By no means work with youngsters or animals, the previous showbiz adage goes. And whereas the sentiment does not normally stretch to video games, it is a courageous developer who would place an impulsive five-year-old on the centre of a harrowing motion journey, or attempt to assemble logical techniques atop a horde of ravenous rats. But Asobo Studio managed precisely that with A Plague Story: Innocence, and its daring sequel raises the stakes with a fair defter contact.
Regardless of the unorthodox casting of its beasts and children, Innocence largely labored inside boundaries set by larger names, most notably The Final of Us. Requiem, in contrast, seems like an expansion of the wings, buoyed by its predecessor’s success to forge an unmistakable identification. By way of manufacturing values amongst comparable titles, it nonetheless bows earlier than Sony heavyweights akin to The Final of Us Half 2 and God of Struggle, however little else. And most significantly it grows outward from the weather that shined within the unique—the palpable texture of its medieval setting, the pathos in its character relationships, and the persistent menace of the rats. By constructing every part up round that core, Requiem is commonly extra compelling and relatable than its celebrated friends.
This story begins with the survivors from the primary sport travelling south by France to flee the scar of the rat plague that swallowed up their residence. Teenager Amicia De Rune—the participant character—and her little brother Hugo are beginning to get pleasure from life as soon as once more, frolicking in lush fields and pretending to storm an deserted fortress. In the meantime, the kids’s mom and her apprentice Lucas are extra involved about getting Hugo checked out by a famend alchemist, for the reason that rats are in any case linked to a curse in his blood, and no person needs them displaying their little furry faces once more.
Naturally, the group’s fortunes quickly take a flip for the more severe, and it is not lengthy earlier than you are knee deep in slurry, cadavers and beady-eyed rodents. “Nothing ever stays good,” Hugo says, succinctly. Requiem excels in these contrasts, although, flooding the display with vibrant joys one minute, despair the following. Innocence had moments of color and hope too, however the Provencal and Mediterranean settings on this odyssey are blessed with sunshine, searingly inexperienced countryside and contented peasants. An early market scene embodies this spirit in addition to something, with wealthy yellow dyes and scorching crimson spices including further heat to the faces of joyous merchants, which makes it all of the extra terrible when issues go dangerous.
It isn’t solely the views but in addition the characters that drive the temper. Younger Hugo is the star right here, and his shifts of disposition from playful innocence, merely fascinated by the world, to quivering concern or harmful tantrum set the tempo of the sport. That the script handles these transitions so coherently is a minor miracle, whereas the forwards and backwards chatter between he and Amicia or different companions expertly reinforces the bonds between them. Your position as Hugo’s protector, clinging on to his hand with sweaty depth, torn between love and the burden of duty, is superbly realised.
Of rats and males
As ever, when bother does arrive, it is available in two flavours—folks and rats. The previous are at all times as much as no good, in fact, particularly the highly effective ones, and an disagreeable confrontation results in recent trauma for Hugo, which triggers the plague as soon as extra. You will thus be cracking heads with rocks from Amicia’s sling earlier than you realize it, hunted by troopers and mercenaries, whereas the darkish swarm begins chewing by a picturesque metropolis, and might solely be saved at bay with mild and hearth. Certainly, after only some chapters of Requiem, lots of the techniques drip fed into the primary sport have already returned, leaving a big a part of the journey to discover new territory.
With all this further room to develop, many human encounters (with or with out rats) develop into stealth sandboxes, peppered with hiding spots, vantage factors and shortcuts. These are extra expansive than their equivalents in Innocence, and present you extra materials to work with. As soon as once more, you acquire components to craft into throwable chemical compounds, akin to hearth starters, extinguishers and rat bait, but it surely’s simpler to find and mix what you want. You can even rapidly change between throwing these compounds, firing them from the sling, putting them in a ceramic pot to create an space of impact missile, and finally attaching them to the tip of a crossbow bolt. Totally different strategies are required to distract, stun, blind or kill enemies, relying on the kind of armour and weapons they’re geared up with. Whereas these choices by no means fairly match the emergent potentials of an immersive sim, there’s at all times a lingering sense on the finish of a piece that you might have completed issues in another way.
On the similar time, objects akin to pots, bolts and quick-kill knives are in restricted provide, so you possibly can’t over depend on your strongest instruments (knives particularly are greatest saved, since they will additionally prise the rusted locks off hidden treasure chests). You additionally have to determine when to name on the particular abilities of companion characters, whether or not that is Lucas, Hugo or one of many new faces that be part of your group. In Hugo’s case that may even imply taking management of small packs of rats, then transferring them from a rodent’s eye view as they tear by a scene munching anybody unlucky sufficient to be in the best way.
As for the rats, when it is simply you and them, they’re nonetheless in impact part of the sport’s environmental puzzles, and performance fairly mechanically, like a residing sea of lava, albeit one that may be shifted and formed to some extent by carving out paths of sunshine. The problem for Requiem was at all times going to be holding the chittering black mass intimidating, given how a lot Innocence had us exploit their predictable behaviour. To an extent it succeeds by growing the numbers, having them erupt in tsunamis that crash by stone partitions with a momentum which may even swamp and choke out invaluable mild sources. Toying with them can even really feel extra harmful, as you may push them away quickly, just for them to teem again as you enter what you thought was protected floor.
The true pressure of Requiem, although, does not come from anybody element, extra its fixed movement. As conditions evolve, it provides recent methods you possibly can work together with scenes, whether or not that is by new instruments, totally different allies that tilt the tenor of encounters extra in the direction of stealth or fight, or occasional set items that serve up a distinct downside altogether. A scene the place you are confronted with a falconer and his lethal fowl, for example, has you creating temporary distractions then zipping to the following cowl level, whereas one other has you working a crossbow turret choosing off charging troopers.
Stealth and security
Nonetheless, there are drawbacks to all this ambition. As a result of the techniques are broader and extra natural, they’ve extra alternatives to conflict with weird and unreasonable outcomes. Chucking explosive pots round or transferring rats as Hugo may cause issues, as straggling predators find yourself in sudden spots that you need to be capable of entry. Companion characters, in the meantime, can get caught on surroundings (particularly Lucas for some cause), and the bigger ones have a behavior of getting in your means with their extra bulk. A case of by no means work with adults.
Usually, stealth sections could be a little pernickety, with too many strains of sight to maintain monitor of. It is a difficulty as a result of as soon as you have been seen you might as effectively reload the final checkpoint and go once more, which might have a tendency in the direction of trial and error. Additionally, if you happen to get annoyed by a collection of such errors in the identical space, it is usually simpler to quietly kill everybody fairly than make an effort with stealth in any respect, which at all times appears a little bit of a copout. “I do not prefer it, however I at all times find yourself having to do it,” Amicia explains to one in all her companions after setting mild to an unaware sufferer. Chances are you’ll effectively really feel the identical
However, it is exhausting to begrudge Requiem this unevenness when a lot of what it does lands precisely as supposed, and even in stealth sections, whenever you do make it by in a clear take, it may be splendidly gratifying to sneak by the big steel door that heralds a second of security. Frustrations fade away within the scope of a full-spectrum motion journey that shifts gear into thrilling chases, then cerebral puzzles and teamwork, confidently holding maintain of your consideration for nearly 20 hours.
However maybe the simplest instance of this confidence comes within the second half of the sport, when it releases the throttle for some time to allow you to leisurely discover a Mediterranean island, a paradise of bougainvillea petals, chiming cicadas and creeping afternoon warmth. The purpose right here is merely to spend high quality time along with your characters. At one level Hugo spots a tower and decides he needs to climb it. Why? Simply because towers are enjoyable to climb. It is a reminder that beneath all of the dying and squalor survives the wide-eyed awe of journey, which stays on the coronary heart of Requiem even as soon as it darkens once more and rolls in the direction of a touching finale. And so Requiem takes us by the heights and depths of human expertise, by not solely working with youngsters and animals, however letting them run the present.