In The Game – ‘A Plague Tale: Requiem’ is a tense and compelling journey

In June of last year, I got a notification from the Playstation YouTube channel telling me that the new array of PS Plus games had been released. One of those games was A Plague Tale: Innocence. I played for maybe five or six hours before I realized that I wasn’t just clicking with it. I was reading and watching reviews filled with praise about how stellar this new cinematic game was. I felt that maybe I was missing something, and I just couldn’t put my finger on the reason I struggled to enjoy it. So seeing that it was getting a sequel, I wasn’t too compelled to look into it. A few months ago, I forced myself through Innocence. I really enjoyed its story, and I definitely have had better experiences, but I did eventually enjoy the game. When it comes to A Plague Tale: Requiem, much like the first game, I could not avoid its praise. Twitter, YouTube, and the three people I know who regularly use Facebook as their main social media were all loving A Plague Tale: Requiem! So I pushed forward. I dove headfirst into this highly anticipated sequel. After several hours of playing, I learned something… this game has clicked for me.

A Plague Tale: Requiem is an exciting and enthralling adventure spearheaded by brother and sister duo, Amicia and Hugo. Amicia is the older sister of the young and helpless Hugo, the centrepiece of this story. Without divulging too many story points, Hugo has a blood disease, the entire Inquisition is trying to kill him, there are hordes of rats spreading the black plague and EATING PEOPLE, and the journey to a potentially non-existent island Hugo keeps seeing when he sleeps at night. Our sibling heroes are caught in the middle of all of that. If you played A Plague Tale: Innocence, you know how strong the bond between Amicia and Hugo is. It is such a believable and strong relationship. So believable that it almost leaves you scratching your head when you realize that these are actors in a video game and none of it is real.

Amicia has also quickly become one of my favourite adventure game protagonists. Seeing her character develop through the story was a complete joy. As the title of the first game implied, Amicia was a pretty innocent character in the past. That innocence carries through into Requiem. Every time you kill someone in this game, Amicia has something to say about what she’s just done. Should you have your brother by your side or one of the other various characters you meet, they, too, will comment on the fact that you just fucking killed that guy. The innocence also carries into her now iconic choice of weaponry, the childish and shoddily made sling. An absolutely ridiculous “weapon” when compared to many of the enemies in this game who are armour-clad, wielding spears, swords, and shields. Amicia also has a myriad of tools at her disposal. You can fill pots with tar and ignite massive fires. Or perhaps you want to throw a fire retardant material on a torch to put out the flame. Maybe you just want to shoot a guy in the fucking face with a crossbow. Amicia is like Kevin McAllister. Except if the sticky bandits were trying to get in the way of Hugo, they would be so dead, so fast.

With her trusty sling in hand and the hand of a brother in the other, Amicia doesn’t look like much. However, with her cloth and rocks, Amicia becomes a morality-pondering killing machine. She is filled with the rage of an older sister without a fuck to give but also the guilt of somebody who is genuinely sad over not finishing every last piece of food on their plate. Anyone who stands in the way of you and your brother getting to the island he keeps seeing in his dreams is getting a rock hand-delivered to their brain. You could also just stealth past them, but where’s the fun in that? Compliments to the chef.

The combat that Requiem gives us isn’t so much combat. There is combat in this game, but that’s not really the word I’d use to describe it. There are soldiers who have absolutely no problem walking up to a couple of children and beating their heads in with an axe. That is probably how I died the most in this game. The problem for Amicia is that she does not have the same hulking armoury to pull from. She’s got her sling and her wit. That’s it. You can whack a soldier in the face with your sling, but that only stuns them. Killing in early into the story isn’t super easy. Most of the time, you will find yourself really using stealth to hide in the tall grass and light (yes, hiding in the light, I’ll get to that) and scooting by when an enemy soldier looks away. Eventually, as the story progresses, you unlock more tools to manipulate soldiers, stun them, and light them on fire, among other things. Oh yeah, you also get a crossbow. So killing happens more frequently the further into the game you get.

Requiem‘s biggest strength, I think, is the way light is utilized in combat scenarios. 99% of stealth games only allow you to hide in the shadows. Crouching in the middle of the day will likely get you caught. What’s cool about A Plague Tale: Requiem is you are equally encouraged to hide in the shadows and in the light of a bonfire. You will need to stand in the light to avoid the rats. Requiem has a shit ton of rats. Sometimes there are thousands covering the screen. So many rats that my PS5 actually dropped frames during the busier segments. The rats are fucking crazy in this game. They tend to make their entrance by slamming like a tsunami through a wall, and anybody caught in the wave gets eaten alive. The only way to avoid the rats is to stand by a light source. For whatever reason, these guys hate illumination.

The cool thing about this mechanic is that soldiers and rats are often in the same area as you. Soldiers walk around with torches or lanterns on them, patrolling their routes as the hungry rats hiss at them. Hiding in the shadows from the soldiers and getting out of the shade to keep yourself safe from the rats allows for a lot of experimentation on how to play each section of the game. You can whip some fire-extinguishing materials at their torches and let the rats devour them whole. You can create an extra beacon of light to run through by igniting a soldier with some tar and using him as a human torch. Later on, you unlock some other ways that turn the combat on its head. New insane ways to turn the tides of battle. These scenarios get more and more exciting the more you play.

I have a ridiculous amount of good things to say about A Plague Tale: Requiem. I only have two issues with it, and they aren’t small. Because of the nature of this game, a stealth-based adventure game, there are times when the pacing drags. Some sections are a little janky and tough, and repeating them over and over because you keep dying really makes the game drag at times. There were times when I thought I definitely should have gotten a checkpoint, and I had to keep redoing the same slow stealth across the gorgeous and large combat areas. At times, there are super exciting sections that are followed by a very slow section. It almost feels like you’re stepping on the gas going 120KM/h, but you’re also slamming on the brakes every 5 seconds. Admittedly, I don’t have terrific patience, but I wish Requiem was a little more consistent. Now onto my second issue…

The framerate sucks. Plain and simple. This is a game I am playing on my PS5, and it is locked at 30fps. Genuinely, it took me a long time to build up the motivation to continue playing the game after I realized it didn’t have a framerate-focused performance mode. The biggest reason this review is coming in late is that I lost all drive to play this game because it gave me motion sickness. Having been blessed with having 60fps on everything I play, 30fps felt horrible. The performance also chugs on later parts of the game. It’s even dipped into single frames for me a few times. At times I actually found it taking away my enjoyment. Eventually, I just decided that I’d just accept that the game isn’t going to run great, and I’m glad I did that because the game is good. However, it is absolutely held back by its performance.

A Plague Tale: Requiem is a fantastic example of a “great sequel.” Requiem did everything Innocence did but much, much better. Everything about it feels mature, intentional and well-crafted. An excellent story with twists that left me stunned in silence. If a third game gets added to this series, I’d like to see the overall experience tightened up a little more, similar to Innocence. Because that game was smaller and more linear, it felt more watertight than Requiem did. After seeing what Asobo Studio and Focus Entertainment achieved with A Plague Tale: Requiem, I have full faith that they could make a game that eclipses the acclaim that this series has already earned. I genuinely believe that A Plague Tale: Requiem is a special experience and a must-play if you have a PS5. But if you really can’t stand 30fps, wait until the eventual 60fps patch that’ll happen down the road and enjoy it then. If you’re like me, A Plague Tale: Requiem will devour you like a writhing sea of rats.

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