Rats get a bad rep across the board, whether it’s in films, books and of course video games. We don’t get cute critters scurrying along and eating cheese but instead we get Professor Ratigan in Sherlock Holmes: The Great Mouse Detective, flesh eating rats with their creepy theme tune in Dishonored and of course, Risso from the muppets. So now developer Asobo have decided to throw their hat into the rat ring (ring of rats, ewww) and give us a tale of plague, love and rats gnawing anything tasty.
A Plague Tale: Innocence is so much more than a story featuring killer rats, in fact it’s a rather compelling tale of loss, revenge and survival amidst overwhelming odds. Set in Medieval France, you play as a young woman named Amicia. She’s been thrown into the deep end as plague ravages the land and anyone who coughs is burned alive at the stake. With these troubles, Amicia must also protect and escort her younger brother while being hunted by religious fanatics.
I can’t spoil any major plot points but I will say that Amicia is not having the best day when the game starts and things only get worse as things progress. The writers and developers have done a great job at creating likable leading characters who will leave an impression on you. Amicia is charming and her younger brother is a nice kid who’s trying to grasp the situation at hand. The world is a mixture of beauty and raw brutality as you’ll observe what Amicia’s life once was and what it soon becomes. 90% of those you encounter will be figuratively or literally eating each other alive and it’s pretty heart-breaking to see such young protagonists having to deal with that.
I guess you can say it resembles a lot of what The Last of Us did many years ago, but Asobo have manged to create distinct and fresh faced characters who are learning, unprepared but determined to survive against the overwhelming troubles.
Gameplay is a mixture stealth, action and puzzle solving with plenty of dynamic elements to ensure a memorial experience. Amicia is responsible for guarding and escorting her younger brother through all manner of hellish environments and each presents a different form of challenge. What I managed to play provided a blend of stealth sections, frantic set pieces and massive environmental puzzles that featured those pesky hordes of flesh eating rats.
The first few stages of A Plague Tale: Innocence brought Amicia right into dangerous territory as a local village has been hit by the Black Death and any survivors were on edge. Of course it wouldn’t be medieval times without a good stake burning and angry mobs looking for out of towners to burn. Of course this leads to some frantic chase sequences and sections which called for evading the enemy.
The stealth mechanics are basic but varied; allowing players to engage in each situation easily and never is without an advantage. It’s great to see another game make use of sound, cover and distraction so effectively and be able to give visual feedback to the player which is clear. The amount of games in recent years that complicate the formula has been overwhelming, but Asobo have decided to keep it simple. Hopefully there will be an introduction of more gear and tactics later in the finished game, as I can see these stealth sections becoming a little repetitive.
However the major highlight for A Plague Tale is of course from the rat themed gameplay and oh wow, it’s pretty amazing! The rat swarm physics, the layout of various puzzles and the immense tension that builds as you’re trying to evade having your flesh torn off by hundreds of rats is terrifying. The first timer I encountered them will be one of the moments in gaming I’ll never forget and the next hours of gameplay haunted me further. As Amicia and her brother venture through what was once a safe haven, they discover the root of the plague problem, with thousands of rats. All of whom are very hungry.
In order to progress and avoid being eaten, players will use light sources to protect themselves such as torches, sticks on fire and anything which eradicates darkness. The rats in A Plague Tale feel like a supernatural force rather than something more grounded. I do like this approach as it creates a desperate struggle between the player and the environment. Light is limited and there’s a number of puzzles which require different methods of traversing the area. Some of these include following a swinging light and avoiding swarms of furry killing machines, letting Amicia’s younger brother light a path for her and sticking to it or more complex set ups such as bringing revealing various items you can ignite.
The rats also come into play with the stealth gameplay as well. Amicia can use her slingshot to distract but also to break various items such as chains holding a burnt out chandelier or the torch being used by an enemy to escape the hordes of rats. I love the dynamic elements grouping together to form enthralling and tension filled segments. I believe if the developers can craft such a well-paced journey with a variation of puzzles, action set pieces and dynamics intertwining, then I think Asobo have a winning game on their hands.
Overall A Plague Tale appears to be shaping up into one of the strongest adventure games within the last couple years. It’s influenced by such great games such as The Last of Us but infuses new and terrifying elements into the classic formula, to make something that feels fresh and highly engaging. While the stealth sections feel a little simplified, they are still more advanced than most games on the market. It gives enough to get by and it appears there’s much more to discover. There are are crafting mechanics which allows the player to make useful items to distract and evade either humans or the swarms of rats.
Speaking of which, these are the major highlight for A Plague Tale: Innocence. They’re an imposing force to reckon with, intimidating, creepy and thrilling to battle against. Using wits and cunning to escape these furry b*****s was the most fun I had this year. Imagine Dishonored by times it by a thousand. I love to see where the developer go with the swarm mechanics and hopefully introduce more complex puzzles, bigger encounters and events involving the rats and human enemies.
A Plague Tale is definitely worth checking out and you won’t have to wait long as it comes out May 14th.
A Preview copy of A Plague Tale: Innocence was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this preview.