The night protects the plague and, in the dark, the rodents mumble without stopping moving, skirting each halo of light, each small oasis of safety that appears in the heat of a fire or a torch. I have come here from the hand of some hopeful characters who set out in search of answers to a problem that is difficult to solve. As a player, I have found myself lost, among the seas of rats of A Plague Tale: Requiem, on more than one occasion. But I have the feeling that they, the characters, were perhaps even more lost than I was; confused by diffuse objectives and, to a certain extent, desperate. From the outset, it doesn’t seem bad to me, the game rests, above all, on its history, and this (like the first) revolves around fatality, the inevitable advance of the Macula. So that approach seems right to me, since Amicia and Hugo’s journey is decidedly dark. As cruel as the context of his fiction, stark at times and, in theory, painful. So either I’m dead inside, or something isn’t working the way it should. Let’s see.
The new adventure of the De Rune brothers starts where the first installment ended. Together with his mother, and good old Lucas, they continue in search of the Order with the hope that, under his tutelage, everything will be better. Beyond the role that this could play, it was clear, from the very announcement of the sequel that concerns us, that the road would not be easy. If not, there would be no game. From there, the title weaves an experience in which narration, mechanics, rules and audiovisual section, should fit together to generate that satisfaction that we find in unpleasantness and hardship; that catharsis that we enjoy so much when it allows us to evoke emotions by exposing a tragic situation. For this, it is usually necessary to have a good base (a good story) or a good narration (an accurate way of telling said story), something that occurs, in part, when taking advantage of the tools of the medium chosen to narrate.
The story of A Plague Tale: Requiem I don’t think it’s amazing, and I have no problems with it. Neither does The Last of Us, its eternal reference. But Joel and Ellie got me for the how, not the what, whereas this time the how is what I do have problems with. And it is that the game tries so hard to immerse the player in misfortune, that in my case it has had the opposite effect.
To explain myself, allow me to stop, for a moment, on the dynamics between characters which the title suggests. Asobo Studio uses the formula that Naughty Dog popularized and that most works with similar narrative aspirations have ended up adopting: the almost constant presence of two characters on screen. This is, from the outset, a very powerful communication tool. The presence of two characters naturally diegetizes communication with the player; it is enough for one character to tell another everything that the creator wants to transmit to the user, thus verbalizing everything from mechanical instructions to indications about the route to follow, and even emotional states.
Amicia spends most of her time accompanied, either by Lucas, by Hugo, or by some other character that I prefer not to talk about. Therefore, as the protagonist, she has a high degree of exposure (normal). What I’m going for is that Amicia is one of the main tools that the title uses to increase her communicability, and it doesn’t seem to me that she uses it well. First of all, because I think that the drama always works better when there is space for relaxation, when the player, reader or spectator is allowed to decompress the emotions that have been accumulating along the way, and Amicia works, at times, like a megaphone that announces from time to time that things are very bad (let’s not forget). This, as a desperate attitude in the face of doom that permeates the general tone of the game, could be reasonable. The problem is that neither the dubbing —which continually resorts to overly dramatic declamations— nor the text, which has a high level of overexposure, help. I have not found space to interpret or evoke emotions because there is hardly any gap; everything is verbalized, silence is lackingand sometimes the best line of dialogue is the one left blank.
The counterpoint to fatality, decompression, is given by the gift for the eyes. For that technical power that has given so much to the saga, and that is now enhanced by, here yes, great work by Asobo Studio, in addition to the benefits of Unreal Engine 5. Played on PlayStation 5, A Plague Tale: Requiem offers truly spectacular moments, especially when it comes to lighting. —Special mention for a particular scenario, which seemed to me to be one of the best night lighting treatments I’ve seen in a video game—.
Here, hyperrealism rules, and that, combined with certain design decisions, has not finished helping either. Starting from the sober tone to which the work goes, and from its aesthetic decisions, it is difficult to deal with certain events when its functionality is exposed in such a brazen way. Events that are only there to justify a new stealth phase, especially in the first half of the adventure. And yes, this is something that happens in the vast majority of video games. But between the subtle and the coarse there is a whole range of possibilities, and here the coarse is very present. It is difficult to enjoy the free exploration of a certain scenario when you know, for sure and from minute one, that, shortly, it is going to be messed up. When you are aware that every time you are sent to find something, there will be a state change in the turn scenario that will lead to a stealth situation.
A stealth that, on the other hand, takes refuge in classicism to become strong, and here I think it is more successful. The puzzle component that accompanies each of its phases has been, for me, the most enjoyable part. Especially when the combination between the different types of ammunition that we can apply to the sling makes an appearance —crafting through—, and is combined with the strong rules of interacting with rats.
These mechanics, linked to the slingshot, which shine in the restful calm of the puzzle, are extinguished when the combat gets into action. There are decisions, such as the impossibility of changing “ammo type” without loading the sling, that I can’t understand. The confrontations, including bosses, lead to a search for the necessary space to be able to take the shot that draws an uncomfortable “run that I catch you”, and away from the sober tone that accompanies the rest of the adventure. In fact, there are times when, despite fighting, we do not fight directly, and that is when the confrontation mechanics have worked best for me. The rest feels so forced that one wonders if it wouldn’t be easier to resort to one of the many weapons carried by the enemies (lesser axes and daggers). Especially when we are forced to resist waves, more typical of a shooter, in which everything must go more slowly than it should so that we have time to act. That level of heaviness is transferred to a control that, as it happens —again— with Naughty Dog, automatically alternates the speed at which we can move, giving rise to moments of exploration in which we cannot run, and situations in which to cross a A simple puddle supposes an excessive effort, both for the character and for the player.
So no, I don’t think so. A Plague Tales: Requiem successfully weave together its mechanics, its narration and its rules, to enhance the story it wants to tell, which should be, after all, one of its greatest attractions. Rather it gives me that he resorts to an established formula that, because it has been worked on, provides a solid base on which to build. The first bricks of his work, the situation of space and time of the fiction that he presents, seem interesting to me. And yes, I have enjoyed some phases, just as I am aware that the technical and artistic work is worthy of recognition, just as I think it has the potential to please those who enjoyed the first installment. But all in all, I can’t help but think of Requiem as a game irregular in the mechanical that, in the narrative, goes to the drama in a rough way. Like a title that rests, above all, on what it wants to tell, while it stands out neither for what it tells nor for how it tells it. And it saddens me, because I came here willingly, without any kind of resistance, and I have ended up trying to find explanations for why I have not been able to get involved. These may work, or it may be dead inside, which can also be.