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A Plague Tale: Innocence

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Developer: Asobo Studio
Release Date: 2019


PS4/XOne/PC Preview - 'A Plague Tale: Innocence'

by Thomas Wilde on June 15, 2018 @ 12:15 a.m. PDT

A Plague Tale: Innocence offers an adventure supported by an original scenario, with gameplay that blends action, adventure and stealth phases.

On the one hand, I am told by well-meaning, entirely sincere people that A Plague Tale: Innocence is a story about a very special bond between a young girl and her brother, who support each other in their attempts to escape from the Inquisition and a plague during the Hundred Years' War.

On the other, just going off the footage they chose to show off at E3 2018, A Plague Tale: Innocence is mostly about figuring out the best possible way to feed as many people as possible to angry rats. I've got it down in my E3 notes as "Throwing Dudes to the Plague Swarm Simulator 2018."

I'm about half kidding. I am told by the same entirely sincere people that Plague Tale is not actually quite as murder-by-rat-focused as their demo footage makes it appear.

A Plague Tale is set near Bordeaux, France, in 1349. In the over-the-shoulder perspective action-adventure game from the French studio Asobo, you play as Amicia, who is chased from her noble family's estate with her little brother Hugo by the forces of the Inquisition. The plague is devastating the country around you, and you're in as much danger from it — and the supernatural swarms of hungry rats it seems to be spawning — as you are from the forces of the Inquisition. There's something wrong with Hugo, on top of that, which is currently being kept deliberately mysterious, but seems to have something to do with an alchemical substance that's somehow gotten into his blood.

The primary challenge displayed so far in Plague Tale is to stay safe from the rats, who will swarm and devour anyone they can reach, but which are repelled by light. Amicia's armed with a sling, with which you can knock out unarmored enemies, break fragile objects, or ignite distant targets as long as you've found the right materials with which to craft a special sort of incendiary projectile.

At E3, they showed off Chapter V of the game, "Massacre," where Amicia and Hugo are on their way to a house in the countryside when their path is blocked by the site of a recent bloody battle. The field is littered with corpses, and as they try to pick through it, they're ambushed by first the rats, and then several English looters trying to find whatever the bodies had on them. Amicia, alone or with help, has to use stealth, trickery, and occasionally a good hard rock to the forehead in order to get her, Hugo, and their friend Lucas past the looters in one piece.

The obstacles put in your way mostly revolve around light. You either need to acquire it, use it, or deprive others from having it, to distract or repel the swarm. When in doubt, you can also get some mileage out of feeding the swarm a nice fresh corpse, which gives them enough to do for a crucial moment that you can get past it. Amicia's solutions might involve smashing an enemy's lantern, luring him out of cover with a thrown object, or simply sneaking past, using tall grass or handy obstacles as hiding places. When you find workbenches out in the world, you can use them to upgrade Amicia's skills and craft new ammunition, using ingredients like alcohol, rocks, and sulphur.

While A Plague Tale is entirely fictional at the end of the day, its team and its setting are both in Bordeaux. The developers worked with a French historian to find an appropriate path that Amicia and Hugo would take while they're fleeing from the Inquisition. Past this, however, they were very cagey at E3 about how the game started, where it's going, and how it will end; all they were willing to say, as far as hints go, is that while you start the game running from the Inquisition, you will eventually get to a point where you'll stop running.

This was one of the more memorable games I saw at this year's show, and not just because I got sicced on all the European indie titles again. (I did, though.) It feels a little like a lower-key, more narrative-focused version of the recent Resident Evil games, and is about as close as anyone's come lately to being a new Clock Tower. Horror may not explicitly be its focus, but when you spend most of your play time negotiating ways around a giant swarm of glowing-eye demon rats, horror came to this party whether you wanted it there or not.

Of course, I saw a very small part of A Plague Tale: Innocence, which I didn't get to play, but from what I did see, I'm interested in finding out more.

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