Redfall and Why Developers Should Be Allowed To Fail in New Genres
redfall phil spencer flop fail

Redfall Flopped, But Phil Spencer’s Right — New Games Should Be Allowed to Fail

Head of Xbox Phil Spencer’s interview with Kinda Funny was full of all sorts of transparent remarks on Redfall’s numerous failings. While he bounced around why it launched in such an unforgivably buggy state while also saying that delays are fine for buggy games, he said he was disappointed with how Redfall didn’t meet expectations and explained how Xbox is going to have to do better going forward. He didn’t, however, apologize for having Arkane Studios go forward with its core vision of the game and stated he wouldn’t “push against creative aspirations” of any developer. And while Redfall didn’t work out, Spencer’s broader point of letting studios go outside of their comfort zones is a salient one.

Redfall isn’t like other Arkane games and that’s a good thing

Arkane is mostly known for its work with immersive sims, which Redfall decidedly is not. There are often not multiple ways to infiltrate a facility and stealth is laughably underbaked. It’s a cooperative shooter that’s more akin to Far Cry with vampires that need to be staked instead of Deus Ex with vampires that can be sneaked around, reasoned with, or (somehow) hacked. 

It’s a radical departure from Arkane’s roots which include games that resonate because they are so unique. Dishonored, Prey, and Deathloop have obvious influences, yet they are remarkable in the gaming landscape as a whole. Not many teams devote themselves to immersive sims, so Arkane sticks out. 

Breaking from that niche is initially hard to stomach because it appears as though the studio would be divorcing itself from its specialties and chasing trends instead. Going from intricately designed levels with multiple paths that support different playstyles to an open-world looter shooter is, on its face, disappointing since so many games do exactly that. Even with Arkane’s track record of clever design, it was still going against the banalities of the genre it was pursuing.

Redfall and Why Developers Should Be Allowed To Fail in New Genres

Redfall might have failed but we shouldn’t deny creativity

But after multiple immersive sims, it’s understandable that Arkane would want to branch out. A handful of teams have done that over the last decade to great success, and drastic shifts are what keeps this industry fresh. Guerrilla Games went from drab first-person shooters to lush open-world RPGs when it moved from Killzone to Horizon. Respawn Entertainment was known for first-person shooters until it found success with its two Star Wars: Jedi games. Housemarque found new life in its 3D roguelite Returnal after many years making arcadey shooters. 

There are plenty of other examples, such as Naughty Dog going from Crash to Jak to Uncharted to The Last of Us, Sucker Punch’s journey from Sly Cooper to inFamous to Ghost of Tsushima, and Insomniac Games leaping from Spyro to Ratchet to Resistance to Spider-Man over a few console cycles. Supergiant Games in particular is an interesting team to watch since it has made its name by consistently churning out different experiences and is only just now, almost two decades after its inception, developing its first sequel. 

That constant evolution is thrilling since it means that teams are able to explore a different part of their creative sides and more easily fight off player apathy. It’s not exciting to see Infinity Ward, Treyarch, and Sledgehammer Games just make Call of Duty until the end of time. Just doing the same thing is partially how Telltale Games died and why Supermassive Games’ onslaught of samey, poorly animated horror adventures is quickly getting old. Arkane trying to get ahead of that rote predictability, whenever it may have started setting in, is admirable. And if developers are going to try new things, there are going to be some hard whiffs from time to time.

Bugs and the general state of Xbox, however, have greatly complicated this specific instance, though. Redfall is riddled with glitches and visual issues that prove how unfinished it is. It should not have been released in this state, full stop. Xbox has also had a rough time over the last decade and has struggled in many respects when compared to its competition; Sony and Nintendo have plainly just put out a more consistent supply of better games. 

These two incredibly valid shortcomings distract from the argument that Arkane should only do what Arkane is good at. All of these points are interwoven, but still separate and the complaints about the bugs and the state of Xbox will hopefully fade away as Arkane patches this game up and Xbox releases more titles. It’s still perfectly valid (and a likely scenario for many) to think Redfall is inferior to the team’s prior work even after it gets to an acceptable state, but its technical performance and Xbox’s lackluster slate shouldn’t be used as ammo to limit Arkane’s creative freedom.

Developers still do mess up when experimenting with new genres, as most clearly demonstrated by Crystal Dynamics’ shift from the single-player Tomb Raider titles to the live service mess that was Marvel’s Avengers. It also seems like Rocksteady Studios might make the same exact mistake with the oft-delayed Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice. But experimentation is still worth pursuing even if the fruit that grows from this different seed is bitter. Xbox proved that Tango Gameworks can tackle something new that was radically out of its wheelhouse with Hi-Fi Rush, and while Redfall is far from that, it’s noteworthy that a team as creative as Arkane aspired to break away from what was expected from it.

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