A Plague Tale: Requiem – Cloud Version Review (Switch eShop)
Note: This Cloud Version of A Plague Tale: Requiem was tested on 450Mb AT&T Broadband over WIFI, with the router directly adjacent to the Switch dock.
On paper, it sounds like offering a ‘cloud version’ of a game is a good idea. The Switch’s hardware was relatively underpowered when it was new, so getting more graphically intensive releases like A Plague Tale: Requiem to run on it in an acceptable state only becomes more difficult with each passing year. Cloud streaming could get around this, but it only makes sense if the cloud tech and the machines actually running the game server-side are up to the task. Unfortunately, this otherwise excellent game is marred on Switch by technical issues, making it a tough one to recommend.
A Plague Tale: Requiem picks up right where the last game left off, centering around the grim journey of two children named Hugo and Amicia de Rune as they desperately search for a cure for Hugo’s condition. See, Hugo bears a sentient curse called the Prima Macula that’s been passed down through the generations of their family and as it gradually grows stronger in him, the world around the de Runes continues to fall apart wherever they go. Among other things, Hugo’s curse allows him to control swarming hordes of rats, but these ravenous rodents are riddled with a contagious plague called the Bite that utterly devastates any communities they visit and is slowly spreading unchecked across France. Hugo’s recurring dreams of a distant island that could cure his condition provides them with a vague hope that they may be able to avert the catastrophe he brings, but the cost of finding the cure is great and time is increasingly running out as the bodies keep stacking up.
A Plague Tale: Requiem is the kind of game that’s just bleak. The few moments of levity—such as an early heartwarming sequence where Amicia takes an excited Hugo to a town festival—only exist to provide further contrast for when things take a dark turn, while the narrative just continues to get heavier as our protagonists are exposed to worsening physical and mental torture. Despite the depressing outcomes, the heart of this story is Amicia and Hugo’s deeply loving relationship, which is as pure as it is gut-wrenching. Hugo is a wholesome and innocent boy who finds wonder in the world where he can and Amicia is a dutiful and protective sister who simply wants to find a safe place for them. Yet the trouble brought by Hugo’s curse pushes them both, especially Amicia, to their limits as they have to stay ahead of the plague, the curse, and various other people and organizations who wish to either kill Hugo or use him to further their own ends.
The 15 or so hours it takes to see this story through to completion absolutely breezes by, as you’re dragged along a perfectly-paced emotional rollercoaster that feels like it ends exactly where it should. Video game stories rarely hit the kind of heights that are constantly on display here and we admire the clear effort that went into crafting a story that manages to subvert expectations without coming off as cheap or undercooked. Also, although this is a direct continuation of A Plague Tale: Innocence, we would even say that A Plague Tale: Requiem tells enough of a self-contained narrative that newcomers could jump in here without feeling too lost. The context of the prequel certainly is helpful here, but it isn’t absolutely necessary to meaningfully connect with these characters and their plight.
For its gameplay, A Plague Tale: Requiem follows the format of a stealth action game with some light puzzle elements. A typical level usually consists of a series of combat and puzzle encounters that are overcome in linear fashion. For the combat portions, you’re usually given a relatively large area full of enemy soldiers and your goal is to simply get past them. You can use tall grass and walls to conceal your location from your foes and toss rocks at noisy things in the environment to distract or mislead them while you sneak away unseen. Or you can go more aggressive and kill soldiers with tools like your sling or some limited-use knives. We found that it was much easier to go unnoticed if there isn’t anyone left alive to do the noticing.
Whether you go stealthy or confrontational, we appreciated that A Plague Tale: Requiem feels like it adequately caters to both styles. We rarely felt like the encounters were clearly pushing you to play a certain way, and things get far more interesting as you progress and gradually start to unlock more tools to give Amicia a greater edge. For example, you eventually gain an extinguishing agent that you can combine with throwables to put out fires. Throw it at an enemy’s torch and watch as a sea of rats quickly engulfs him and eats him alive. It doesn’t take long for you to have numerous tools at your disposal, and though you never quite feel overpowered, we appreciated how much diversity this added to encounters.
Your performance in enemy encounters is directly tied with a light skill progression system, too, which automatically advances based on how you play. Play aggressively, and you’ll slowly fill the skill tree that’ll unlock new abilities for Amicia like being able to directly push enemies into fire or rats. If you’re more prone to using consumable tools and resources to achieve your ends, you’ll fill a tree that offers boons like the ability to carry more resources. In practice, it doesn’t feel that different from a more traditional system where you’d manually distribute skill points, but we nonetheless appreciated this slightly opaque take on character building. Sometimes we were surprised at which tree filled up after an encounter, though we were never displeased given that all of the bonuses offered are well worth pursuing.
When you’re not wrapped up in enemy encounters, you’ll often be contending with the rats in much more puzzle-focused sequences. Here, the objective is simply to get across a given room or field without touching the rats, which cover virtually every inch of ground that isn’t touched by light. Step a single toe outside the light, and Amicia will almost immediately be overwhelmed by the creatures. Creating pathways by doing things like lighting torches and dropping meat to distract the rodents is how you make it through, and we enjoyed the process of analyzing each scenario and finding the right way forward. These sections are rarely too difficult to figure out, but the solutions are occasionally surprising and you usually finish feeling like you only narrowly escaped.
As for its presentation, A Plague Tale: Requiem goes with a rather drab art style that nonetheless fits the tone and theme of the world well. Whether you’re sneaking through the darkness of a forest or wading through shocking pools of partially liquified corpses, there’s not a whole lot of color to add. The much more interesting areas are those overrun by rats, which behave almost like a liquid and are impressively animated.
We feel special mention also needs to be made about the excellent voice acting on display, especially from Charlotte McBurney and Logan Hannan, who voice Amicia and Hugo respectively. There’s a lot of raw emotion in this script, and the voice actors consistently do a great job of selling their lines and creating dynamic scenes. Though it does feel like sometimes things are a bit too overwritten—why are these characters having a conversation while sneaking through an enemy camp?—we were thoroughly impressed by the voice work and would highly encourage listening to this one with earphones to get that extra immersion factor.
All of this so far is excellent and we genuinely wish that we could close out the review right here, but the unfortunate truth is that there’s more to talk about with this release and this is where things get decidedly less rosy. Simply put, A Plague Tale: Requiem is a fantastic game that you absolutely should investigate, but the Cloud Version is beyond any doubt the worst possible way to play it. Technical issues and hiccups abound here — although not the typical stream-related problems you might expect — making for an experience that’s wildly inconsistent and completely at odds with one’s enjoyment of an otherwise great game.
For example, upon booting up the game for the first time, it took about ten minutes to get past a loading screen that preceded the first chapter. This wasn’t due to an internet issue, as we have a more than adequate connection and played a few other Switch online games just beforehand without any problems whatsoever. It wasn’t entirely clear if we were in a queue for a server or not, and to be fair, we never hit another loading screen that was that bad, but there were a few others that took around five minutes to load. Ubitus is the company behind this cloud version (as well as Resident Evil Village), but it seems to us something of a dice roll whether this particular game works well or not, and this has nothing to do with how good the internet connection is client-side.
Loading isn’t the only issue, though. We also encountered numerous instances of egregious pop-in—as in, the entire building a cutscene took place in loaded in piece-by-piece throughout the whole cutscene. Sometimes we’d be spying on an enemy and planning our next move during a combat encounter, only for a wall to suddenly appear that completely threw off what we wanted to do. There were also a few instances where a glitch would happen that completely prevented progress. There are often points in gameplay where a simple button prompt is needed to open a door or boost a friend over a wall, but sometimes the button prompt wouldn’t show up and nothing shy of a soft reset would fix it.
These aren’t problems we would typically associate with streaming tech (connection-related issues, for example, such as screen tearing or jittering frame rates, or input lag). In fact, we found control latency to be acceptable here given the ubiquitous cloud caveat that the game isn’t running on your console but on some distant machine, which makes the problems that are present here all the more egregious.
The point is, the technical issues come thick and fast here; we could hardly go longer than 20 minutes without something glitching out or taking forever to load, and there was one instance where we got kicked completely and had to reconnect. These issues lead to a simply unacceptable gaming experience, especially given that this is being sold for full retail price. We’ve played cloud versions of games — such as Control and The Forgotten City — that we’ve found more than acceptable from a technical perspective; unfortunately, this isn’t one of them. Sure, A Plague Tale: Requiem probably wouldn’t have ever come to Switch if not via the cloud, but this feels like a serious monkey’s paw alternative.