Things never go well for poor Amicia and Hugo. The last time we saw the siblingsin 2019 A Plague Tale: Innocence, they had just survived the Inquisition’s hunt amid a plague sweeping 14th-century France, which also brought swarms of carnivorous rats. Not exactly a good time. Several times later, A Plague Tale: Requiem, things seem to be going well. The couple end up in a safe town or among what appear to be friends. There is even a nice little boat trip. But it never lasts – just like the original, Requiem is a tense and brutal stealth game where just surviving is an achievement. 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 left the horrors of their home in Guyenne. Initially, they explore Bordeaux in search of a cure for Hugo’s strange disease, which appears to both kill him and create a unique bond with the ubiquitous swarms of rats. Initially, they find a new home in a town with an expert who promises to help them, but before long things go awry (of course) when a secret order of alchemists decides that Hugo will do a big science experiment. At the same time, the region is under a plague-related lockdown; guards patrol the streets, dead bodies stoke ominous bonfires, and rats are just eager to find warm flesh to eat. As Hugo’s condition worsens, he begins to dream of a beautiful island and eventually convinces Amicia, who has sworn to be his protector, that a cure will likely be found there. And so the game becomes a long quest to find that dream island.
Fundamentally, Requiem is not so different from its predecessor. In its most reductive form, it could be described as a stealth puzzle game that’s also a bit terrifying. The most crucial moments are staying alive. This could mean sneaking past guards who will kill on sight or finding your way through swarms of hungry rats. Sometimes you have to do both at the same time. Clearing your way safely is like solving a puzzle: you can sneak around a guard distracting them, or you can knock down their lantern for the rats, terrified of any light source, to attack. The puzzles get more complex as you get new abilities and items. Eventually you can use tar to make huge fires or dust to put out the flames or a weird lure to guide the rats where you want them.
This was especially true of the original, and Requiem does the typical video game sequel by making things bigger and more complex. Sometimes it works well. At the end of Innocence, the novelty of handling rats and sneaking past guards was starting to wear off, and lots of new additions make the formula more interesting. Once you have a full range of items at your disposal, the puzzles become much trickier and more cerebral (although you’ll still turn a lot of cranks). There were many times where I really had to stop and think about how to combine the different elements so that I could get out of a seemingly impassable section.
Unfortunately, the game also pushes harder towards action, which isn’t the series’ strong point. There are a number of moments where Amicia is forced to kill, and you have more tools for assassination in this game, including a crossbow, a soldier sidekick, and eventually Hugo’s ability to actually control rats. and guide them to a fresh meal.
This change has a narrative meaning. A great concentration in Requiem This is how violence changed Amicia. In the first game she is forced to kill to survive, but in the second it has become a habit. You can see the physical toll it takes on her over the course of the game, and there are times when she even seems to enjoy ending a life. The game seems to want you to feel bad about it, but as is often the case in games, going the deadliest route usually makes things easier (and more fun) for the player. There’s a disconnect between what you do and what you’re supposed to feel.
The bigger problem, however, is that making Amicia a more skilled and efficient killer also takes some of the tension out of the game. A plague tale is at its best when it veers into horror – moments where the siblings hold hands in the dark, using a torch to smash their way through swarms of deadly rats. There are still great moments like this in Requiem, including a particularly terrifying sequence in a rat’s nest. When it works, it’s as thrilling and scary as ever. If there’s one good use for next-gen consoles, it’s the ability to increase the horror by adding thousands more rats to the screen. (I played on the PS5, and the crackle of rat feet running through the Dualsense controller made me very uncomfortable.) By those standards, the repetitive boss fights and shootouts seem like an afterthought I had to force myself through.
When Innocence came out, it took a lot of familiar things, like stealth action and environmental puzzles, and brought them together in an experience unlike anything I’d ever played before. Requiem does not have this advantage. The novelty is no longer there. The puzzles are more complex, the world is a bit bigger, but you’re still doing the same thing. The good thing is that these things remain intense and terrifying, and Amicia and Huge’s fates continue to be fascinating to watch unfold. After two games, I still back away from thousands of ferocious rats and hold my breath until the kids momentarily find a safe space. Many of the additions feel more like padding than necessary changes, and so the sequel doesn’t quite pack the punch of the original – but that doesn’t make Rats any less scary.
A Plague Tale: Requiem launches October 18 on PS5, Xbox Series X/S, PC, and Nintendo Switch (cloud version).