A Plague Tale: Innocence—A Game With Rats, Innit

A Plague Tale: Innocence
If they were hamsters instead of rats, this wouldn’t be a scary game.

From French developer Asobo Studio in Bordeux, here’s a stealth horror game that starts off slow. But builds up into an effective and gruesome experience.

A Plague Tale: Innocence

Set in 1348, you take control of Amicia de Rune—she’s from a wealthy family with noble descent. However, times are dark.

It’s the Hundred Years’ War and the bloody English are invading. The Inquisition is in action and Amicia sees her father and mother murdered.

She escapes the family home in rural Aquitaine with her brother Hugo, who has an unclear medical condition.

However, heading further into the world it’s obvious the plague is setting in across France. But these rats spread the Bite.

They’re voracious and swarming in their onslaught—consuming everything before them in a wave of horror (although, thankfully, they’re afraid of naked flames).

So, it’s up to Amicia to guide her brother to safety with the help of her trusty slingshot, lots of fire, and her wits.

A Plague On Your Gameplay!

Right, so this is an action-adventure game, but with stealth, horror, and gore. It’s a linear experience, so not an open world type shindig.

Not that it’s a bad thing (most of the time). But you really can’t go off exploring—you’re very much embedded in the story and seeing the narrative develop.

There are three main types of gameplay:

  1. Fending off the gross swarm of rats with fire.
  2. Avoiding guards through stealth.
  3. Solving bizarrely simple puzzles.

You shift between these pretty quickly from one area to the next, all the while guiding little Hugo to safety.

So, yes, the game is essentially a giant escort mission—moving a character from point A to point B.

Anyone who’s played certain bits of Resident Evil 4 (along with other titles) will know how disastrously annoying this can be. But for A Plague Tale: Innocence it *grits teeth* largely works well.

In fact, some sections of the game are rather reminiscent of Resident Evil. Solving puzzles and all that—in unnecessarily plodding fashion.

But it’s mainly all about stealth action, interspersed with action-adventure stuff. Alchemy skills Amicia learns help to shift strategic focus around these bits.

However, some of the stealth sections are a bit stupid. Especially at the start of the game, but that carries through into other areas, too.

You distract blockheaded guards by throwing rocks at nearby metal objects (such as kitchen implements, which just happen to coincidentally be hanging everywhere in Aquitaine).

Even though anyone with an IQ above 12 could see there’s nothing around the pans, the guards just have to investigate anyway. And stand there for a good 30 seconds staring at pans going, “Duuuuh, I could have sworn I heard something!”

Hey ho, this is video game world. And it functions as a way to ramp up tension to move from one area to the next.

Far more effective—and, frankly, moving—are Amicia and Hugo’s desperate battles to escape certain situations and survive.

They have a close bond and you do see their relationship developing across the various hardships they encounter. Such as dramatic moments like this!

A particularly shocking moment includes a romp through a plague-stricken French town, with crosses marking the doors of those infected.

Aesthetically, A Plague Tale: Innocence is stunning. With its rural scenes and use of shadows with the abundance of fire, it’s an incredible game to look at.

The narrative development is well handled, with believable dialogue. And the voice acting is also well done.

It’s all rather haunting (as cliched as it is to write that). The moving story of a brother and sister battling it out for survival in harrowing fashion.

Amicia faces various disturbing decisions she has to make, with the focus on personal survival over others. So she has to make selfish choices to save the life of her brother.

There’s a strong, mournful soundtrack to go with all of this from Olivier Deriviere.

The music and sound effects are an important part of the experience, digging in at key moments to ramp up all the emotive feelings you need.

It has moments where it nods towards Ravenous’ soundtrack (Antonia Bird’s 1999 horror film), in our opinion at least.

Although, essentially, we believe you’d refer to this sort of stuff as chamber music.

It complements the atmosphere well and provides a suitable Middle Ages type of vibe, wouldn’t you say?

You’re the Plague That I Want

It’s surprisingly short for an AAA title—about eight hours for a playthrough. Although we found that rather refreshing.

But it does, in its second half, lose its way a little. The reliance on Resident Evil style puzzles isn’t always ideal.

Some of them drag on for an absurd amount of time, even though they’re incredibly simple concepts. It’s a bit of a baffling inclusion.

Numerous of these involve shifting large boxes around so you can climb onto something, pull a lever, and then shift another box somewhere else.

And we feel many of the stealth elements are just stupid. It’s not realistic—crouching in tall grass (conveniently all over the place in Middle Ages France) doesn’t make you invisible.

The amount of times a guard briefly spotted us and went into dumbass mode, “What’s that!? I could have sworn my eyes, which I normally use for seeing things, spotted something!”

He shuffles over to investigate, staring long and hard at the long grass, before announcing, “No. No, I clearly DID NOT see anything at all. Okay, I am now returning to my duties that I normally do, because I always announce things like this for no reason!”

The peculiar innocence of these inclusions is offset by a smart script and character development for Amicia. It’s a coming of age tale for her, essentially.

So, A Plague Tale: Innocence. What of it? We recommend it as a major release trying something interesting.

It’s creepy, gory, smart, dumb, and involving. We were pleasantly surprised by it, although its major strength is in the protagonists’ battle to fend off swarms of rats.

You use fire and different alchemy potions for that. There’s something rather satisfying about lighting a torch at the final moment to fend off a hungry horde of plague-ridden rats.

The way Asobo Studio structures the title suggests it plans on sequels. A Plague Tale: Innocent Smoothies, perhaps?

If so, they have a great opportunity to build on the foundations of a strong first game to make something even more riveting next time out. Should they choose to (there’s a rumour a sequel is on the way).

Until then, here we have a beautiful looking title with a stirring soundtrack, emotional narrative, strong central female character, and (at least for its first half) an engaging and innovative concept.

Dispense with some gibberish!

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