FOCUS HOME INTERACTIVE
A Plague Tale: Innocence is horrific.
We were witness to some absolutely harrowing events in our hands-off preview with the title at Focus Home Entertainment’s ‘What’s Next’ event.
We were introduced to this world and its characters – mainly Amicia and her little brother Hugo – as they attempt to cross the French countryside which is drenched in blood and ruin thanks to the on-going skirmish the country is having with the British.
It starts off fairly light-hearted, with Amicia and Hugo conversing lightly as they paddle down a misty river. They talk, in hushed tones, and are hopeful about escaping the brutish forces littering the countryside.
But soon all that is dashed: they happen upon a battlefield littered with hundreds of dead bodies, and young Hugo distressedly calls out to you that he doesn’t want to walk on the fallen ‘because he doesn’t want to hurt them’.
Lightly, you weave through the dead, until you come to a horse bulging unnaturally in the twilight. As you approach, it erupts in a swell of rats, each swarming and climbing over each other, weaving in and out of the decaying flesh.
It’s here you really get to see what developer Asobo has done with its proprietary engine powering the game: every rat is apparently running on AI, and is made to think and act like its own entity.
Maybe it’s this aspect of the game that gives it the horrifying feeling it has, maybe it’s the fact that within minutes of finding these rats you start seeing people getting eaten alive by them – their screams cutting through the eerie silence as they fall.
Maybe its how the game manages to tap into that innate horror that comes from swarming vermin: the idea that all these creatures could overwhelm you like a tide if you so much as put one step wrong… the game constantly keeps you on edge.
It helps that the core mechanic of the game revolves around you keeping the young children safe: if you stray too far from Hugo, he will panic and run after you, falling victim to whatever may be between you and him in the process.
Lead him into a bad area and he’ll also fall. You also have to keep quiet away from enemy soldiers – capture by them ends in failure too. So you have to use the horror of the rats to your advantage… tempting guards into their swarms, using them as bait was you bypass the swelling masses.
Subjecting the kids to your cruel (but ultimately utilitarian) tactics feels almost as bad as feeding them to the rats yourself.
The game reminded us of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons – puzzle elements involving multiple children in a world really not meant for them, where you have to overcome more and more stressful obstacles as you progress.
The game’s light engine is impressive – the rats are scared of fire, and you can use light sources to push them away or into areas where they weren’t previously. Using these mechanics alongside various physics engine puzzles, the studio manages to create a rhythmic mix of stealth, action and narrative.
A Plague Tale: Innocence isn’t going to be an easy game to play – in difficulty or emotionally.
Publisher Focus Home Interactive describes this game as such: “[The children] will have to join forces with other orphans and evade swarms of rats using fire and light. Aided only by the link that binds their fates together, the children will face the darkest days of history in their struggle to survive.”
Don’t expect a light-hearted one from this – we came away from our demo heavy-hearted and harrowed. We thought about it at least once a day for the week after we played it.
If that’s the kind of experience you want from your video games, you should really keep an eye on this one.