France, 1348. Times are grim. The Black Plague has arrived—as have the Hundred Years’ War and the Inquisition. Within a decade, at the least a 3rd of the inhabitants will die. Some estimates place that quantity as excessive as two-thirds.
It feels nearer to the latter in A Plague Tale: Innocence. There’s no finish to the our bodies—left to rot within the streets, deserted to homes marked with a chalked “X,” piled excessive on foggy battlefields amid the trebuchets and wagons. And the place there are our bodies, worse is certain to observe.
“Des rats.” Even with the silent “T,” the French is unmistakable: Rats. Rivers of them, black fur dotted with gleaming purple eyes, ready on the sides of the sunshine. Hungry.
A pox upon ye
A Plague Tale is an anomaly. Before we get into the sport itself, I feel it’s price discussing the context the sport releases in. This is a singleplayer, story-driven sport—one which clocks in round 10 hours lengthy for those who take it at a reasonably meandering tempo. Studios don’t develop video games like A Plague Tale anymore. Publishers don’t fund video games like A Plague Tale anymore.
And but right here it’s. A Plague Tale is ostensibly a stealth sport, although even that may be a fairly free definition. You sneak underneath tables, behind bookshelves, by tents, and so forth. Sometimes a sling components into proceedings—a rock to the pinnacle to kill cleanly, or maybe a rock to a lantern to kill in a extra grisly method, as rats swarm from the shadows to eat a person alive.
You play as Amicia de Rune, teenage daughter of a noble household. Amicia’s cozy life is upended by the Inquisition, which ransacks her ancestral house and kills most everybody she is aware of. She and her sickly brother Hugo are the one survivors, fleeing into the countryside.
Problem is, Hugo is the one the Inquisition needs. Amicia’s undecided why—he’s solely six or seven years previous—however he’s the thing of their pursuit and it falls to her to fairly actually lead Hugo by the hand by Medieval France in the hunt for secure haven. And sure, typically which means “under tables, behind bookshelves, and through tents,” away from the watchful eyes of the Inquisition.
The stealth side is generic busywork although. It gives sufficient company so no one can derisively accuse A Plague Tale of being a “walking simulator” or no matter. Hell, perhaps that was the intent, to push back these criticisms.
If so, it’s a disgrace. The stealth doesn’t add a lot to A Plague Tale , and the fight provides even much less. A trio of boss fights are the weakest a part of the sport, the story grinding to a halt as you undergo the age-old ritual of hitting some man within the head with rocks—thrice, in fact, as a result of it’s a online game.
The rats are barely extra attention-grabbing. That’s the hook for A Plague Tale, hordes of plague-carrying rats that swarm within the darkness, forming a transferring wall of flesh proper on the fringe of your torchlight. As such, there are many “puzzles” right here that contain lighting a fireplace, or placing one out, or transferring a lightweight supply round till you may clear the rats out of your path and progress to the following space. Nothing tough, but it surely’s at the least extra distinctive than hitting somebody with rocks. It’s additionally extra thematically related, the rats each a sport mechanic and an important a part of the story A Plague Tale is weaving.
I can’t assist however want A Plague Tale landed more durable on one facet although, both fleshing out its mechanics right into a more difficult survival-horror sport or stripping them out for a extra story-driven journey. Instead it languors within the center, and the elements you play find yourself feeling like obstacles you set up with to succeed in the elements you take pleasure in—by which I imply the story, and the connection between the 2 de Rune siblings.
Occasionally there’s a uncommon second of magnificence among the many bleak. Hugo is especially adept at tugging on heartstrings (particularly for those who change to the much-improved French voice performing), with a captivating naivety that comes from being sheltered in a manor his whole life. He’s very enthusiastic about les grenouilles, or frogs. Flowers, as properly. And certainly one of my favourite scenes got here early on, as Hugo hefted a protect as tall as his whole physique and pretended to be a knight, ambushing Amicia.
A Plague Tale is normally darker although. Hugo’s protect naturally elicited a query from Amicia, “Where did you find that?” The reply got here as we crested the following ridge to see a battlefield strewn with a whole bunch of French and English corpses. “Amicia, do we have to…walk on them?” mentioned Hugo, after which with infantile innocence, “Do you think we’re hurting them?”
It’s surprisingly efficient, this dynamic. The eventualities are grisly, however experiencing it by Hugo and Amicia’s back-and-forth injects a touch of humanity into incomprehensible tragedy, prevents it from feeling exploitative. It’s harrowing, completely, however not torture porn. It feels earned.
The identical may very well be mentioned of the extra supernatural components. As you may surmise after seeing the rat swarms, A Plague Tale isn’t probably the most correct retelling of the Black Plague. That mentioned, it’s pretty adept at weaving collectively historic truth and fantasy, drawing upon Medieval ideas like alchemy and the position of the Catholic Church to floor its story within the period, paying homage to Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose.
Another shut analogue is that Sean Bean movie Black Death, which took the same “What if the Black Plague were a curse, as some Medieval theologians thought?” strategy, albeit with combined outcomes. A Plague Tale pulls it off higher. The ultimate boss combat is wildly over-the-top, however the story is so meticulously laid out, the principles so established by that time, that it nonetheless feels legitimate. Silly, however legitimate. (For a online game with the same tone, see Hellblade.)
I do want morality performed into proceedings a bit extra, given the non secular overtones. There are hints that is perhaps the case alongside the way in which. A violent violin sting performs everytime you homicide the primary enemy in an space, which inevitably made me really feel I’d executed one thing improper. A Plague Tale even palms out a number of achievements for taking the nonlethal strategy, and Hugo and different pleasant characters will touch upon it, urge you to sneak previous as an alternative of assault. None of it issues although, far as I may inform. The ending is identical for everybody, which made me marvel if alternate good/evil endings had been reduce for time or price range constraints.
Nevertheless, I loved it. A Plague Tale: Innocence feels anachronistic, like a sport THQ would’ve launched circa 2010—or one THQ may remaster, circa 2019. It’s relentlessly easy, and I wasn’t kidding once I mentioned builders don’t make video games like this anymore. Certainly not video games that seem like A Plague Tale.
I want they’d although. A Plague Tale is certainly one of my favourite experiences up to now this yr as a result of it’s an outlier. It is aware of the story it needs to inform and it tells it in a decent and well-paced method—after which it ends. Given the sprawling and in the end pointless tales we get from the standard open-world fare, A Plague Tale appears like a refreshing various. I’m shocked (and grateful) it received made in any respect, and I hope Asobo Studio’s earned one other experiment like this sooner or later.