OUT OF THE FRYING PAN, INTO THE FIRE
Ever since I first got a look at Asobo studios new game Plague Tale: Innocence, I haven’t been able to keep away. Sure, it looked like a cool story in an interesting historical setting, but more than that, it had rats! One of the main reasons I love the Dishonored series is the way those games utilize rats, the same with Vermintide, so when I saw they would play a central role in Plague Tale, I couldn’t say no. And what rats they are too! If you thought Dishonored’s rat hordes were bad, then this is something else — a writhing, squeaking, red-eyed mass, that consumes everything it comes across in a scarab-esque fashion (for those of you who enjoy Mummy references).
Plague Tale: Innocence takes place during the Black Death, a wonderful time for rats (a less wonderful time for humans). You play as the daughter of the noble French family De Rune, who after a series of events involving the inquisition, is forced to go on a magical mystery tour through the war-torn, famine stricken, rat infested countryside of ye olde France. Along for the ride is your little brother, Hugo De Rune, who the inquisition are for some reason trying to capture. Out of the frying pan, into the fire is the phrase that best describes the gaming experience of Plague Tale, as Amicia and Hugo traverse all manner of terrifying situations and atrocities. I’ve been told that Grave of the Fireflies, the unrelentingly grim Studio Ghibli film, was a significant inspiration. Take from that what you will.
SO. MANY. RATS
What makes Plague Tale special, is the way rats are utilized in such a large variety of ways. Most of the time they act as a terrifying game element, creating tension and the threat of death, but at other times they act as circumstantial allies, attacking soldiers who are trying to capture you (a rat never turns down a warm meal after all.) Avoiding them also provides a great deal of the games’ puzzles. The central mechanic is light, and the rats can’t get you while you’re in that light, so the many challenges circulate around lighting torches, using Amicia’s sling to knock down lamps, or to smash enemy lanterns. You also command your party to help, getting Hugo to crawl through tiny spaces to open doors, or many of the other companion abilities, such as picking locks, or cranking handles.
Atrocities are unavoidable in the world of Plague Tale, you witness them all around you, and at times, may even have to commit some yourself just to stay alive. I love how Plague Tale deals with these evil acts. In many ways it reminds me of Spec Ops: The Line, where choice isn’t even a factor, you just do what you think is right in the situation, even if those good intentions only make things worse. It really adds to the unrelenting horror of the game. While Amicia can kill with her sling, she can also avoid it for the most part, which was a nice touch — too many games conveniently forget their main characters’ psychology for the purposes of action sections (*cough* *cough* Red Dead Redemption).
NOT THE LAST OF US
Many comparisons have been made between Plague Tale and The Last of Us, but now I’ve played more of it, I’ve realised how that comparison doesn’t sum up even half of what Plague Tale is. Sure, it may have a crafting system to improve equipment with scavenged materials, as well as sections involving puzzle solving, and not to forget, simply two characters fighting their way through an infected world. But Amicia and Hugo are very different to Joel and Elly, and I actually think Hugo is one of the best child characters I’ve seen in a game (i.e kid characters are usually very annoying).
Both characters have a delicate innocence about them, a wholesomeness in their relationship, which contrasts with the horror of the world around them. This also ties into the folkloric and dark fairytale aspect of the game — that everything is exaggerated, whether deserted plague districts, corpse strewn battlefields, or just the rats themselves. I haven’t felt such unrelenting horror since I played Spec Ops: The Line — that special down the rabbit hole feeling of, things can only get worse, even though I’m trying my best to make things better. In short, it is a nightmare — a world where the humans are as bad as the rats, committing atrocities as they desperately search for meaning in the face of apparent oblivion. You must use all your guile and perseverance to traverse this nightmare, holding onto what you can, for as long as you can. I won’t be forgetting this game for a while.
Incredible rats, horrifying world, great juxtaposition between horror of the world and the purity of the main characters.
Not always the best dialogue, occasionally on the nose, depictions of enemy soldiers can feel occasionally hackneyed.