At the E3 2021 Xbox/ Bethesda showcase, a bunch of excellent games were shown off. Ranging from surprising indies like REPLACED, the stunning gameplay trailers for Forza Horizon 5 and Halo Infinite and, of course, Starfield. But Xbox had their “one more thing” still to go, and that thing was Redfall.
Redfall is the latest game out of the Bethesda studio Arkane – developers behind Dishonored and Prey, amongst some other things. They’re also currently in the proceeds of prepping the exciting Deathloop for its fast approaching September release date. Sadly for Xbox fans that one is going to be restricted to PlayStation and PC for the time being, which is interesting considering Xbox’s mammoth acquisition of Bethesda for literal billions last year.
Arkane was founded waaaay back in 1999 in Lyon, France. Before the cult hit called Dishonored, the Arkane team actually struggled through long periods of development hell after their split from EA. A Half-Life spinoff for Valve using the source engine, named Ravenholm, was cancelled. A later FPS called The Crossing was also cancelled, and that was followed by a game called LMNO which, you guessed it, was also cancelled.
This period of trial and error would’ve – and probably has – shuttered many studios in the past and probably will in the future. But Arkane pushed on through the early and mid 2000s and eventually became part of the crop that were absorbed into Bethesda Softworks, joining glittering names like ID Software in 2010. This was shortly after accepting a pitch from Bethesda for Dishonored – a game which you may have heard of.
Dishonored followed in 2012, and let me tell you right now; it is one of the best games that you’ve probably never played. It follows the story of Corvo Attano after he’s framed for the murder of the ‘Empress of the Isles’. Basically the queen, just fancier and more likeable.
More importantly than the somewhat ‘fine’ overarching narrative, Dishonored’s gameplay was masterful. It released at the tail end of the 360/ PS3 generation, making the best of that tech in much the same way as GTA V did – only at a lesser scale of course. Similarly to GTA V, it later saw a re-release on PS4 and Xbox One in 2015 where it unfortunately struggled to make use of the improved hardware, sporting frame issues amongst other things.
Nevertheless, the original Dishonored was received incredibly well at initial launch. It sits at 88, 89, and 91 for 360, PS3, and PC respectively on Metacritic that correctly portrays a genuinely unique and enrapturing gameplay experience quite unlike anything else. ‘Immersive Sim’ is a broad genre that captures many different franchises including Thief, Deus Ex, BioShock, Alien: Isolation, and System Shock. Some of the games I’ve just mentioned lean into stealth or horror, or just straight shooter gameplay, but all of them fall into that ‘Immersive Sim’ category that I keep mentioning.
In all honesty, ‘Immersive Sim’ is a pretty terrible name for such a far reaching umbrella. What it tends to mean is that you’re getting player-driven gameplay choices, open ended levels with multiple approaches, and even mild life simulation. Amongst other things anyway. Seriously, it’s a terrible name.
Dishonored is widely regarded as one of the best examples, if not the downright best. Unique art design, clever and engaging levels, interesting characters, and pretty well built stealth gameplay build out Arkane’s debut big-hitter as one of the best games in the modern era. This led to the sequel – Dishonored 2.
I’ve reviewed quite a few games for our website now, 42 if we’re counting (I did), and the highest score I’ve currently given is 98/100 to The Last of Us Part 2. What can I say, I like golf!
(I actually don’t like golf at all, but the joke was worth it)
With the exception of Naughty Dog’s narrative action experience, Dishonored 2 is probably the closest to a perfect video game that you’re likely going to get. Honestly as of right now I’d have a hard time pinpointing any major or even important flaws with the overall experience. I have no idea what score I’d actually give it in practise, but I adore Dishonored 2.
Interestingly, it actually wasn’t as well received as the first game. It sits at a 88 on consoles, and an 86 on PC, although the latter was definitely held back by poor launch performance on PC. It would almost certainly be higher there had it not been for the unfortunate release state. At its absolute worst, Dishonored 2 is as good as the first game. At its best it’s a wholesale evolution and improvement on a swathe of already excellent mechanics and ideas.
It features two of the best examples of level design you’re likely to witness even to date, split protagonists with individual abilities, a more ambitious story, and the signature atmosphere that the first game coined. It’s truly a sublime experience through and through, and one that I cannot recommend enough. It won multiple Game of The Year awards in 2016 across media outlets and shows.
Video games don’t offer the same sequel-juju that movies and TV shows do, oftentimes the sequels are just as good, if not better. But for every Halo 2 or The Last of Us Part 2, there’s a Dark Souls 2 or Bioshock 2, so the natural worry for Dishonored 2 is that it would be too derivative, or just worse somehow. Thankfully Arkane Lyon missed that bullet, and delivered one of the finest sequels you’re likely to play.
Notably, Dishonored 2 not only ditched Unreal Engine in favour of a proprietary engine, it was also the sole work of Arkane Lyon, as Arkane Austin were working on 2017’s Prey. Now there’s a damn quality segue if I do say so myself.
2017’s Prey was something of an outstep for the Bethesda-owned studio, and jumped far away from the steampunk setting of Dishonored, instead leaning into the heavy sci-fi.
Prey was actually the recipient of early drama as a result of the namesake franchise that Bethesda acquired in the purchase of 3D Realms. The 2006 game – the ‘original’ if you will – had a highly anticipated sequel planned that was eventually cancelled officially in 2014 after a long period of development hell. The name was then passed onto Arkane for their 2017 game; Prey.
That game is largely unrelated to the original outside of the name, and the same goes for the cancelled sequel. 2016’s Prey only follows the rough concept of being pursued by aliens, which it has in common with the sequel… the sequel that was cancelled… are you keeping up? Because I have a headache.
ANYWAY, Arkane’s Prey – the only one that really matters here – released in 2017 to an outcry of positive reception, but largely didn’t review quite as well overall. It sits at an 84, 82, and 79 on Xbox, PC, and PlayStation 4 respectively; the lowest of any modern mainline Arkane game. Many had the opinion that the well crafted pace and wonderful atmosphere didn’t blend very well with the overarching narrative or frantic combat, creating something of a juxtaposition for the player to tackle.
But Prey has landed on something of a cult status and many current critics and personalities within the industry quite correctly feel that Arkane Austin were hard done by. With the announcement of the Bethesda purchase – and then the resulting flood of Bethesda IPs landing onto Game Pass – Prey had a social media surge in its favour, with critics from every site showering the now four year old title with praise.
Prey has definitely aged better than most, and now stands as a more impressive game than it maybe did in 2017. The Xbox FPS Boost feature on the Series consoles helped bump it past the sketchy 30fps of the original release, and up to a near perfect 60fps. This irons out the major issue with the gameplay, and leaves the player in charge of a giant playground that has tinges of metroidvania, hints of Alien: Isolation style horror, and some very creative shooter gameplay.
Hell, Kyle himself reviewed it very recently and gave it a huge 93/100 score. No small praise.
Now we’ve covered the majority of the previous releases, I should probably talk briefly about Deathloop. This timed PS5 console exclusive obviously isn’t out yet so I can’t talk about critical reception at all, but what I can say is that it’s easily one of the most anticipated games of 2021. In a year otherwise ridden with delays into 2022, Deathloop has mercifully managed to stay inside of the year we’re currently in and I couldn’t be happier.
Sketchy timed exclusive deals like the one here and with Ghostwire: Tokyo aside – which I truly hate by the way – Deathloop is looking like a stellar addition to the PS5 lineup, and from one of my favorite developers dontyaknow.
Falling in line with Arkane’s obsession with isolated environments, from Dunwall, to Talos 1, and now the island of Blackreef, Deathloop follows the story of Colt; an Assassin stuck in a time loop. To escape said loop, he must kill eight targets across Blackreef before midnight. Death means you start over, failure to kill everyone means you need to start over.
Despite initial expectations on that pitch, Arkane have apparently been keen to curb the obvious roguelike comparisons and are instead focusing on the player-driven gameplay and learning experience through every loop. Certain actions, in certain areas of the map, at certain times of day might force characters together or into more ideal situations for assassination. The iterative process of learning what triggers what and when is likely to be the major loop.
Obviously there’s supernatural abilities, wacky characters, and the stylish presentation that makes Arkane Arkane, but there’s one more mechanic. Juliana – a character either controlled by AI or an enemy player – can and will invade your world to try and kill you. There hasn’t been a huge exploration of her motivations and mechanics, but this unexpected PvP angle is something that will no doubt set Deathloop apart from previous titles.
Deathloop is easily one of my most anticipated games of 2021 and I have faith in Arkane to pull off the remarkable again after the lukewarm Wolfenstein: Youngbloods, a game they helped develop.
So here we get onto Xbox’s one more thing; Redfall. This is the show of faith in Bethesda’s wide range of studios that people were asking for. With the likes of Machine, ID, Arkane, and Tango, there’s no shortage of existing IPs to draw from, but Arkane doesn’t exactly do things by halves.
No, Redfall is a brand new IP from Arkane, a 4 player co-operative open world shooter based around vampires versus ridiculously attractive humans. Given the far out release date of 2022, it’s no real surprise that we didn’t get any fresh exciting gameplay for this stylish shooter, but we did get an incredibly action-packed cinematic/ story trailer that I absolutely adored. Here’s the pitch from Bethesda’s website:
“The quaint island town of Redfall, Massachusetts, is under siege by a legion of vampires who have blocked out the sun and cut the island off from the outside world. Trapped with a handful of survivors against diabolical enemies threatening to bleed the town dry, choose your hero from a diverse roster, grouping up with others to create the perfect team of vampire slayers.”
There’s a bunch more info on Deathloop and Redfall as well that I won’t dive into here, because all of this was for a purpose besides just selling you on the next game.
Redfall looks and sounds great, right? Everyone loves co-operative shooters, and most people love open world games. But have you played the other games I’ve discussed here? Are you planning on playing Deathloop in September?
Arkane is easily one of the most underrated studios on the planet right now, one that garners a lot of love from critics and those willing to experiment, but often register lower sales than they deserve. I put them in the same bracket as Platinum and Remedy, in that they just make games that are quintessentially Arkane, through and through. That type of consistency is hard to manage by even the best studios.
So please, if you looked at Redfall and it caught your attention, go back through Arkane’s catalogue. You won’t regret it.
I’ve been playing video games in some form or another for nearly two decades. My favourite campaign of all time is Halo: Combat Evolved and my favourite multiplayer of all time is Overwatch, with a dash of Halo 3. Huge lover of everything gaming, no matter the platform or source, and I enjoy a story driven campaign like nothing else!