Arkane Studios, the feared and revered developer behind iconic games like Dishonored and Prey, is bafflingly unique. Back in May, Deathloop creative director Dinga Bakaba summed this up in just three sentences. “At Arkane, there is really this refusal to accept that something is impossible,” he told us. “We just refuse it first, and then accept when we have proven that it’s impossible. But you really have to prove it eloquently, because otherwise, we will always try.”
While Bakaba is currently spearheading Arkane’s Lyon branch, Arkane Austin’s Harvey Smith is the man at the helm of Redfall, the latest game to be revealed by one of Microsoft’s most singular – if not the most singular – developers. This is the first title we’ve seen from the enigmatic studio since Prey and Dishonored: Death of the Outsider in 2017, which means it has been under wraps for around four years. Now we’ve finally had a look, I can’t stop thinking about that one specific claim: “At Arkane, there is really this refusal to accept that something is impossible.”
All of Arkane’s worlds are emphatically arcane. From the inherent mystery of Dishonored’s gritty, magic-filled dystopia to the vacuous but somehow oppressively small crannies and corridors of Prey’s Talos 1, these universes often feel as if they’ve been designed with the core brief of being as close to impossible as possible. They’re confronting because they are challenging, which is a residual atmospheric context from the conditions they were created under. I don’t mean bad working conditions – Arkane delayed Deathloop to consciously avoid crunch. What I mean is that nothing about these games is easily or readily understood in some kind of overtly gratifying way. To be completely honest, nothing about them should make much sense either due to how hodgepodge their aesthetic, narrative, genre, and just about every other conceivable descriptor or qualifier are. And yet – and yet – these universes continue to make sense in the most perfect way purely because the people at Arkane are the best in the business.
So yeah, co-op FPS in a world where vampires are attempting to get rid of the sun, or something? I mean, sure – it’s Arkane.
Redfall looks strange. I wasn’t sure what Arkane Austin was going to get up to next, although it certainly wasn’t this. Yesterday’s trailer introduced us to our four playable characters – Layla Ellison, Devinder Crousley, Remi de la Rosa, and Jacob Boyer – and featured some preliminary details on the world Redfall’s story transpires in. Admittedly, I felt almost as confused at the end of the trailer as I did at the beginning, if not significantly more so, but that’s not a bad thing.
It would be easy for me to say that Arkane is Microsoft’s answer to Sony’s legacy studios like Sony Santa Monica and Naughty Dog, but that’s not accurate. Arkane is remarkably incomparable to anything else, which is likely why yesterday’s Xbox showcase concluded with Redfall as the encore. Sure, not as many people have played Dishonored as The Last of Us Part 2. I doubt Prey will ever be as commercially successful as any God of War game, and Deathloop will sell fewer copies than Horizon Forbidden West later this year. It’s not all about sales figures, though, and Xbox clearly knows and respects this. Arkane was the studio given the showcase’s coveted final spot, Not 343 Industries with the objectively bigger Halo Infinite. Not Playground Games with Fable, which wasn’t even there. Arkane signed off and stole the show with what I reckon is the most exciting game from all of E3 so far, and it did it because nobody else can do it like it can. It’s legitimately refreshing to see that Xbox is able to recognize what it has in its back pocket with this frankly phenomenal studio, which brings me to my next point.
Arkane is known for developing immersive sims, which, while excellent, have never really managed to meander into the mainstream. Redfall has so much about it that screams Arkane, from the stylish character models to the outlandishly mishmash but somehow coherent aesthetic, to the punchy, crunchy dialogue and the absurdly inspired combat. That’s high praise going off a four-minute trailer, I know – and yet judging this slice on the merit it was presented with is one of very few rare occasions on which you can truly commend a game before playing it.
From Doom Eternal to Ori, to the fact that Halo Infinite received a substantial delay at a time when Xbox supposedly needed it most, it’s clear that Microsoft isn’t interested in dictating how its subsidiaries work. If Arkane is given creative freedom – which, come on, just look at Redfall – I don’t think it would settle for anything less than a game that is on par with or better than its previous efforts. That’s why it’s important to go back to the im sim point from earlier – this is a co-op FPS, which makes it inherently more approachable for a whole lot of people who play games in a more casual fashion. If you get the best devs in the world to build a game that appeals to everyone, what do you get? Something completely and utterly unheard of before.
This might read like hyperbole to some of you, but as I already said – I’m reluctant to praise or criticize trailers, too. In general, I keep my expectations low and my qualms measured prior to having a pad in my hand and actively making my way through a game for the first time. This time around, though, I feel as if I’m in a unique position where I can see the style, context, and concept of what I’ve been given and just genuinely trust that all three of those factors will be delivered. Redfall looks weird and I’m sure loads of you are confused as hell about what was going on in that trailer yesterday, but do you know what? No other studio in the world could make it, and that’s what makes it special, unique, and more exciting than anything else around the corner.
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