As of late, games have stopped being just games, they’ve turned into epic sagas that require several weeks of intensive play to even scratch the surface of the endless pit of content we are supplied with. As a result, my pile of shame is getting alarmingly large and angry, glaring at me from the corner of my living room… and we won’t get started on my digital back catalogue.
A Plague Tale: Innocence is a breath of fresh air in the current gaming landscape, it’s a single player, linear, story-driven stealth game. In the days when Fortnite is quite literally everywhere, Plague Tale dares to buck the trend of battle royales and endless open worlds and say no, we don’t need a 50 hours campaign to tell an amazing story. At roughly a 10-12 hour playtime ( I was on the higher end of this as I found myself looking into every nook and cranny possible for fear of missing anything) Plague Tale is a game you can finish in a few sittings should you want to, I personally found myself unable to put down my controller, I was so immersed in the story I kept telling myself ‘just one more chapter’, until ultimately the credits started to roll, along with my tears.
Set in a hauntingly beautiful rendition of 14th Century France, we follow the story of siblings Amicia and Huge De Rune, orphaned and alone, they are thrown into a world previously only glimpsed from the battlements of their home estate. With The Inquisition hot on their tail, the duo must avoid capture while unravelling the secrets their parents died to keep safe; and if that wasn’t enough, there’s the small matter of the literal ocean of plague rats that like to pop up throughout the game just to keep you on your toes.
The is no traditional combat in A Plague Tale: Innocence, instead you have a series of puzzles, normally in the shape of Inquisition soldiers or plague rats, that you have to navigate with either your sling-shot, fire or a little bit of both. As you advance through the story, you acquire various concoctions to use in your slingshot that has a plethora of devastating effects when used on your enemies. Sometimes you must knock out the soldiers to progress and others you need to distract while you quietly slip past; stealth plays a heavy part in the gameplay and tension is ever present as you’re sneaking around the world, everything in you is telling you to hit R2 and run, but you know that if you do you’ll alert a nearby guard and end up dead, so instead you stay crouched, your heart in your mouth, as you inch towards the safety of cover. The second you make it to cover you uncoil and take a breath you didn’t even realise you were holding as you size up the next obstacle. There are very few quiet moments when you’re not trying to run, or hide, or knock somebody out, but when the quiet moments do happen, they’re normally intensely emotional and completely unforgettable.
Littered throughout the beautifully crafted world of A Plague Tale: Innocence, Asobo have left collectables for you to find, each one with its own flavour text granting you a little more insight into the world and people that inhabit it. Not only are there collectables to find, but there’s also crafting reagents strewn all over the place – anybody would think there was a mass evacuation going on or something – meaning you can pick up an assortment of items and use them to craft improvements for Amicia’s gear set making your journey just a little bit easier.
For a game that almost entirely consists of animal carcases, dead bodies and rats, Plague Tale has a haunting beauty to it (not that rats though, they’re just gross, and utterly disgusting when you see them swarm). Light is one of the best weapons you have access to in game, and it’s used as a narrative device to striking effect too, the beginning of the game is beautifully vivid, autumnal colours light up the screen as Amicia hunts with her father. Before we even know anything is wrong, darkness bleeds into the games colour pallet, we become aware of the danger before it’s even shown to us, and throughout the game, light acts as a -quite literal -beacon of hope, a defence against the coming darkness.
A Plague Tale: Innocence is a harrowing story of loss and determination in the face of complete and utter desolation. It’s a story of survival against insurmountable odds; Amicia is not a battle hardened warrior, she isn’t proficient in swordplay, and she isn’t ‘the chosen one’, she’s just a scared girl with a slingshot and a brother who she will do absolutely anything she can to protect – even if it includes lots and lots of rats.
*Code kindly provided by the publisher for review*