The A Plague Tale: Requiem series keeps reminding me of Uncharted, and I wasn’t expecting that. But not since Uncharted have I been so dazzled by a production, by an adventure, that I lingered in places just to keep them from ending. And not since playing an Uncharted game have I experienced so many spectacular sights in so many spectacular locations that I could never have imagined before. As it turns out, Requiem is a game about uncovering lost legends and their mysteries. It’s a treasure hunt. Only here is the treasure you are looking for, a cure.
A Plague Tale is a series inextricably linked to the plague, the Black Death, that ravaged Europe in the 14th century and apparently killed up to 200 million people. It was the plague, notoriously carried by rats. And so A Plague Tale is also a series about rats – wonderful and cruel.
More specifically, it’s a series about a little boy named Hugo who harbors something called Macula, a supernatural connection to rats. And it’s a bond that people try to exploit and control – powerful people in powerful, shady orders – and a bond that will kill him too if you, his teenage sister Amicia, don’t find that cure.
This is how Requiem begins – similar to 2019’s A Plague Tale: Innocence. Peace is there for a while, and you, Hugo, your mother and her apprentice pharmacist Lucas travel to a new life in a new town. But it doesn’t take long before you find yourself in trouble and being hunted by murderous adults again. And then come rats and the plague. And suddenly there’s death and sickening blood all around you and you’re literally knee deep in it.
And as before, the be-all and end-all of the game is stealth. This game isn’t about ruthless shooting like Uncharted, it’s about carefully picking your way through areas while taking out one or two – sometimes more – enemies that get in your way. But you don’t take them down like in another stealth game – there is a stealth takedown, but it’s very situational and noisy, so it’s not used very often.
That’s because you, Amicia, are a teenager and the game is a constant reminder that you can’t just beat an adult soldier from head to toe in a fight. Instead, the primary tool you use is your trusty slingshot, which hurls rocks at you – killing enemies without a helmet – or creating distractions.
Amicia’s family’s background in herbalism also means they can create special types of ammunition to set things on fire or extinguish them, or to attract rats. Why would she want to do that? Because rats can work for you as much as they can against you. Light is key: stay in a lighted area, be it from sunlight or firelight, and the rats won’t reach you. That is, if you put out an enemy’s torch, the rats will come to you.
Requiem takes it a step further with a few new tools. The most powerful of these is a crossbow, which is an absolute killer provided an enemy isn’t armored. But screws are rare. You also now have companions, some of whom will fight and kill for you like a soldier. Hugo, on the other hand, can control hordes of rats directly. Companions are therefore enormously helpful. But they will not always be with you. Think of them as a variation rather than a gradual layering of tools.
It’s this stealth side of the game that worried me the most. I found it frustrating in a recent preview build of the game when I kept dying. It felt too rigid to me and was too willing to punish me when I didn’t do what it wanted me to do. The game is at its most annoying when an enemy spots you and alerts all other enemies in the area, forcing you to either run away in the desperate hope of finding the scenario’s exit door, or perform a stunning counter-attack (you can stab enemies , but it will consume a knife and knives are rare). But too often this ends in a pile-on, and forced animations trap you in place while enemies attack and eventually kill you. And too often, being spotted by more than one enemy feels like you’re dead. Two or three paragraphs in particular I didn’t write nicely in my notebook, to put it mildly.
But I’ve softened up a bit after playing the full game. Part of the reason is that I’ve become more acquainted with the options available to me here, and there’s usually always something to do in a pinch. There’s also a lot more forbearance built into the formula than I had imagined. For example, you have a buffer of time before an enemy will properly notice and pursue you, and it’s actually possible to run away and hide again. With that in mind, it’s a lot easier to enjoy the stealthy battlefields – and the curious enemies who can climb and peek under tables and get into the tall grass.
The other reason is that there is a lot more variation in the game as a whole than there was before in Innocence, which means you get more respite from stealth. Chapters usually contain just one, maybe two, stealth sections, and then surround them with some puzzles (which usually involve manipulating rats), some exploration and dialogue, and then some very impressive endless-runner-style climaxes that put you before apocalyptic torrents of rats run away.
This structure also leaves more room for the stronger parts of Requiem: the setting and the story and the characters that drive it. The companions in particular are wonderful – well rounded, believable and brilliantly performed. I particularly like the trend of the game Not to exaggerate and get carried away in melodrama. And the undisputed champion and star of the show is Amicia, on whom the game hangs. Showing the breadth of achievement Charlotte McBurney delivers while managing to remain personable and personable is very impressive. And she’s still only 20 years old. I hope she gets credit for it.
And in Amicia’s passionate love for Hugo and their clinging to each other in a world that would divide them, even kill them, Requiem lands its strongest blows. It’s Amicia’s desperation to save Hugo that underscores everything. You are the main characters, but are you doing it right?
You can feel the game questioning you and questioning your actions. Innocence was really a game about running away and hiding, maybe as the title suggests. But Requiem has a much more vengeful side, and you’ll feel the consequences of your killing as companions are shocked and even repelled by you. It is a deep and moving exploration of love and fear.
It gives the game a substance that lingers long after the spectacle. And it’s spectacular. Asobo’s eye for historical detail, whether in crumbling stonework or worn clothing, or simply in recreating daily life in 14th-century France, is fascinating. And it combines with dramatic weather effects and enormous sets and set pieces – and an incredible array of atmospheric sound effects and music – to stunning effect.
It all adds up to a package of exquisite quality and a game that sits comfortably shoulder to shoulder with the other giants of gaming cinematic spectacle. Requiem, simply put, is one of the best adventures out there.