‘A Plague Tale: Requiem’ review: a gnawed gem
Before things go to hell, A Plague Tale: Requiem is a picturesque trip through medieval France. You’ll gawp at gorgeous meadows, bustle through a busy town fair, and reminisce that the bad times – the events of Asobo Studio’s first Plague Tale title – are over.
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Of course, they’re not. Peaceful times don’t make for good stealth games, and that’s what Requiem is all about. When your brief make-believe comes to an end (a child braining a bandit with a rock usually has that effect), you’ll realise that the protagonist siblings Amicia and Hugo are in for another game full of terrible times – no matter how pretty everything looks.
As the player, it’s your job to get the siblings to the credits alive. Hugo is afflicted with a sickness that grants him supernatural powers – including the ability to control rats – but it’s slowly killing him, leaving big sister Amicia to help him find a cure.
Unfortunately, being Hugo’s guardian is a grim role for Amicia. The core game loop relies on making good use of stealth to get through each level alive, as in a fair fight Amicia is no match for the country’s soldiers or millions of rats that are out to get her. Aside from some inconsistency with how fast some guards can spot Amicia, sneaking is fairly solid: each level is well-designed and often includes several ways to slip through the AI’s net of patrols, and Amicia herself has plenty of tools to get the job done. Some of these are part of the standard toolkit for stealth games – pots to break, rocks to throw – but others are far more intricate.
As Amicia is a child, there are no Metal Gear Solid-style military chokeholds to apply; and creativity is essential. A rock launched from your sling will only take out an unarmoured enemy, but when sneaking past isn’t an option, there are other options: eventually you’ll get your hands on a crossbow to kill armoured troops, while in levels overrun by rats – which won’t go near fire – Amicia can use an alchemical projectile to extinguish a guard’s light source, causing a very messy, loud death as they’re eaten alive by vermin.
This motif – completing a level at all costs – plays a large part in Requiem‘s story. While it’s all about rescuing Hugo from his condition, cracks in Amicia’s mental health quickly begin to surface. The cost of having to kill countless people is something that weighs heavily on Amicia, and there are points in the game where it becomes too much to bear. Asobo does a fantastic job of building empathy for Requiem‘s cast, and beyond the game’s writing, this is largely achieved with phenomenal performances from each character’s voice actors. Sometimes it can be a little on the nose – Amicia is apt to mutter something along the lines of “I need to protect Hugo” to herself every ten minutes – but otherwise, you’re kept thoroughly on board with the de Rune siblings’ plight.
Visually, it’s a journey that looks astonishing. After an early moment twists a game of hide-and-seek into a bloody, terrifying spectacle, you’ll never quite trust Asobo with the prospect of lasting happiness again – as soon as you reach the game’s first city, Requiem starts to look good for entirely different reasons. There’s still the occasional sunny vista and sweeping overlook to enjoy, but take a closer look at many of its levels and you’ll see the gruesomely gnawed bones of a family that was overwhelmed with rats, the congealed mass of a hundred plague victims piled into one heap, the fleshy tatters of a citizen that’s been deliberately fed to the rats. If you hadn’t guessed, there’s a lot of rat-related gore across Requiem‘s levels.
However, Requiem‘s missions start to feel like they follow a slightly repetitive formula. Part of this is because Requiem‘s tension starts to slip when you realise that being caught sneaking around isn’t the end of the world – you’re able to counter a charging guard with a quick bash from Amicia’s sling, which gives you time to scurry away and try again. That’s not the case if you walk into, say, a camp-full of troops – admittedly, there’s very few ways to get out of that one alive – but with a bit of common sense you’ll rarely find any true challenge unless you’re playing on the hardest difficulty. To Requiem‘s credit, a fairly tight run-time (around 16 hours) works to the game’s benefit in this regard, and each level is designed so well that they often draw focus away when stealth starts to feel a bit monotonous.
At times, Requiem can also feel a bit rough to play. That can range from innocently janky – like swarms of rats defying gravity to flee your torch – to irritating, such as the way forward not unlocking because you’ve reached it before your companion has finished musing on how to progress. In one case, I had to restart a segment because an invisible wall wouldn’t disappear – which was in turn due to my alchemist pal Lucas getting glued to a window by the game’s engine. These issues weren’t completely game-breaking, but when Requiem‘s biggest strength is its immersive storytelling, anything that knocks that immersion packs an extra sting.
Speaking of strengths, Requiem‘s jaw-dropping graphics and world design deserve another shout-out – but if you’re playing on PC, it’s worth taking a look at Requiem‘s system requirements before picking it up – especially because it’s quite a demanding game. Even with a 2080 Super, running Requiem on high settings could get choppy at times – and because Requiem‘s visuals are such a big draw, make sure you’re happy to sacrifice that if you’re approaching it on lower-end rigs.
Though some of these issues can put a damper on things, Requiem excels at telling a compelling story that’s worth the play. The game’s story manages to feature empathetic, sensitive character development without fumbling the plot’s urgent pacing; and the deeper exploration of Amicia makes it a rewarding sequel for fans of Innocence.
A Plague Tale: Requiem launches on October 18 for PC, Xbox Series X|S, PS5 and Nintendo Switch. This review was played on PC.
A tightly crafted narrative adventure, A Plague Tale: Requiem is a fitting and worthy continuation to the story and characters introduced in 2019. If you can look past some rough edges, Requiem is a brilliant, neatly-wrapped campaign to sink your verminous teeth into.
- A captivating narrative with brilliant voice acting
- Looks gruesomely gorgeous
- You’re given some creative stealth tools to play with
- The stealth mechanics can begin to feel repetitive
- Rough around the edges
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