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A Plague Tale: Requiem (PS5) Review

Three years ago, in May 2019, Asobo Studio and Focus Entertainment unleashed A Plague Tale: Innocence upon the world – a stealth-focused adventure game that combined a captivating narrative with solid gameplay and rats, a lot of rats… Today the sequel has finally arrived, A Plague Tale: Requiem – a game which continues the story shortly after the first, introducing new gameplay mechanics whilst delivering a similar experience to the previous title except there are more rats, literally thousands more than we saw last time thanks to the game being current-gen only.

I’ve had the game for a few days, completing all chapters early this morning, and I’m glad I waited until I’d finished the game before writing this review – my initial impressions weren’t the best yet by the end I had fallen in love with the game. Sure, there are some frustrations which stuck with me throughout – which I’ll get into within this review – but the narrative saved the day by delivering an exciting and emotional journey which I’ve not experienced for a while. 

So, come with me as we (once again) desperately try to stay alive venturing through streets and fields aggressively occupied by blood-thirsty rats that would love a little nibble on me and my younger brother…

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Home sweet home… for now!

A Plague Tale: Requiem is set shortly after the events of the first game, Amicia, Hugo and Lucas are momentarily enjoying their quiet and peaceful life after being put through hell with non-stop bloodshed and close encounters of the rat-kind a few months prior. However, nothing lasts forever and Amicia can never catch a break, always finding herself in trouble whether she goes looking for it or it comes looking for her! The siblings come under attack leading to Hugo knocking himself out by summoning his ratty friends – kinda like Pikachu in the first episode of Pokemon…

Whilst unconscious, Hugo has a vision of an island that’s guarded by a mighty phoenix. He’s encouraged to drink the water which instantly heals him of this unhygienic curse – could this be a vision that’ll lead to the cure he’s been looking for throughout the previous game (his entire life)? He certainly thinks it is! But, his mother has other ideas as she wishes for the family to seek help from an alchemist rather than listen to the dreams of a sick little boy. 

And thus begins Amicia’s new adventure, from initially exploring dark, diseased, morbid areas of the city whilst looking for various people to help her brother, to seeking out this elusive island and uncovering the truth behind Hugo’s illness and his ancestors, her life is very eventful and never simple! Along your journey, you’ll meet new companions, make enemies with new foes, discover new abilities, and come up with new creative ways to use the rats to your advantage as they rip the flesh off those who oppose you. It’s an adventure you won’t forget for a very long time…

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A skill tree based on how you play the game, how original!

GamePlay
A Plague Tale: Requiem is a stealth-based adventure game with a very strong emphasis on its narrative and storytelling. If you’re not watching a cutscene, exploring for collectables, or solving a puzzle, then you’ll be sneaking around in tall grass, avoiding the rats, or creatively killing guards that are looking for you. If you’ve played the first game then you’ll know what to expect, the gameplay in A Plague Tale: Requiem is very similar aside from a few additional abilities and mechanics that make the later stealth segments much easier and more fun to work through.

The developers have created a skill tree unlike one I’ve seen before, it’s automatic and based on how you play the game. For example, if you make your way through stealth segments without alerting any of the guards, then you’ll gain experience within the ‘Prudence’ skill, yet killing all the enemies improves your ‘Aggressive’ skill. As these increase, you’ll unlock passive skills such as increasing how far Hugo’s ‘rat-vision’ can see, unlocking the ability to push enemies when you’re attacked, and teaching Amicia to walk quietly so she doesn’t stomp around and make a lot of noise.

This is an interesting concept as it literally forces you to change your gameplay style if you’re aiming to obtain all of the trophies, you can’t just unlock universal experience and shove it into whichever skill you wish to improve.

If you’re not very stealthy, like me, then you’ll be happy to hear that there are a bunch of unlockable abilities for your trusty slight shot, as well as a powerful crossbow that can take down enemies with one hit! There are a few enhancements that we saw in the previous game and some that are new or refined. You can also insta-kill the guards with knives that you’ll often find, but Amicia can only carry one at a time and they break upon use – just like the annoying shivs in The Last of Us Part One – However, for some reason, Amicia can’t craft new ones, which is incredibly annoying as you need one to open the many secret closets in the game.

One of the mechanics I had an issue with is the lack of being able to run whenever you want. The game forces you to walk most of the time, thanks to either holding Hugo’s hand or because the game wants to play some dialogue as you go from A to B. But, when it does enable running, it’s random as to whether it’s a leisurely jog or if you can hold R2 and actually run. I know this won’t be an issue for most people, but I like moving fast when exploring for collectables, but I found myself often restricted to walking at a snail’s pace for no reason whatsoever (no dialogue was being played) –  this began to irritate me and almost put me off doing a second playthrough.

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Take out the guards or sneak past them, without becoming rat food!

‘Combat’
A Plague Tale: Requiem felt like it had more stealth and combat sections than the first game, yet it also had more puzzles and areas to explore – it’s just much bigger in general. But, the combat sections were plentiful throughout the game, providing some very frustrating moments during the early parts of the game. Before you’ve unlocked various enhancements for your sling, your choices with how to make it through a stealth section alive are limited – you can use your sling to kill enemies with no helmets, but the noise will alert others, or you can toss a stone into a pile of metal objects to distract them whilst you crouch past unaware. 

The fun really begins when you’ve unlocked the ability to cause more excruciating pain to your victims! Why keep things quiet when you can fill a pot with tar, throw it at someone, then light it and watch as the unlucky person screams in agony and burn to death within seconds?! Maybe you’d rather lure someone into the darkness and then extinguish their torch to watch the rats rip the flesh off their bones? Or, once Hugo has finally remembered that he’s basically the Rat King, take control of a swarm of rats and seek out anyone without a torch and devour them until nothing remains but a crafting material and a pile of bones.

A new feature for A Plague Tale: Requiem, which makes some stealth segments a walk in the park, is the addition of companion abilities. There are two new companions that you can utilise with L1+Triangle to help you out – one of them will run straight into battle and beat them to death with his mighty sword, often asking for help when they become overwhelmed and knocked over, and the other can set alight tall grass to cause distractions when there are no convenient piles of metal objects around. The latter can also, magically, use their object to reflect light from any lit source to create a light bright enough to protect you from rats as you walk around – the game was semi-believable until this ability was unlocked!

On a side note, if you’re having trouble, or simply want to break the game and make it hilariously easy, you can enable invincibility mode in the options menu. This won’t save you from the rats, but no human can kill you now – so you can run rings around them without worrying about being taken out. Alternatively, literally run, if they can’t catch you, they can’t hurt you! I found that you can sometimes forget hiding and spending ages trying to sneak past the guards, if your destination is a door then run for it and she’ll lock it once you get in, thus skipping the entire stealth segment!

A Plague Tale Requiem 4+1

How are we going to get over there!?!

Puzzles
There are a few puzzles within A Plague Tale: Requiem, none of which are hard or challenging. The majority of them simply require you to look around for something you can use to climb higher, or a gap in the wall you can shoot through to break a chain on the other side, but some are more involved. There are moments when you must work in tandem with your companion, operating different levers at the same time or having them use something while you stand on or near the object that’s going to move. Just like the above companion skills, you can hold L1+Triangle and command them to use objects from afar – adding another layer to the puzzles.

When it’s dark, we see the return of ‘The Floor is Rats’, guaranteeing an instant death if Amicia or her companion strays into the darkness and lets the vermin get a whiff of their delightful 14th-century scent. Most of these situations can be dealt with by simply lighting fires and watching as Roland and his friends flee from the bright atmosphere, but sometimes you have to get more creative. You can throw tar into flames in order to create a short-lived brighter light, or toss a jar of tar and then set that alight to create your own fire pit of death (and light). You can also ‘cheat’ by using the above companion skill that somehow reflects a non-localised flame to create a circle of light all around you.

Although the puzzles aren’t hard, there is a setting in the options menu which you may wish to adjust. You can set how often and fast the NPCs will give you hints (or the solution) to the situation you’re currently in. I found that this had turned itself on when I dropped the difficulty due to early stealth segments frustrating me. With it on the highest setting, your companion will almost instantly tell you what to do, leaving no time to try and figure things out for yourself. Some people may find that helpful but I thought it was making the game far too easy as I didn’t have to think about anything, just look for the object or location they were talking about. So, if you want to actually have a little time to explore and discover things for yourself, make sure you adjust that setting (which I’m glad there’s a slider for).

A Plague Tale Requiem 5+1

Awww, how sweet.

The Narrative
I didn’t like A Plague Tale: Requiem at first – I didn’t hate it, but I thought it was starting off too slow and the stealth sections were too brutal and unforgiving. However, as I pushed past the 50% mark, the game really clicked with me, I was loving the narrative, the gameplay has become much more fun now I had companions and more alchemic abilities, and the locations we were travelling to were bright, colourful, and more diverse than we saw in the previous title. As I reached the final credits early this morning, the game had firmly placed itself on my GOTY list for 2022, I predicted a lot of the events which would unfold towards the end of the game, but I was still shocked and excited when I saw them play out on my TV.

I’ve seen people claim you can finish the main story within 15 hours, I think I took almost double that as I was wandering around every location looking at the world and trying to interact with everything I could – even if it didn’t impact the story or trophies. Each new location you end up in is unique, with its own townfolk, structure design, and personality. It’s just a shame that we visited as Hugo brings death wherever he goes, the little annoying child that doesn’t turn into the Hulk when he gets angry and upset, he simply unleashes a hoard of rats that leave destruction in their wake.

Also, just like the original game, the music, dialogue and voice acting are second to none here, I can honestly see Charlotte McBurney winning another award for her emotional and immersive role within this game. Everyone delivered an amazing performance, bringing these virtual models to life, but Charlotte really did pull me in and made me bond with Amicia throughout the entire game. I’m actually shocked to see that her only work, according to IMDB, is both Plague Tale games and a short film – why aren’t studios snapping her up for a role in their games?

A Plague Tale Requiem 6+1

Hugo, the rat bird king!

Birds of a feather
Hugo loved flowers in A Plague Tale: Innocence, they were the main collectable that the siblings looked out for on their grand adventure. However, in A Plague Tale: Requiem he appears to have gone off them and now favours feathers thanks to the majestic phoenix he sees whilst dreaming. As such, these have become the main collectables to look out for. However, don’t despair if you prefer flowers, there are still some scattered around for you to find and pluck from the ground. Once found, Hugo wears the feathers on his pin and Amicia pops a flower of your choice behind her ear. If you buy the game physically or buy the day-one DLC, you also unlock all the flowers from the first game which you can wear from the start.

Aside from these cute accessories, there are also a bunch of memories to be found – well, made. Interacting with certain landmarks, objects, or documents will result in Amicia and her companion (or Hugo) talking about something and creating a memory that you can listen to whenever you want. I think my favourite is when you, Hugo and a female companion are on top of a tower screaming like a bird – pausing the game and zooming in on their ‘dead’ faces as their mouths are the only source of emotion was quite funny (more on this later).

New Game+
A Plague Tale: Requiem has a few difficulties but you’re not penalised if you decide to play on Narrative difficulty (the easiest). However, should you complete the game and miss some of the secret chests (which require you to play the game again and not through chapter select), or wish to max out your skills, then you have to start again in New Game + mode. I like that this is here, as you keep all the skills you’ve unlocked and collectables you’ve found, but it has one major negative – you can ONLY play NG+ in the new ‘Ultimate Difficulty. That’s right, you’re forced to play on the hardest difficulty the second time around – sure, you now have upgrades skills, but this should be an option. I’m at this stage and I’ve turned on ‘invincibility mode’ and I have no shame about it!

A Plague Tale Requiem 7+1

You can manipulate the camera even in cutscenes – here we’re ‘hugging’ Hugo

Take a Picture
A Plague Tale: Requiem has one of the least restrictive photo modes I’ve ever seen – which is both great and bad at the same time. First of all, ‘no-clip’ is enabled, this means you can move the camera anywhere within a rather generous distance of your character – yes, you can move out of bounds and explore behind the scenes and see how the visually-stunning game is created with a rag-tag bunch of blocks and setpieces you were never meant to see. You could also use this ‘mode’ to strategically look around and see where the enemies are so you can plan ahead. However, peering into locked rooms or future locations usually gives you empty rooms as the PS5 loads them in once you open the door officially (within less than a second and with no loading screen).

I deem the above as ‘bad’ as it can result in getting some great shots but it also ruins the magic and immersion, kinda like watching a behind-the-scenes video of a film or TV show you like and finding out it was all on a green screen or a small set in a big hanger-like warehouse.

One thing I LOVED about the photo mode was the fact you can enable it at ANY TIME! That’s right, even if you’re mid-cutscene, you can turn it on and go wandering around to find the perfect shot – I’ve never seen a game let you do this as cutscenes are usually pre-rendered or running with a locked camera due to the enhanced visuals and effects. But, not A Plague Tale: Requiem – here you can stop at literally any time and enter a fully-moveable photo mode camera. Sadly, there’s not much to the photo mode aside from generic options (no filters or facial expressions), but it does the job.

A Plague Tale Requiem 8+1

This person wasn’t playing on the PS5, he was tracking his own collectables and died of old age (and a rat attack)

PS5 Features
Despite being marketed heavily by Xbox, due to the fact the game has launched in Game Pass Day-one, I’m happy to say that the developers haven’t overlooked the various unique features of the PlayStation 5. First up, A Plague Tale: Requiem supports both activity cards and trophy tracking, with a handy collectables card that lets you know what items you’ve missed. So many games don’t bother utilising these so it’s nice to see a game that has a lot of things to find making use of them both. The only thing missing is the PS Plus help videos, showing you where the items are – that would have been a great addition.

On a side note, when using the chapter select (if you’ve missed something), it clearly tells you what collectables you’ve missed so you’re not trying to guess where you need to go back to.

In terms of the controller, haptic feedback and resistive triggers are both implemented, although the trigger effect is quite weak and really needs a slider to make it more intense. As you’d expect, using your weapon offers a little resistance, but it could have been so much better in regards to simulating Amicia swinging her sling. However, when you’re able to run, if you hold R2 then you’ll run faster and you’ll feel each footstep as the trigger provides a little ‘kick’ each time your foot hits the ground. 

In terms of the haptics, they activate when you’d expect – replacing the generic rumble with a more defined experience. But, there’s a feature in A Plague Tale: Requiem which was also in The Last of Us Part One (which I’ve not seen before), haptic response when characters are talking. I don’t fully understand why this is a thing, but you can have the controller physically ‘hum’ along with the words being said (but without sound) – I imagine it’s an accessible effect for some people, but I just found it strange that I’d not seen it before and now I’ve seen it twice this week.

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Challenge – count the rats! Fun fact, there’s even more behind the camera!

Shoddy Performance
It’s time to talk about the elephant in the room (if you’ve seen the ‘outrage’ on Twitter) – the performance. Since the PlayStation 5 was born, almost two years ago, we’ve become accustomed to glorious 60 frames-per-second gameplay – this is nothing new but last-gen hardly ever hit this elusive target. However, there has been a baby’s handful of games this generation which has targeted 30fps instead – The Medium, Gotham Knights, and Life is Strange: True Colours to name a few (although LiS got a 60fps patch after consumer outrage). A Plague Tale: Requiem is also a 30fps peasant on modern consoles!

Okay, let’s take a step back and not judge a book by its inability to push double the framerate. A Plague Tale: Requiem is visually stunning even though it’s only 1440p on the PS5 and Xbox Series X. However, I believe the reason why the game is set to 30fps is due to the creative decision to bump the number of rats on screen from around 5,000 to a whopping 300,000! Yes, three hundred thousand! Does the game need this many rats? Nope. But does it look awesome when they’re all there chasing you? Hell yeah! 

Also, on the PS5, when you’re outside at night, with only a few dynamic light sources (fires) and thousands of rats watching you with their beady little eyes – the framerate can drop to, what feels like, the low 20s! It’s playable but really becomes frustrating when you’re running from enemies and it feels like someone is pausing and unpausing over and over! Okay, it’s not ‘that’ bad, but you can really feel it!

There are two saving graces – 120hz and VRR. If you have a 120hz TV, A Plague Tale: Requiem will boot up in 120fps mode and set the framerate of the game to 40fps – delivering a slightly smoother experience that feels nice due to the 40fps fitting into the 120hz container nicely (go look at Digital Foundry’s videos about this). Plus, if you have a VRR TV/display, the game will auto-load with it enabled (if you have it turned on), providing full LFC support for sub-48fps gameplay. This, combined with either 60hz or 120hz mode, delivers the smoothest way to play the game as it feels a lot better (the framerate ‘may’ even be unlocked, I’m not sure) – but, you’ll still feel the big dips when it’s dark.

Left: Screen space reflection – Right: looking down

up
down

Sorry, my face is tired…
As I stated earlier in my review, there’s a ‘problem’ with the faces in A Plague Tale: Requiem. I’ve not read much about the development of this game but I don’t know if everything was fully motion-captured or not – If I was to guess, I’d say not. The motion of the characters walking, running, crouching, and during cutscenes are great, but there’s an issue with the facial animations in that there isn’t any. For example, you can often hear Hugo and Amicia laughing with one another, yet if you pause and/or move the camera around, their face is locked in a serious pose with their mouth open, as if they’re dead inside yet their mouth is still alive.

This isn’t a big issue as the team is only small, but it’s something that damped my immersion at points in the game.

Upon reflection…
My only other visual criticism would be the reflections. The game uses Screen Space Reflections when you have the reflected object on the screen at the same time as the water or reflective surface. However, as you look down it sometimes swaps to a static image which looked really silly in some places (see the image above). The PC version is getting Ray Tracing support in a few weeks, but consoles are left with what we have now.

Official Trailer:

Final Conclusion:
Despite the first few chapters moving quite slow with far too many unforgiving stealth segments, by the time I’d completed A Plague Tale: Requiem I was in love with its narrative, gameplay, visuals, and outstanding voice acting and music. Although the game feels very similar to the first one, the new mechanics, companion abilities, adaptive skill tree, and new larger environments help create a new experience that’s familiar but not identical. There are some performance issues and technical flaws which will (hopefully) be resolved, but nothing hampered the enjoyment and excitement I felt throughout my entire playthrough of this GOTY contender.

A copy of the game was kindly provided for review purposes

A Plague Tale: Requiem

£49.99
9

Final Score

9.0/10

The Good:

  • Visually stunning with great attention to detail
  • Full support for VRR with LFC and 120hz running at 40fps
  • Very emotional and immersive story, full of memorable characters and events
  • Brilliant music and voice acting, it's going to win awards (again)
  • Enhances on the first game by offering a new yet familiar experience

The Bad:

  • Framerate issues (at launch) when outside in the dark with literally thousands of rats
  • The photo camera is fun, being able to move out of bounds, but it breaks the magical 'movie set' illusion
  • Some reflections and facial 'animations' are lacking quality, but they're not an 'issue'
  • Early stealth segments are quite tricky and unforgiving, but it gets better once you expand your arsenal
  • The inability to 'run' at all times is annoying and slows the gameplay right down
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