Some weeks, you can spin big universal events like political unrest or changing seasons into a pithy intro for a blog post. Other weeks, you’ve got no time for that and just have to say: here’s what we’ve been playing this week.
Tom – Lead Writer
A Plague Tale: Innocence
Playing on PS5
I’ve been going through a bit of open world fatigue lately. Maybe it’s because I recently spent some 60 hours beating Ghost of Tsushima and its Iki Island DLC. Since then, I’ve tried both Horizon Forbidden West and Watch Dogs 2 and bounced right off both of them. So I went in search of a short, linear game I could blast through, and remembered that I’d got A Plague Tale: Innocence through PS Plus a while back.
The ‘tale’ in question is one of Amicia and Hugo de Rune, children of French nobility in the 14th century. When French Inquisition troops storm their estate and kill their parents, Amicia and Hugo are forced to go on the run in search of a cure for Hugo’s mysterious illness.
A Plague Tale is primarily a stealth game; as a mere 15 year old, Amicia can’t go mano a mano with Inquisition soldiers. Instead, you have to sneak around them, using a sling, rocks, and various alchemic concoctions to distract or subtly brain them. This isn’t a game where you can improvise your way out of trouble; if you get spotted, you will almost certainly immediately die.
What A Plague Tale lacks in player creativity, though, it more than makes up for it with sheer mood and atmosphere. The game is absolutely gorgeous, with its dour colour palette never failing to instil sadness and dread. Thousands of rats scurry and crawl over each other, filling the screen. Oh yeah, the rats! The world of A Plague Tale is full of swarming, diseased rats that you’ll both need to avoid and use strategically to get ahead. It’s a great mechanic, and a super gross one, too.
A Plague Tale‘s scripted nature is just what I needed, but I’d be interested to see how a sequel might open things up. A little more freedom to choose your approach or to fight your way out of trouble would go a long way. Luckily, there’s one right around the corner! A Plague Tale: Requiem is coming out on 18 October. It’s going to be available on Game Pass on day one, and you can bet I’ll be there.
The Messenger: Picnic Panic
Playing on PS5 via backwards compatibility
I spoke last week about my love of The Messenger. It’s a retro throwback indie that’s available on all platforms but currently ‘free’ on PS Plus Extra. I beat the main game and immediately moved on to Picnic Panic, a free DLC chapter. The premise of the DLC – an excursion to a tropical island in an alternate dimension – suggested that this would be a chill, relaxing experience. However, Picnic Panic is anything but.
The platforming sequences in this DLC are some of the hardest I’ve ever encountered in my many years of gaming. There’s one such sequence that I must have attempted fifty times, coming closer to tearing my hair out each time. That was for an optional collectible, so that’s my own fault, really.
The three boss fights seemed way harder than the base game, too. Even once I’d figured out their attack patterns, my timing needs to be so precise that I questioned whether these fights were designed for a robot. Nevertheless, I persisted, and eventually made it to the end of the DLC.
The main campaign of The Messenger walks a delicate line between satisfying challenge and frustration. Unfortunately, Picnic Panic tips over that line more than once. Still, it expands on the story in a fun way, using the multiverse to play with the plot beats you already know from the main game.
If you’re willing to go through the torture of gathering all the collectibles, you’ll also receive a special item that adds an extra dimension to New Game+ runs of the game. But take it from me: that way lies madness.
Joe – Writer & Lead Editor
Red Dead Redemption 2
Playing on PS5 via backwards compatibility
This week, I’ve been donning my Stetson and staring at photorealistic horse bollocks. No, I’ve not gone mad, I’ve gone Read Dead Redemption 2.
In a quiet few weeks for new game releases, I thought it was about time that I tackle my gaming backlog. For some inexplicable reason, I only played a few hours of Red Dead Redemption 2 the first time around before bouncing off it, but this time it really has its hooks in me. Sure, it’s a bit of a slog pushing through the first hour or two, but when the world finally opens up to you, it’s breath-taking.
Last week, for example, I was obsessed with hunting down legendary animals and selling them to trappers camped up in the mountains. Yesterday, I spent a solid hour or so trying out different fishing bait down in the bayou. And today I’ve mainly been holding up stagecoaches and robbing homesteads. And that’s without even touching any of the main story missions.
Now it might be obvious why Red Dead 2 was released to much critical acclaim, but for me, it’s the way the in which the game makes deliberate, hand-crafted interactions feel completely natural and spontaneous. For example, strolling through the bustling streets of industrial town Saint Denis, I take a detour through a marketplace to browse their wares. In the distance, I can hear a commotion breaking out, so I head through the alleyway to the next street. As I round the corner, two armed men dart straight past me and through the market stalls, quickly followed by the local law men. I join in the chase and eventually shoot one criminal down and hog-tie the other, receiving a few dollars as reward from the local sheriff.
In lesser games, you’d have spotted this set-piece a mile off – the two gunmen running endlessly back and forth in a loop until a player comes along – but here, it feels like anything could happen. A remarkable game.