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A Plague Tale: Requiem review: bigger and more ferocious

Things never go right for poor Amicia and Hugo. The last time we saw the siblings, in 2019’s A Plague Tale: Innocence, they had just survived being hunted by the Inquisition amidst a plague sweeping 14th-century France, which also brought swarms of flesh-eating rats. Not exactly a good time. At several points in the sequel, A Plague Tale: Requiem, things seem to be going well. The pair find themselves in a safe town or amongst what appear to be friends. There’s even a nice little boat trip. But it never lasts – just like the original, Requiem is a tense and brutal stealth game where simply surviving is an accomplishment. The sequel expands on the idea of ​​two kids trying to survive unimaginable horrors with a bigger world and new mechanics and loses some of the novelty along the way, but that core tension is as good as ever.

Requiem picks up a few months after the first game, with the siblings now relatively safe and sound, having moved on from the horrors of their home in Guyenne. At the outset, they’re exploring Bordeaux in search of a cure for Hugo’s strange affliction, which seems to be both killing him and creating a unique bond with the swarms of ever-present rats. Initially, they find a new home in a town with an expert who promises to help, but before long, things (of course) go bad when a secret order of alchemists decides that Hugo will make a great science experiment. At the same time, the region is being put under a plague-related lockdown; guards patrol the streets, dead bodies fuel disturbing bonfires, and the rats are just itching to find any warm flesh to eat. As Hugo’s condition worsens, he starts having dreams of a beautiful island, and eventually, he convinces Amicia, who has sworn herself as his protector di lui, that a cure will likely be found there. And so the game becomes a long quest to find this dream island.

Fundamentally, Requiem isn’t all that different from its predecessor. At its most reductive, it could be described as a stealth puzzle game that’s also kind of terrifying. The most pivotal moments are about staying alive. This could mean sneaking past guards who will kill on sight or finding your way through the swarms of hungry rats. Sometimes you have to do both at the same time. Finding your way through safely is like solving a puzzle: you could sneak around a guard by distracting them, or you could knock down their lantern so that the rats, who are terrified of any light source, will attack. The puzzles become more complex as you get new abilities and items. Eventually, you’ll be able to use tar to make huge fires or dust to extinguish flames or a strange lure to guide the rats where you want them.

This was mostly all true of the original, and Requiem does the typical video game sequel thing by making things bigger and more complex. Sometimes this works well. By the end of Innocence, the novelty of manipulating the rats and sneaking past guards was starting to wear thin, and many of the new additions make the formula more interesting. Once you have a full complement of items at your disposal, the puzzles become a lot trickier and more cerebral (though you’ll still be turning a lot of cranks). There were plenty of times when I really had to stop and think about how to combine the various items so that I could make it out of a seemingly unpassable section.

Unfortunately, the game also makes a stronger push into action, which is not the series’ strong suit. There are a number of moments where Amicia is forced to kill, and you’re given more tools to murder in this game, including a crossbow, a soldier sidekick, and, eventually, Hugo’s ability to actually control the rats and guide them to a fresh meal.

This change makes narrative sense. A big focus in Requiem is how the violence has changed Amicia. In the first game, she is forced to kill to survive, but by the second, it has become something of a habit. You can see the physical toll it takes on her over the course of the game, and there are times when she seems to even enjoy ending a life. The game seems to want you to feel bad about this, but as is often the case in games, taking the more murderous route usually makes things easier (and more fun) for the player. There’s a disconnect between what you’re doing and how you’re supposed to feel.

A screenshot from A Plague Tale: Requiem

The larger issue, though, is that making Amicia a more adept and efficient killer also takes some of the tension out of the game. A Plague Tale is at its best when it veers toward horror – moments when the siblings are holding hands in the dark, using a torch to push their way through swarms of deadly rats. There are still some great moments like this in Requiem, including a particularly terrifying sequence in a rat’s nest. When it works, it’s as heart-pounding and scary as ever. If there’s one good use for next-gen consoles, it’s the ability to up the horror by adding thousands of more rats on screen. (I played on the PS5, and the pitter-patter of rat feet coming through the Dualsense controller made me very uncomfortable.) By these standards, the repetitive boss fights and shootouts feel like an afterthought that I had to force myself through.

When Innocence came out, it took a lot of familiar things, like stealth action and environmental puzzles, and put them together into an experience that was unlike anything I’d ever played before. Requiem doesn’t have that advantage. The novelty isn’t there anymore. The puzzles are more complex, the world is a little bigger, but you’re still doing a lot of the same things. The good thing is that those things remain intense and terrifying, and Amicia and Huge’s plight continues to be fascinating to watch unfold. After two games, I still cringe at the site of thousands of ferocious rats and hold my breath until the kids find a momentary safe space. Many of the additions feel more like padding than necessary changes, and so the sequel doesn’t hold quite the same punch as the original – but that doesn’t make the rats any less scary.

A Plague Tale: Requiem launches on October 18th on the PS5, Xbox Series X / S, PC, and Nintendo Switch (cloud version).

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