Redfall's Vampires Aren't Sexy Goths — They're Venture Capitalists
“How can we make it about an elite group of people that’s preying on everyone else?”
Vampires get fantastic PR. Our pop culture gives us loads of cool, sexy vampires caught up in patrilineal dramas or feuding with the most devious bastard in New York City. Sure, they sometimes do a little murder here or there, but it’s all in good fun.
Unless you’re Arkane Austin Studio Director Harvey Smith. For him, the trope of the swaggery vampire has overstayed its welcome.
“That is a sanitized version of what a vampire is supposed to represent,” he tells Inverse at a preview event for Redfall, the studio’s vampire-hunting action title releasing May 2. “Our vampires are not aspirational. Like, ‘oh, I wish I could live forever and be young and party all night.’ Would you really do that if it required drinking the blood of others? Literally consuming their life?”
It’s an interesting question that goes well beyond the hypothetical. While most of us don’t often imagine draining the blood out of someone, who among us hasn’t pictured a luxurious life as a wealthy one-percenter? Just like our pop culture vampires, those champagne wishes come sanitized. Our imagined wealth is never problematic, but Smith wants Redfall to remind us it often is.
“Vampires are a pretty good metaphor for today, where a tiny group of people are living like kings at the expense of everyone else,” he says. “Rivers are drying up, well water is being poisoned by various chemical processes, California is burning and covered in snow. Meanwhile, people have islands, private jets, and all. There's a tiny group of people feeding on everyone else.”
“Vampires are a pretty good metaphor for today, where a tiny group of people are living like kings at the expense of everyone else.”
This grim reality is the central premise of Redfall. Much attention has been paid to its multiplayer co-op mechanics, a first for Arkane, but longtime fans know that narrative themes are at the heart of everything in an Arkane game.
“You encourage people to make distinct stuff that's in alignment with the subject matter,” Smith says. “The thematics start to infuse everything. The monsters start to infuse everything. New England starts to infuse everything.”
Unlike traditional vampires that have supernatural or gothic origins, the vampires of Redfall are scientific in origin. The town of Redfall played host to a slick startup that promised to do groundbreaking medical research. In reality, it was harvesting blood from the townsfolk to extend the lives of its rich clientele through ghastly experiments.
One thing leads to another, and suddenly a hive of mega-powerful vampires took over the town. The venture-capitalist monsters in Redfall were human not too long ago. And just like real life, there’s no shortage of citizens willing to go along with them for clout and profit.
“Our vampirism is not a disease, it's elective. You have to literally go to a vampire and say, ‘Please lift me up.’ And he says something like, ‘Bring me your neighbor's children.’ That's the way it works,” Smith explains.
This is where Redfall becomes more than just spooky fun. There’s a revenge fantasy here for everyone to find. Because the vampires are all willing participants, there’s no remorse to be felt obliterating them on sight. The same is true of the bootlicking cultists who worship and support the vampires. If you’ve ever wanted to rid the world of Reply Guy types, Redfall gives you the chance.
“Having spent years thinking about our thematics, these people were already vampires before they became literal vampires,” Smith says.
The vampires of Redfall aren’t your typical humans with fangs variety, either. They can take on a variety of grotesque forms, each with their own special abilities. These elites are central to the gameplay, as they mix and match their powers to attack players which in turn forces players to use their own skills and powers to retaliate.
Smith said that the type of vampire a person becomes in Redfall is a reflection of who they are. For example, the Siphon is a vampire type who literally drains the life energy from your body. So Smith explained that their dialogue and character “are written as one of these needy, gaslighting, codependent kind of creepy people.”
So what does Redfall have to say about fighting back against the vampires in our society? Two words: community organizing. As players engage with the game world, they’ll encounter lots of survivors who make up a de facto resistance group on the island. It’s a deliberate choice that the heroes here don’t come from the government or military.
“How can we make it about external forces coming into a community and ruining the community? Like where should your base be? Should it be in some badass military base?” he says, shaking his head. “Or should it be a public-facing building, like a fire station?”
New England has a rich history of old money and labor rights, which helps make it a great setting for exploring these themes. And like most Arkane games the story will be best told through environmental clues and found narrative moments, so don’t expect any long soliloquies about labor rights.
Instead, kick back, relax, and know that the vampire you just petrified with a UV lamp was once a very bad person who you could pretend was named something random, like Mark. Or Jeff. Or Elon.