In the last few weeks, I’ve found myself bouncing off the latest big blockbuster games. I’ve loaded up “Days Gone” on the PlayStation 4, “Rage 2” on the PC and “Mortal Kombat 11” on the Xbox One only for my attention to get pulled in another direction.
I’ve been finding the big, open world games with their many dozens of gameplay hours daunting, especially as the weather is starting to warm, but ultimately none of the games’ story or gameplay have really hooked me.
If you’re just as burnt out on time-sink games as I am, then look no further than “A Plague Tale: Innocence.” It tells a tightly focused story of siblings caught between the Inquisition and terrifying, supernatural swarm of Black Plague-carrying rats.
You play as Amicia, the teenage daughter of a French noble, after her family’s estate is attacked by troops from the Inquisition who are looking for her little brother, Hugo. It’s up to Amicia to save her little brother and hopefully find a cure for a mysterious illness that drew the attention of the Inquisition in the first place.
Ultimately, the game is a stealth game where Amicia and Hugo will be working together to avoid the soldiers between them and safety. Amicia is armed with a sling that’s upgraded throughout the game to take on new and trickier challenges, but it will generally be about distracting guards in order to slip by.
But the Inquisition soldiers, led by the menacing and heavily armored Lord Nicholas, are just one piece of the threat.
The gameplay takes on a supernatural twist when literal waves of glowing-eyed rats erupt from the ground and swarm the world. The black plague is not just a sickness in this world, but an immediate threat as the rats wash over every living thing, eating them alive.
The only thing that keeps the rats away is the light, which becomes the ground for much of the gameplay as you puzzle out how to link together lights to make it through catacombs or, in a later horrifying scene, through a corpse-strewn battlefield.
Taken together, the gameplay is good and engaging even though it gets somewhat repetitive later on, especially at some of the more difficult stealth sections. You’ll eventually start to understand what you need to do, and it becomes more a matter of pulling off the distractions for the guards and rats.
I found myself repeating some sections multiple times while I got the hang of the timing.
But the gameplay is ultimately all in service of telling one of the most compelling and engaging stories I’ve experienced in a recent game.
Amicia and Hugo were largely estranged throughout their childhoods while Hugo had been kept in the estate for treatment while Amicia hunted in the forest with her father. Their relationship grows throughout the game, just as the two are affected and shaped by the terror of plague and war has wrought on the French countryside.
The later sections put that relationship — and newfound trust — to the test in ways that I don’t want to spoil. The story reminded me of games like the venerable “Last of Us,” “Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons” and even the most recent iteration of “God of War.” That’s to say, it’s very good.
Finally, I’ll also say that “A Plague Tale: Innocence” game is simply gorgeous. The French countryside is masterfully rendered with beautiful, sunset-lit landscapes in the calm moments just as the horrors of the plague and warfare are rendered in its darker moments.
It feels like every scene is tailored in service of telling its story, and that’s something to be commended when time is at a premium.
Matt Buxton is a freelance writer and gamer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If You Play
Game: A Plague Tale: Innocence
Platforms: PC, Xbox One (Reviewed), PlayStation 4
Release Date: May 14, 2019
ESRB Rating: Mature