Focus Home Entertainment / Asobo Studios (studio)
14 May 2019 (released)
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.
What we get throughout is a dark and twisted coming of age story, where Amicia, her brother Hugo and a few other young people band together in order to survive. Now this was the most compelling aspect of the story and seeing each of these young characters interact and develop actually drew more than I realised. Each member of the young cast gets enough time to develop and shine through, making a genuine connection. Hugo was a little annoying and at times just did things to escalate the tension of the story for no reason. But this never made me hate him or turn me away from the sweeter, more humane moments featuring him and other characters.
I was also impressed with how dark the game got as well. Tackling how childhood innocence was being ruined by savage acts of violence and how pushing the children to the brink would affect them overall. There’s some subtle choices throughout the game were very clever and linked well with the overall theme.
The story overall develops nicely throughout until the third act where it all falls under the WTF category. Now I don’t mind if a game, film or book wants to push the envelope and some of my favourite games have done that. Gears of War 2 brought us a mutant Brumak which came out of nowhere but still fitted the theme and tone of the game. A Plague Tale: Innocence is pretty grounded (or at least feels that way) for a large portion of the game and then the last few chapters just go bizarrely over the top and just becomes laughable.
The last boss just resulted in my patience being completely drained as it was tedious, annoying and above all, just hilariously stupid.
A Plague Tale could’ve remained grounded but instead just went completely surreal for its story and it doesn’t work plain and simple. There’s a conflict on what A Plague Tale wants to be, a ground and dark journey about childhood innocence being lost of an over the top fantasy adventure featuring supernatural rats doing battle.
However the presentation is amazing as we get a rather beautiful looking game and is accompanied by a great soundtrack and voice cast.
Gameplay fairs much better and A Plague Tale: Innocence has a great blend of action, stealth and immense lateral elements. The game starts slowly with some humdrum stealth sections but soon becomes vastly more engaging with new equipment being unlocked and the introduction of the rats. Amicia can use her slingshot to distract guards, destroy the protective gear heavy enemies (making it easier to kill them), ignite sources of fire to open paths (for avoidance of the rats) and other key elements which come into play later in the game.
Amicia will have to guide her brother throughout most of the game but for certain levels, she will be alone or with one of the other young people trying to survive. I actually found the times Amicia was by herself to the most entertaining as more gameplay became interlinked with one another and level design/structures became more complex and interesting.
Chapter 9 is a standout and show cases a perfect blend of both stealth and rat gameplay. This was a level where Hugo and among a few others, were the best. The escort format doesn’t outstay its welcome and the developers have managed to include a few interesting set pieces with Hugo in the grander scheme of things. A Plague Tale does overall blend many different elements, gameplay styles and level structures to make a varied and compelling campaign which offers something different with each chapter.
The rats are the star of this game and the physics are immense! Seeing thousands of them scurry about wanting human flesh was awesome. The player is able to use light to fend them off and the reaction from the rats to the lighting is incredible. A Plague Tale masterfully uses dynamic lighting in order to create such compelling gameplay. This concept is fleshed out throughout the campaign with different set pieces and mechanics being intertwined into the level design, creating some fantastic segments of pure dread, tension and exhilaration.
A Plague Tale manages to incorporate plenty of interesting gameplay ideas from its core mechanics, including the use of lighting with rats, using different gear to take out enemies during stealth segments and even throws in a grander set piece here and there. I will admit that in the third act of the game there is a stealth heavy level which went on a little too long and offered nothing new in terms of mechanics. Plus the last level is a mash up of action and stealth elements which feels clumsily put together considering that the action focus segments feel tedious and overly difficult considering your gear is more effective for stealth based evasion.
Aside from these problems, A Plague Tale is an immense and captivating journey from start to finish. The third act does loose the plot and the tone can be all over the place by the end, yet it’s still a great experience. A Plague Tale: Innocence shines through the darkness with its immense dynamic lighting, Rat swarm gameplay, masterful level design and engrossing story that dives deep into childhood trauma and just how awful thousands of rats can be for your health. Definitely worth picking up as soon as you can.
++ Rat swarms are amazing
+ Intense and engrossing gameplay
+ Interesting story
- Third act loses focus and grounded tone
- Last few chapters are not as meaningful or enjoyable
An Xbox One copy of A Plague Tale: Innocence was provided by the publisher of this review.