by Sean Martin
previewed on PC
In recent years we’ve seen a rise in the gaming genre of historical realism — games like Kingdom Come: Deliverance have shown us that players don’t only want fantasy or sci-fi RPG, but also want the meticulous detail and rendering of a historical setting. It would be easy to think that A Plague Tale: Innocence is historical realism. It has so many of the tell-tale signs — authenticity to a historical period, a plotline based around characters living through a significant historical event, and that same realistic high quality graphics that imply an approach towards accuracy. But A Plague Tale is far more deceptive than initially meets the eye.
You play as Amicia, a young French girl living during the black death. Amicia is the daughter of a noble however, and while she isn’t pampered or spoilt, she is sheltered from the harsher realities of the world — the war, famine, plague and fanaticism that have taken hold of the country. That world can’t kept at bay forever, and soon Amicia finds herself on the run with her little brother Hugo, whom she barely knows, since he was infected with the plague and sequestered away for most of his childhood. But Hugo also seems to be a miracle child, in the sense that the Plague hasn’t killed him. Amicia and Hugo must face the cruelty of the world, trying to unravel the mysteries behind Hugo and taking solace where they can.
MEDIEVAL LAST OF US
A Plague Tale has been referred as a medieval Last of Us, and it is certainly an easy comparison. Just as in Last of Us, you travel through a hostile world, solving puzzles to further advance while facing/avoiding adversaries. You also face a world infected — In Last of Us, it’s the Clickers, but in Plague Tale it’s the rats (just wait until I tell you about the rats). Even the central plotline I found the game hinting at, of Hugo being the miracle child not infected by the plague, exactly mirrors the Last of Us and Ellie’s immunity to the virus in their world. I do however think this comparison misses a key element. Last of Us is all about gritty realism, and while that is present in Plague Tale, it also has a very strong supernatural element. Coupled with that realism and violence, it feels folkloric, like a parable or a myth, which isn’t that strange when you remember the Pied Piper of Hamelin is set during the Black Death.
The rats especially, are almost a supernatural force of evil. When they attack, they pour out of every crack and crevice, filling the space, and lighting the dark with their red eyes. Even their nests look like something from the upside-down in Stranger Things — tangled, black masses of vegetation and bone.
DAVID AND GOLIATH
But play-wise, it is very similar to the Last of Us, the only significant difference being that Amicia uses a sling, with which she solves puzzles and fights. There’s also a crafting system to upgrade the sling, which feels a bit token at its current stage. Walking around the map and picking up crafting resources didn’t really do anything except take me away from the story. Also unless they add other items, like Last of Us had, it’s almost a pointless bolt-on, which only detracts from the game. I loved the way the sling worked however and it’s versatility in combat and in solving puzzles. There is a fantastic fight, where you face off against this giant knight in armor with only your sling. You take away his armor piece by piece, hitting the clasps with stones, but as you do, he gets faster and more aggressive. It felt like a real David and Goliath fight, a brilliant simplicity, almost like a boss fight from a Zelda game, which is no bad thing.
I am really excited for A Plague Tale — it brings together elements from The Last of Us, but also adds it’s own little touches. I just hope that it doesn’t end up being too derivative and really tries to distance itself in a meaningful way. But even if it doesn’t, saying a game is too much ‘like the Last of Us’ is a fairly positive, as criticism goes.