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Redfall on Xbox tested: a sad tale of unfulfilled potential and profound technical issues

The lack of a 60fps performance mode is just the start of the problems.

Redfall is an open world first-person shooter that combines mechanics-driven, immersive sim-style design with optional cooperative multiplayer. It promises a vast Unreal Engine 4-powered world to explore while casting aside the shackles of the last-generation Xbox One hardware with a release exclusively targeting Xbox Series consoles and the PC. Alas, things have perhaps not gone quite as planned. The omission of a 60 frames per second performance mode turns out to be one of the lesser issues facing a release with a range of technical and content problems.

Overall, the critics have been harsh, but my own experience has been more positive - though this is far from the sublime genius of Arkane Austin's last game, the brilliant Prey. Over time, Arkane has increasingly become one of my favorite game developers in the business, specialising in immersive sim-style first-person experiences. Redfall is a little different. While solo play is possible, the game is clearly built with multiplayer in mind. Its immersive-sim roots are still evident, but Redfall delivers an experience reminiscent of Far Cry blended with a looter shooter.

With its multiplayer focus and open world design, it's clear that a change in engine was necessary to bring Redfall to life. While Arkane Lyon has focused its efforts on the suitably impressive Void Engine, Arkane Austin's previous project, Prey, was built on CryEngine. That is, until the Typhon Hunter DLC, which uses Unreal Engine 4 no doubt owing to its multiplayer and VR functionality, both of which Unreal excels in. Unfortunately, when it comes to delivering vast open world environments, Unreal Engine 4's reputation has been tarnished in recent years, with games such as Gotham Knights and Jedi Survivor exhibiting poor performance, visual inconsistencies or both at launch.

Redfall on Xbox - the Digital Foundry console tech review. PC is to follow and the early signs are not looking favourable there either, unfortunately.Watch on YouTube

Redfall's results are mixed. The game presents a stylistic take on realism much like the Dishonored games, but with an East Coast American setting and small-town suburban aesthetic. Redfall gets a lot of things right with its visual design - characters are stylised and expressive while weapons are neatly rendered, boasting slick animation as each shot pops off. Many of the key mission areas feature the attention to detail you'd expect from Arkane: from haphazard stacks of CRT monitors linked by a rat's nest of cabling to ominous wooden structures precariously teetering above the player, there's a lot to like.

As in many other open world games, Redfall features a dynamic time of day system with an appropriately dynamic shadow map that changes based on the angle of the darkened sun looming above. From a distance, the world of Redfall holds up surprisingly well - the map is easy to parse with visible landmarks dotting the landscape while screen-space shadows help tie everything together. Other nice touches include the sinister volumetric red mist you'll contend with during your journey and some detailed texture work.

Alas, while the aesthetic can be appealing, Redfall exhibits a multitude of visual flaws which we need to address. The first and most egregious issue with Redfall involves textures. Now, texture pop-in goes hand-in-hand with Unreal Engine if not managed properly, so I wasn't too surprised to encounter it. What did surprise me, however, is the severity of the issue both in terms of frequency and persistence with 10 to 20 second delays until textures fully resolve. It's astonishing to see how badly flawed this key system is. It's basically the worst texture pop-in I've seen since id Software's Rage.

Texture streaming is a massive issue. Check out this large asset on the truck that takes some time to load. Series S tends to load these textures more quickly, remarkably, but it's still way too slow in general.

The thing is - it's not just an issue with loading. Some texture assets are simply low resolution no matter what. The game's tree trunks, for instance, exhibit a shockingly low resolution asset slathered across their surface and this never changes no matter how long you wait. That said, there are some sharp textures in the game that do display correctly but far too often during normal gameplay, you'll spot low resolution assets around every corner. It detracts enormously from the presentation and needs to be patched.

There are many other issues. Shadow quality is unacceptable throughout. The game updates its shadow map position on a per-frame basis according to the angle of the sun, which is nice, but the poor resolve produces severe visual artefacts. Lighting is also questionable at points - the lack of proper dynamic indirect lighting is painfully obvious when interacting with characters throughout the world.

Speaking of characters, I mentioned that they were expressive earlier and that's true to an extent but when it comes to actual storytelling, Redfall falls woefully short. When speaking with NPCs in the game, characters exhibit minimal animation flourishes as they rattle off their lines. In-game story sequences are presented almost exclusively ghostly visions of the past which serve as little more than an audio log. Major sequences are told using these real-time yet completely static panning shots mixed with voiceover - it feels like a nod to the classic Thief games, only nowhere near as stylish. So, while in-game animation and select sequences can look good in motion, much of the storytelling simply falls flat.

Sometimes textures fail to load at all - the alternative scenario is that the original Halo: Combat Evolved on the OG Xbox has far superior tree texture quality than a brand new Series X game. Click on the thumbnails for higher resolution imagery.

Another issue - the artificial intelligence exhibits unexpectedly poor behaviour and often breaks during normal play. Of course, AI is tough to get right - something that is especially difficult when attempting to support both stealth and shoot-bang gameplay - but Redfall just doesn't work as it should. Sometimes your foes will remain unaware of your presence - they'll bumble around the scene, mumbling to one another but never attack the player even as you wipe them out. In others an enemy may simply stop fighting entirely, choosing instead to enter a docile state awaiting sweet mercy.

Even when they're working correctly, the behaviour feels inelegant. It's difficult to play a stealthy character as foes are either overly sensitive or not sensitive enough, removing any sense of immersion. They can function acceptably well in normal combat but it's still not where it needs to be.

I could talk extensively about the huge array of bugs I discovered during play, but it's perhaps best to watch the video instead to see what you're up about. There are so many issues throughout the experience that you can't help but feel that the simply needed more time before release. Arkane's console games have, unfortunately, often launched with technical hiccups in the past but Redfall is the worst offender to date which is a real shame.

The removal of most screen-space reflections (left) is one area in which the Series S version of Redfall is cut back compared to Series X. On the right we see that poor artwork can look even worse on the pint-sized console.

There are good things and bad things to say about image quality and performance on Xbox Series consoles. With the release version capped at 30 frames per second on Xbox, it should come as little surprise that image quality is, at least, pristine. As promised, Redfall delivers a native 4K image combined with TAA on Series X while Series S opts for 1440p instead. Honestly, while shimmering can rear its head in spots, overall image quality is very good and I have little complaints in this regard. When the textures are properly loaded and everything is in motion, the game can look quite attractive even.

Beyond resolution, however, there are a handful of visual differences between Xbox Series X and Series S. Firstly, screen-space reflections are disabled on Series S during gameplay. Puddles, reflective floors and pools of blood alike all lack that additional sheen you get on Xbox Series X. Given how lightweight Unreal Engine 4's SSR can be, I'm surprised it has been disabled on Series S in its 30fps quality mode. Shadows also differ - shadow map resolution is further reduced on Series S resulting in even more egregious visual artefacts when shadows are projected. Both versions have the same draw distance for shadow casting lights, however, with equally poor pop-in.

Series S also seems to feature a reduction to LOD pop-in distance, along with generally lower textures across the board - no doubt down to the reduction in available memory. The weird thing about the textures is that in some cases, Series S loads textures faster than Series X but the texture itself will be lower resolution than the final asset on X. So, basically, owners of the junior Xbox can expect reduced fidelity on top of the already lower resolution.

Top-left represents Redfall for the most part on both consoles - a locked 30fps with consistent frame delivery. However, top-right, you get some idea of the intrusive traversal stutter. On the bottom, you can see how taxing effects work can hit Series X hard - and Series S less so.

In terms of performance, while 60fps is off the table, at least the 30fps you get is properly frame-paced. I tested in both single-player and multiplayer modes, though owing to the lack of matching, the latter was limited to two players only. The average level of performance seems consistent between single and multiplayer mode but it's possible you could encounter additional dips when four players are active. I've seen reports of massive slowdown and huge dips, and I don't doubt that it can occur, but after hours of gameplay, I encountered a few specific issues.

Firstly, traversal stutter occurs when moving between different sections of a map. This is a side-effect of how Unreal Engine 4 handles open world environments and it occurs on every platform including PC. Secondly, in scenes filled with transparency effects, such as smoke and fire, the frame-rate can dip significantly as long as these effects remain on-screen. This includes the volumetric red mist that can emerge in battle - engaging the enemy in or around this mist instantly tanks the performance. Xbox Series S fares slightly better, perhaps as a result of its lower resolution.

It's clear that while there are aspects of the visuals that are successful, Redfall is plagued with technical issues that lead to a less than polished experience. Unfortunately, the controls also fall short. The default settings feature a huge dead zone and poorly adjusted aim acceleration which, combined with the lower frame-rate, leads to a distinctly unresponsive experience. I did manage to improve the experience by setting the input response preset to the 'low' setting while keeping aim sensitivity at 2.5. This is still suboptimal but at least it becomes tolerable.

If things are looking bleak for Redfall, consider this. Fortnite on UE5 has a similar visual style, a larger open world and delivers 60fps with a generational leap or two in terms of detail and lighting quality. The future looks bright.

Assessing the gameplay and game design is tricky. Early on, I was intrigued by the game. It seemed to successfully combine immersive sim design with an open world shooter, but as I played and replayed missions, it all began to unravel.

First, the game world itself - on paper, the idea of moving to an open world design has a lot of potential. Imagine a densely packed hub world, full of obstacles and intricately designed structures, just begging for players to explore and slowly peel back the layers as they progress. Redfall's landmass is small enough that this could have worked well. Unfortunately, most of this world is devoid of anything resembling gameplay. You rarely encounter enemies or anything of value between objectives, so it's all just set dressing that completely wastes its immense potential.

Meanwhile, primary missions seem to present some modicum of creativity, but the execution feels underbaked and the potential of these missions often feels squandered. So, for example, while maps can offer multiple points of entry, most of the time it boils down to hunting for objects and sloppily killing foes.

Despite missing its potential, I have to admit that I still had some fun. Pair up with a friend of three and expect a night of silly entertainment. Even with the item gating, the mission areas were still fun to explore. It's certainly worth a try but ultimately, despite some fun, I came away from Redfall disappointed. Previous Arkane games have easily made their way into my top ten games of their respective release years so my expectations were high. Alas, Redfall is the worst game Arkane has made to date. Going forward I'd like to see them get back to the basics. Drop the multiplayer features, throw away the loot and focus on what Arkane does best.

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