count Orlok, a giant of over a century of popular vampire fiction—particularly, due to its small-town setting, Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot and heavily King-indebted TV series, midnight Mass, It is also the most recent game to come from Arkane Studios, a developer whose portfolio includes denied series, HuntAnd Deathloop. It’s a one-story pedigree to live up to—the height of which red fall constantly fails to reach.

In red fallPlayers work to take back an island run by vampires, wielding bullets and stakes through the hearts of bloodthirsty demons and their human worshippers, while trying to uncover how they rose to power in the first place . The game’s narrative is unevenly distributed, presented mostly through brief, stilted, pre-mission cutscenes and bits of in-universe text, which can be read while chatting with a co-op partner or as a farmer. Can be easily missed while avoiding bullets. Its roots in King’s novel, the immersive sim philosophy of Arkane, and vampire fiction in general are buried under layers of distraction, but they are present. Unfortunately, the signs of that inspiration don’t rise off the ground so dramatically as moving a finger through the dirt.

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Devinder, Laila and Jacob aim their weapons at the stairs of a haunted house where a vampire foe lies in wait in Redfall

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Laila, Jacob, Devinder, and Remi play the parts of radical rebels fighting against an extraterrestrial elite
Image: Arkane Austin / Bethesda Softworks

Like denied, red fall is about fighting a sordid kind of revolution, for a handful of totalitarian regimes to knock out the structures that support their oppression. In form of Salem’s Lotallows for a small town setting red fall To create a microcosm of society – American society, in both cases – and to establish their vampires as a powerful elite whose malign influence grips a population that is too naive or afraid to protest.

In denied – and, to some extent, 2021 deathloop – Assassins fight against a fictional status quo through game design that prioritizes clever thinking and trickery over brute force. (even the most aggressive denied The player has to retreat into the shadows and plan from time to time to outflank a more powerful enemy force.) red fallThe protagonists are also battling overwhelming odds, but their superhuman powers, growing arsenal of firearms, and the game’s dimwitted enemies place the rebels less as hapless freedom fighters than one. red Dawn-style militia retreating with roughly equal resources.

Despite this, red fall The underdog clearly aims to evoke a sense of coming-of-age in the form of role-playing games featuring a single assassin overthrowing a fantasy government. Or, to look back at King, a novel featuring a ragtag group of small-town citizens foiling a murderous scheme of a powerful vampire.

In Dishonored 2, Corvo/Amelie raises her sword to fend off an oncoming guard while another guard aims his pistol at her colleague's shoulder

In denied And humiliated 2, Assassins fight against an imaginary status quo with clever thinking and guile over brute force
Image: Arkane Studios / Bethesda Softworks

As described by director Harvey Smith in an interview with Eurogamer, Arkane is intended to red fall The parasitic nature of the wealthiest members of society (and businesses) was to be made literal. like the nobles of deniedliving in luxury while the lower classes suffer from disease and crushing poverty, red fallK’s vampires are the twisted mutation. They are born out of the exploitative goals of a Theranos-style biotech start-up and the privileged few who see personal opportunity in its innovations. As one character puts it when describing the game’s vampires: “When they had everything, they wanted more.”

Cults dedicated to vampire worship serve as foot soldiers for their new rulers, police the city of Redfall by shooting at those who attempt to resist their masters’ control, like the player. The start-up expands in town by taking advantage of the personal flaws of key figures, their greed, fear, and selfishness, until the healthcare and addiction treatment avenues fall under their control. Vampires – tall, thin creatures that physically resemble an insectivorous, aggressive species of predator – target the desperation of the average person to avoid takeover. They have already taken advantage of the dominant community’s desire for longevity, and the desire to pursue that longevity at the expense of others. To achieve their goals, they prey on helpless, critically ill patients or trusted family members and friends.

red fall finds the core of its horror, then, not only in the physical horrors of its otherworldly monsters, but in all the human evils they manipulate.

A healthy skepticism of authority runs through Arkane’s previous work, from the perverse spectacle of banquets laid out on tables of gold deniedTo deathloopto the administrative finesse of the slums of HuntThe science-fiction horror setting of. same doubt through authority courses Salem’s Lot, whose heroes bypass official channels to deal with the vampire threat. also reflected in midnight Mass, in which a respected local church serves as the gateway for a demonic contagion. Vampire fiction, in general, provides plenty of dramatic opportunities to denounce structures of power.

The player aims their machine gun at a group of floating vampires that have descended on an ally in Redfall.

red fall can’t emulate Arkane’s past success (and the expertise of horror media) in conveying a sense of pervasive danger
Image: Arkane Austin / Bethesda Softworks

In King’s novel, vampires are memorably terrifying—an almost omnipresent threat. In Arkane’s previous games, enemy leaders were often equally dangerous, appearing to be overly powerful through design that sheltered them by ranks of intelligent guards and labyrinthine, hyper-secured headquarters. In both cases, those fighting against them had to plan carefully. In the case of Arkane, there was an emphasis on stealth gameplay, and it featured grassroots insurgency. Salem’s Lot It reinforced how badly the odds were stacked to topple power. i am not like that red fall, and, as a result, its narrative intent is undermined. Its vampires are constantly present, a bit more difficult to dispatch with shotgun blasts than its clumsy human enemies. Horror media, and Arkane’s previous games, both showed how to convey a sense of pervasive danger – but the studio was unable to emulate that this time around.

red fall It doesn’t do enough to center its best qualities, keeping its plot far too far in the background of a dull open-world shooter. But it is not a failed deviation from the canons of either the vampire stories that influenced it or the arcane games that preceded its release. It’s better to see its flaws as missteps in design—experiments with a structure that doesn’t serve its storytelling strengths—than as a complete departure from what worked in its prior games, or some of pop culture’s most iconic characters. Longer for well-known vampire fiction to endure.

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