Review: A Plague Tale: Innocence – rats, so many rats (but no bugs)
Rats, rats everywhere and not a Rentokill in sight
With gaming going down the “multiplayer/battle royale” road recently, there’s been a dearth of quality single-player experiences. That ends right now, with Asobo Studio’s A Plague Tale: Innocence. It’s a triumph of linear storytelling, stuffed with puzzles, character development, interesting NPCs, and above all, the rats.
You take on the mantle of Amicia De Rune, the 15-year-old daughter of a French noble in the 14th century. Yes, that means the black plague is at its height, and that the landscape that you have to escort your 5-year-old brother, Hugo, to anyone who could help his affliction. See, Hugo has some exotic blood disease, that the Inquisition wants to get its hands on, and Amicia wants to cure so her brother can grow old.
Rats, rats everywhere…
Let’s just take a minute to talk about how great the rat swarms are. You’d think with that many moving characters, your PC would grind to a halt. I don’t quite know how they achieved this effect but it’s stunningly creepy. The glints of red eyes in the dark, the chittering, the way you have to navigate through lighted areas to move past the swarms. Fantastic.
It gets better though, as you can direct those rats using various tools or by adjusting the light levels to open up new areas, or to deal with your Inquisition enemies. It’s like Lemmings, but if the lemmings were black, devil-eyed rat monsters instead of stupid blue things.
Most of the puzzles in the game feature the rats in some way, whether it’s herding them into pits to get to previously inaccessible areas, creeping through the hordes with rapidly-burning sticks, or sacrificing others to sneak past while the rats are otherwise occupied.
Amicia De Rune and her 5-year-old adopted brother Hugo, might not be the typical protagonists but that just makes for fantastic character development as the story unfolds. They’ve both lead a sheltered life until this point, safe in the walls of the great house of their parents. Leaving the immediate area is already a huge step for them both, to say nothing about the untold horrors that lay in wait.
It’s a good thing that Amicia’s father taught her how to hunt, as her skills with a sling are vital to their success. That doesn’t mean she likes the violence though, with a visceral reaction to her first non-animal kill that cut me to the bone. All throughout the game as the story unfolds, there are little moments like that, showing how Amicia grows, but also how she mentors Hugo, adding to his 5-year-old’s knowledge of the world.
See, due to Hugo’s illness, he was mainly cared for by his mother, away from the rest of the household. The story is as much about the two siblings searching for answers in each other as it is about the overarching tale of needing to know why their parents were killed, why the Inquisition needs Hugo, and just where the rats came from.
Most of the characters they meet that help out are also children, orphaned by the rats or the plague they carry. It brings a powerful message of not trusting the adults, where the rats are actually easier to deal with as finding light or higher ground is enough to keep safe.
The game is essentially a giant escort mission, with Hugo holding onto your hand for most of the time. In that escort role, you’ll touch on lemmings-style puzzles, murderous Inquisition soldiers to hide from, sneak past, or remove; and swarms and swarms of ever-hungry rats, ready to devour anyone (and anything) that strays from the light.
It’s also got a well-done survival element, with the use of some of the alchemist’s tricks making it so you can’t upgrade your gear, and vice-versa. I upgraded my gear too early, as I always do in RPGs, and was left having to backtrack in search of ingredients to pass some puzzle sections.
So is it worth a play?
I haven’t enjoyed a single-player game this much since the emotional storytelling of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. Asobo Studios has created something near-magical with A Plague Tale: Innocence. It looks beautiful, it plays beautifully, and it’s full of horrific rats. What’s not to like?
The PlayStation 4 version of A Plague Tale: Innocence is $35 currently, Xbox version is $40. We played it on PC, which is $35 on Steam.
A copy of the game was provided for the purpose of this review. Learn more about how we score games here.
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