When A Plague Tale: Innocence was first introduced by Asobo Studio a French independent developer I was fixated on the horde of rats on my screen. It looked terrifying, gruesome and an experience I knew I would be sharing one day in a review. What I didn’t know was the journey this game would take me on and the emotions it would pull to the surface.
The game begins with Amicia and her father having a lovely stroll into the woods. There you learn a bit about the controls but also the bond she has with her father. As you shoot rocks with your sling at apples because your father wants to know just how skilled you are, the importance of this moment looms over you. Every little movement feels so important in the beginning. Amicia is then tasked with obtaining their feast for the night and she quickly gives chase with her dog lion (Ala Kratos with his son). It isn’t long before tragic events happen and she must return home with her father. This is when things spiral downward for the family as the Inquisition arrive and commences to kill everyone. I didn’t realize how brutal it would be and I admit I felt the weight of every death presented.
After Amicia locates her brother Hugo you find out right away they don’t really spend much time together. That is clearly about to change. The two sneak their way through the castle all while watching the people they care about get brutally murdered in front of them. Amicia and Hugo eventually escape the castle after running into their mother but are separated from her in the courtyard. All of this happens in the very beginning of the game and sets you up with a wonderful yet tragic story.
Amicia and Hugo are now in a race for survival. Not only must they deal with the Inquisition chasing them but they also have to find ways to escape the hordes of rats. One of the best parts of the game is that the two are basically joined at the hip. Amicia is constantly holding Hugo’s hand. She can give him instructions to stay or even help her with tasks but for the most part she needs him by her side otherwise he will get scared and alert the Inquisition. This isn’t always the easiest of tasks as the brother and sister duo don’t really know each other all that well. She loves Hugo and that is apparent early on but Amicia doesn’t quite understand him or why he is so important. She struggles with this truth for most of the game and it is truly presented very well.
The two have to learn to work together though because they will be doing a ton of sneaking around through hostile situations. Whether it be the rats or the Inquisition, it doesn’t matter, one wrong misstep and both will perish. The rats are way more aggressive in these situations. Light will keep them at bay for the most part but get to close and you will become food for the rats. This works so well in the game and the rats swarming together is not only a skin crawling sensation but quite the spectacle to witness.
Have no fear though as Amicia is smart and learns quickly how to bypass the rats. She is equipped with her sling that can knock down dead bodies hanging from rafters for rat consumption. Amicia can also use items to light torches from alchemy that she has learned from companions throughout their journey. Gathering items from the surroundings will allow her to craft such items from what is essentially a weapon wheel or she can craft them from the menu. Of course her crafting abilities do not end there as she can also upgrade items such as her sling or pouch. Amicia can also find items such as Hugo’s Herbarium, Gifts and Curiosities but I admit finding them isn’t all that easy.
Maneuvering the rats out of her way isn’t always as simple as picking up a torch and shooing them away. There will be times where Amicia must use more drastic measures such as pushing a burning cart down a hill, knocking a torch out of someone’s hand and feeding them to the rats, (This game isn’t for those with weak stomachs) or solving an elaborate puzzle of fire braziers to herd the rats towards a desired location. Incredibly with the mounds of rats on your screen at once this all works so damn good and you won’t mind doing this more than once.
Enough about the rats though because I want to touch on them a little more later on. The Inquisition might not pose the ferociousness of the rats but don’t let that fool you. Making your way through a crowded area of them isn’t the easiest of tasks. One wrong move and Amicia will have a spear splatter blood everywhere as it pierces her chest. Combating this foe is a more strategic affair as you can’t just use brute force to hack your way through them. Alert one member of the Inquisition and you might as well alert them all. For the most part this is spot on because if they can see you in any way then you don’t stand much of a chance. Amicia and Hugo can run and hide and sometimes lose them as some of them seem daft in certain situations. This doesn’t work often however due to the fact that more will likely be looking for them.
What Amicia needs to do is find a way to dispatch of them one by one discreetly and with assassin like precision. Early on it’s not all that difficult. Knock a light out of their hand or bash them in the face with a rock from her sling and you are good to go. However later on when the groups become larger Amicia will need to use everything in her arsenal. She can take out a straggler with a rock, sneak up on one and put him to sleep or for the highly skilled, sneak by them altogether. There will be points in the game where they get tougher and you must use different techniques but I’ll let you figure that out on your own. While I loved every part of sneaking or strategizing against the Inquisition the best part was the emotional struggle it put on Amicia. She wanted no part of this, she didn’t ask for them to be hunting her and Hugo. Having to take someone’s life wasn’t something she ever dreamed about doing and therefore having to make those decisions weighs on her. Whoever decided to make this one of her traits kudos to them because it was a brilliant move.
The other aspect of the gameplay is her interaction with not only Hugo but the friends they make during their journey. The sense of family and wanting to rebuild a life in a diseased world is present when you are around them. Of course they are there to help her in situations but they really do become a part of the family (That is what family is for, right?). Amicia and Hugo become attached to them and their concern for one another only grows as the game goes on. While they do help Amicia progress her skills, the real impact (In my opinion) is to the story of the game. It’s fun to give them commands to crank a handle or bust down a door but the gift of them being there feels far more important.
You would think that all this going on at one time would perhaps be a complete mess with the addition of piles of rats running around but it doesn’t. It works and it works well. I admit I was worried there would be some game breaking bugs with so much happening at once but somehow those damn rats seem to follow the rules. The weapon wheel unfortunately is another story. While for the most part it worked just fine I didn’t find it as easy to use as say in Far cry 5. Switching between items didn’t feel as smooth as it should and perhaps this is something that might get looked at after release. It’s not a disaster but it’s not great either. For now just make sure you know what you need crafted and that the right item you want is equipped because during a fight it doesn’t work so great.
If the hordes of rats can’t draw you in and the intrigue of the Inquisition doesn’t entice you then maybe the look and feel of the game will. I knew this game was going to look fantastic already but the detail is something else. This is the time of the plague so seeing a rotting corpse is fairly normal. Seeing a half-eaten corpse or bodies hanging from places though was shocking. The detail is gruesome but sets the tone of the game. You can see great detail in stone walls, dirt tracks, trees, snowflakes falling, character models and everything in-between but when the game really hits you is seeing piles of death. A Plague Tale is about a tragic period in time and this isn’t just represented well throughout the game, no, it’s done almost to perfection. You feel the dirtiness, you can almost smell the stench. Just like many other things you feel in this game such as the emotional ties between characters, the bonds they make or the pain they endure, what you no doubt will feel is the death. It will hit you like a ton of bricks and you will ache for the characters in this story.
I wanted to touch on the rats more because not only are they difficult to deal with but they are a very important part of the game. The mounds of rats give you the sense of something alive, breathing, stalking you and ultimately bringing you death (I know rats are a living and breathing animal). It’s not about the rats individually but more the mass of them and the way they swarm when there is no light. It might sound morbid but it was incredible to see how the developers created this response to not only the light but when certain situations presented itself and their reaction. Watching a body be engulfed that way was not only terrifying but left me in awe as well. Turning down an alley only to see well…rats! Those are some holy bleep moments in the game. “How do I get out of this situation?” “They are going to catch me!” “No they are eating poor Hugo!” All things I shouted at my screen because of those damn rats. If the family element of the game is number one of things I loved about the game, the rats are pulling up in a close second. Those glowing eyes and that sound will haunt me for a long time and I am thankful for every minute of it.
A Plague Tale: Innocence is a dark and tragic game about family, loss, and ultimately acceptance. It is a tale of survival but not only for Amicia and Hugo but for everyone. The emotional bond between the brother and sister led me to moments to ponder about my siblings. It stirred up things I hadn’t thought about in years. As you are surrounded by death throughout the game it’s important to remember that life is worth fighting for. It got deep, it got deep on so many level. Perhaps it was me and the connection I have with my siblings that led me to feel that way about the game.
I didn’t even touch on how smooth the game played or how easily they made it to pick up items. No, I sure didn’t because all that will speak for itself. For some reason I wanted to write this from a more personal perspective. How it made me feel. What I thought about the connections in the game. For me personally it is difficult to break that bond between family and you see this in the game. Amicia, Hugo and their companions all form this tight bond that eventually leads them to care for each other. It was a beautiful thing to see inside such a grotesque setting.
With amazing cut scenes, frantic chases, hordes of rats around every corner, stellar voice acting, an unforgettable soundtrack and the Inquisition posing as one of the greatest evils of all time, it’s difficult not to fall in love with the game. The heart of the title is embedded within the characters that actually give a damn about each other and it’s one of the best displays of becoming a family that I’ve ever experienced in gaming.
A review copy of the game was provided for the PlayStation 4.