By Harold Goldberg
There’s a wrecked passenger and car ferry, stuck in the sticky muck. As you awake on the deck floor, you’re completely confused. Moments later, you’re viciously attacked by famished vampires with the most massive hands and slashing nails that you’ve ever witnessed. But that’s not all. Outside is a disturbingly odd phenomenon. A wall of water, all around, alive but suspended, more like concrete than water. It doesn’t seep; it doesn’t flood. It’s somehow stopped, seemingly by an invisible barrier. Make your way onto the shore, and there’s the most blazing, fiery eclipse in human existence. It almost looks like it can attack and wipe out the world, like the rogue planet barreling down on Earth in Von Trier’s brilliant, affecting “Melancholia” movie. In this grim, game world, the indication is that vampires wreaked this chaos upon humanity.
Redfall, the vampire-rife open world game made by Arcane’s Austin studio, arrived for subscribers on Game Pass this week. Among fans and critics, there was much bemoaning and berating on social media. They said: The controls are sluggish. It runs in 30 frames per second, not 60. The writing is bland. The seaside town of Redfall needs to feel more alive. They went into what seemed like an overly caffeinated extrapolation: This is the end of Xbox because the game is broken and all games forward will probably be broken, too.
The real news is: Redfall is not broken. It can be played. And while it needs updating like No Man’s Sky and Fallout 76 needed updating, there’s still something potentially good there right now. Yes, I experienced issues myself, especially with the camera. Still, I have enjoyed playing as Layla, the young woman of color who gets a powerful umbrella weapon early on. I liked the way Layla explains the story so far, and her attitude seems to be, ‘This happened, and now, this other thing is happening. Let’s just deal with it.’ I look forward to leveling up this character as I go along, and to hear more about her story. I want to know more Hollow Man cultists who want to be chosen to be vampires, and other cultists I’ll deal with as the tale unfolds.
It’s weird to me, that vehement, hot-take feedback of fans who have Game Pass Ultimate and are able to play Redfall. Monthly, you’re paying $15 plus tax for so many games, recent and classic – for EA and Riot productions, too. Most important in my book, there’s always a number of new, indie releases. Over the past 10 days, both The Last Case of Benedict Fox and Coffee Talk Episode 2 have been placed on the platform for download.
However, waiting’s going to be harder on the soul if you don’t have Game Pass and bought Redfall as a standalone purchase before it was released. I’m not suggesting that you don’t buy code in advance. Getting a game in the same moment as millions of others is a rush, and it fosters community, too. But there’s a gamble there, too. Find a fair critic you can trust. If they don’t like it, think twice about checking it out, then follow it to see when it’s fixed.
If you possess an Xbox Game Pass subscription, my suggestion is to indulge in the smaller, indie offerings and check in on Redfall weekly to play – to see whether it’s become more fully fleshed out. That’s what I’m going to do. There’s already been a mammoth Day One patch that has helped. I expect there’s more to come.
Journalist/author Harold Goldberg is the founder and president of the New York Videogame Critics Circle and the New York Game Awards.