Just a few minutes into my A Plague Tale: Requiem hands-on and Amicia de Rune is shin-deep in shit. While that would be an apt description for the sequel to a stealth horror game about avoiding ravenous rats, it's also quite literally what's happening. Amicia and Lucas have set out in search of nightshade, which her sickly brother Hugo desperately needs to survive a bout of tremors, and their path out of the city takes them straight through the butcher's dumping grounds. It doesn't get any easier for the duo after that, but this is A Plague Tale, after all, and life in medieval France is grueling as hell.
A Plague Tale: Requiem is as brutal and intense as you'd hope, and my brief hands-on time has convinced me to go back and play the original. As soon as I put the controller down, I wanted more blood, guts, and rats – and that's the first time I've ever wanted more of any of those things.
Burden of Blood
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The demo picks up at the start of what looks like chapter three, entitled 'Burden of Blood'. An alchemist is treating Hugo de Rune's blood disease, but he's been having horrible seizures during the treatment (that's medieval doctors for ya, innit). Amicia's mother sends her and Lucas, an alchemist's apprentice, to venture past the city walls to gather nightshade for Hugo. As Amicia and Lucas walk out of the de Lune home and into the pouring rain, I pause for a solid minute even though the game has given me full control of our protagonist. Rain is pouring off of eaves and gathering in between cobblestones, and combined with the persistent ruffle of the scarf draped over Amicia's neck, I'm temporarily transfixed. This game looks very good – which only makes the disgusting parts all the more impactful.
Those disgusting parts come very quickly, as the duo learns that French soldiers are preventing people from entering certain districts – forcing them to cut through an alley behind the butcher shop. After walking through a street lined with arterial animal blood and dangling carcasses, you'd think it couldn't get much worse. But when the two slide down a wet embankment and straight into a giant pool of blood, guts, and excrement, I audibly gag along with Lucas. One of the Focus Entertainment devs leans over, eyebrows raised in preparation for a question, but I wave them off, swallowing what feels suspiciously like vomit.
Thankfully, there's nothing quite as gross as that during the rest of my gameplay – but the intensity and brutality consistently increase from there. It's not long before the dreaded rats show up, and a quick tutorial on how to craft an ignifier shows me how to huck little fire bombs at piles of ash to scare the critters off. I also learn how to craft exstinguis, the saltpeter pot mixture that smothers fires and lets you sort of direct your own rat attack. As I sneak out of the city, I'm forced to reckon with my inability to do anything stealthily. A Plague Tale: Requiem can be punishing – I turn around after my sixth death by rat swarm in a row and say so to Clémence Bigeon, head of press relations at Focus Entertainment. She nods in agreement, before delivering an apt warning: "you have to be prepared."
Prepared for the plague
Preparing for a rat-borne plague and hostile French soldiers means crafting, upgrading your equipment on a workbench (which offers chances to improve your alchemy, increase your gear load, recycle items, and make your rock sling more stealthy), and solving puzzles while rats nip at your heels. There are countless times during my hands-on of A Plague Tale: Requiem where I think Amicia can make a two-foot walk between light sources, only to end up restarting at the last checkpoint after hearing her horrible screams. A final bit at the edge of the city wall requires patience and planning, as several soldiers patrol the area and thousands of rats scamper about the edges of light sources.
It's here where I see just how satisfying A Plague Tale: Requiem is when you successfully utilize all the mechanics at hand. I stealthily smother a soldier's torch with an exstinguis rock shot from my sling, then make my way to another safe area with the waning light of a branch I lit from a fire pit. A soldier sees me, but I use the sole knife I found a while back to quickly stab him before hopping a wall and ducking under a table in a well-lit area. One soldier is aggressively questioning a citizen and I grow increasingly angry with his abuse, so I stand up and shoot out the soldier's torch. The rats swarm him and the citizen, and I curse a bit too loudly in response. But, I've made it to the city wall, and am ready for a brief respite from the rat sea. I light a torch and walk as quickly as possible to the door, Lucas' hand on my back to stay within the halo of light. But as soon as I go to interact with it, my torch goes out, and we're swarmed.
My time limit ends here, as I'm called to see another game at the Tribeca Games Showcase (opens in new tab), but A Plague Tale: Requiem lingers with me long after. I side-eye rats on my walk back to the subway and replay how I traversed that final area while sitting on the train. Having never played the original, I immediately download it when I get home, determined to beat it before the sequel releases. My time with A Plague Tale: Requiem was gruesome, gorgeous, and gut-wrenching, and I can't wait to see what else it has in store. A Plague Tale: Requiem is due out sometime this year for Xbox Series X, PS5, PC, and Nintendo Switch.
See what other games to excited about in our new games for 2022 list.