If you had told me that I would play and enjoy a video game where fantasy meets the Black Death, I’m honestly not sure I would have believed you, but that’s what A Plague Tale: Innocence is.
A Plague Tale: Innocence focuses on the journey of Amicia and Hugo de Rune, two young children (ages 14 and 5, respectively) living in 14th-century France. Amicia and Hugo don’t have much of a relationship in the beginning, as Hugo has been kept separate from Amicia due to illness. However, they swiftly become all they have when the Inquisition descends upon their family home looking for Hugo and kills their parents when they refuse to give the children up.
Add hundreds upon thousands of rats into the mix that devour all in their path and can only be stopped by the light, and there’s absolutely no way Amicia and Hugo aren’t coming out of this adventure without some sort of trauma.
Amicia and Hugo’s journey to escape the Inquisition is one devoted to stealth and the occasional bit of violence, or, at least, that was the case in my playthrough. The way A Plague Tale: Innocence is designed, each section has a variety of ways to approach certain situations.
The early portions of the game require you to rely almost exclusively on stealth tactics. Amicia’s sling is all she has, and, in the beginning, it’s not much of a weapon. However, it can be upgraded into something not unlike one. At one point, you unlock the capability to kill any Inquisition soldier with a rock to the head. Amicia also gains access to a variety of alchemical tricks she can add to her ammunition, such as dousing fires or even clearing hordes of rats from specific locations.
Once you have these additional tricks, a wider variety of tactics are available to you, especially at night when the rats come out. Do you just sneak by when that soldier’s back is turned? Do you take that soldier out with a rock? Or do you purposely hit their lanterns, leaving them in the darkness so the rats can devour them?
These are choices that honestly overwhelm Amicia the more the game goes on. You can hear the regret in her voice the first time she kills a soldier or the first time she sends the rats to devour one. As the game progresses, however, she gets to a point where she accepts that these are all things she has to do in the name of surviving.
To say that the voice acting in this game was amazing would probably be a bit of an understatement. The script is brilliantly performed by an incredibly talented voice cast of both adults and children.
Yes, I said children.
Whereas some games might have adult voice actors mimicking younger voices for the game’s younger characters, this game has younger actors voicing their young cast of protagonists. Amicia’s voice actress, Charlotte McBurney, was seventeen at the time of recording her lines. Some lines were even reportedly changed by the younger members of the cast if they didn’t sound like things children would say in the situations they were being thrust into.
I appreciate the fact that the voice cast got that sort of input on the script. It made moments between Amicia and Hugo feel that much more realistic and more like siblings that had grown closer as their journey progressed.
The story is honestly one of the most impressive things about A Plague Tale: Innocence. It draws you in from the minute things start to go wrong in Amicia’s world, and you feel so badly for these kids who are just trying to survive and hold themselves together. The game paces itself well, providing moments for both players and characters to breathe while still keeping things engaging.
Even the quieter moments have some bearing on the overall story. I think one chapter of gameplay was mostly dialogue with no action to speak of. However, the events of that chapter led you into the next one, which was more action-focused.
The game makes sure to give you reasons why these children are doing what they’re doing while only giving us glimpses into our antagonists and their plans as the children sneak around.
Did I mention those antagonists are absolutely terrifying?
Lord Nicholas is one of those antagonists. He’s the first member of the Inquisition we encounter as he leads the raid on the de Rune household. He’s never seen without his armor or helm. There’s no inch of skin visible that provides you with some sort of human connection to this man. Lord Nicholas is designed to be terrifying, and it works. The first time we see him is when Amicia peers through a window only to see him murdering her father when her father refuses to give up where his children are. Nicholas only gets more terrifying from there.
Over time, we meet a few more people in the Inquisition that I won’t specifically touch on because they’re spoilers, but suffice it to say that the Inquisition never stops being terrifying, especially when looked at from the point of view of the young characters you control. You might come to understand why they’re doing what they’re doing, but that doesn’t make what they’re doing or why they’re doing it any less horrifying.
The sheer amount of detail in the world around us is equally as impressive. The textures are stunning and look incredibly realistic. I was even impressed with the sheer amount of detail that went into the clothing the characters wore. There’s enough texture to the fabric that can hint at the kind of fabric it’s meant to be, such as what strongly looks like a brocade for Amicia’s bodice or the rough cotton or linen the characters might wear while trying to keep a low profile.
The only thing that wasn’t quite up to the same level of detail was the rats, although the multitude of glowing eyes that stare at you when they know you’re there may just haunt me for the rest of my days. To be fair to the rats themselves, they are quite small even when swarming, so a significant amount of detail can’t be expected. However, the look of their nests borders on grotesque without being truly repulsive (or, at least, I didn’t find it to be). In a way, their nests reminded me of a few cosmic horror games that I’ve played before, but somehow more horrifying. I’m uncertain if that was due to the swarms of rats that abounded in the nests or just the visuals themselves.
If I was going to complain about anything in this game, it would probably be that one hit was capable of taking Amicia out entirely and you weren’t given a chance to do anything other than panic if things start going wrong. However, even with that, I honestly didn’t mind. Each time Amicia died, it allowed me time to figure out what actually worked and what didn’t in the moments just before her death, and I could play around a bit until I figured out a combination of things that worked for my preferred play style.
Overall, I genuinely enjoyed my time in A Plague Tale: Innocence. The developers of this game knew just when to hit players emotionally and when to pull back. They knew when to use certain musical cues to their advantage and when not to. They knew how to step up the difficulty of certain encounters and when to make you think about how to approach others.
Honestly, out of the seven horror games I’ve completed playing since the beginning of this year, I think A Plague Tale: Innocence may be my favorite, and I’m looking forward to the release of A Plague Tale: Requiem later this year.
A Plague Tale: Innocence is available for purchase on Steam, Epic, PlayStation, and Xbox.
Originally published on Medium on August 19, 2022.
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I loved this game so much, such an interesting concept and period. The rats were quite formidable!