Rats The Way I Like It-A Plague Tale: Innocence Retrospective

    Upon completing A Plague Tale Innocence for a third time, and with the imminent release of its sequel A Plague Tale: Requiem, I feel that now is the right time to unload my thoughts and feelings on this much-adored, story-centred, and Medieval-set curiosity from 2019. My thoughts have evolved since I first experienced this solemn tale of two children vying desperately to escape evil hordes of soulless metal-clad bozos, but I still retain that it is one desperate adventure that should be undertaken, especially considering it’s championing great storytelling in a digestible runtime that makes every perilous second count.

    The yarn A Plague Tale: Innocence spins will grab you by the neck and sink you into its depths. Hugo De Rune is the main subject of Innocence’s story, a five-year old boy, who is infected with a rare curse that makes him sick, but also garners the ravaging attention of the inquisition, who want to find him and kidnap him because this curse isn’t any normal curse. Along the way you will uncover why Hugo has garnered such interest, but without his sister and Innocence’s protagonist Amicia De Rune-Hugo would not be able to dodge the wrath of the tyrannical forces that relentlessly harass him.

    Amicia begins Innocence enjoying a forest walk with her dad and her hunter dog. Things quickly turn sour when the dog disappears, making Amicia panic and running after the canine companion, until grim circumstances arise, leading Amicia to return to her village to report the horrible happenings. After a brief conversation with her mother, Amicia is invited to meet her little brother Hugo for the first time, before inquisition guards flood the area, pillage civilians and hunt for Hugo-forcing a desperate escape for Hugo and Amicia, making acquaintances short-lived in the process.

    These beginnings are essentially a tutorial, where you’ll get to grips with your trusty rock sling, using it to distract guards and hit them square in their ugly features, and where you can tell Hugo to stay put or follow you. Early on you are trained to sling a rock at an animal, but there is no other time in the game where you can do this-so what was really the point?

    The story wastes no time making you feel rushed from one dire circumstance to another, leaving you little room to breathe early on. This mirrors the uncertainty of Hugo, as you wonder why Hugo is of interest to the inquisition, what is this curse, and how can you evade capture. Even in the second chapter, you’ll be hectically trying to avoid the wrath of others-so you really do feel like Amicia and Hugo are embroiled in a hopeless situation, whilst constantly in pursuit of refuge and support.

    Eventually the rats come into play, and when they do you better be surrounded by a light source or they’ll devour your supple body. In the early stages, Amicia isn’t equipped with a tool to help ignite lanterns and braziers, often relying on convenient stacks of wood, one of which she can douse in flames, which will temporarily give her the light she needs to stay protected.

    Much of the time in Innocence, you will be forced to contend with a mischief of rats, who scuttle about in the darkness you dare not tread, so you will find yourself whipping out flaming torches to guide your way to the next glowing flame source. Admittedly, Innocence does get bogged down giving you too many rats to fend off, and throughout most of the game you are at their mercy, but there are times when you can cleverly force rats to savage patrolling inquisition morons, usually by busting out their lanterns in some fashion and making them prone to be eaten alive.

    As you progress Amicia’s arsenal is enlivened too. Thanks to the companions you meet along the way, Amicia has the ability to throw ignited rocks that will instantly explode braziers with flames that will either make rats flea for safety or burn to a crisp. Another ability allows you to clear away swarms of rats by opening up this murky green vortex-very useful when there are a field of the blighters impeding your path. There’s a variant you can use to smother otherwise impenetrable guard helmets, so they desperately throw their helmets off, giving you time to crack a rock at their heads.

    Innocence does a commendable job of making you feel extremely vulnerable, but giving you enough tools to dispatch of the fodder in your way. The pervading sense of danger is delivered exactingly through its gameplay as much as in other areas of the adventure, which is why Innocence is a game worthy of applause.

    One aspect where Innocence does truly shock is in its imagery. Try not to get squeamish at a blood-soaked river of dead pigs or a field of dead rotting bodies, it’s a very harsh and disturbing landscape in Innocence, and you will certainly find harrowing sights along the way.

    My bugbears with Innocence are more revealing now than they were when I first played it. For example, the aiming can be an unwanted challenge at times. The targeting is automatic, but getting the spot lined up with an enemy’s head can induce headaches.

    Another gripe is that personally, I feel as though Hugo doesn’t always behave and isn’t always treated like a five year-old boy. He can understand and use complex words, perform actions that a five year-old won’t likely be able to pull off, and sometimes attempts to make us feel sorry for Hugo when an animal is lead to slaughter come off as overplayed. We know Hugo is five, we know he will have trouble emotionally digesting the sickening actions of others, but the way Innocence handles them is rather undercooked. Oh Hugo saw a dead piggy? Let’s briefly consul him and move on shall we? It’s not like all this evil won’t give him mental health issues right?

    The way the last part of Innocence transpires turns the game on its head somewhat-and not in a good way. What was meant to be a fight for survival culminates in something akin to a Pokemon-like rat battle with the pope, something that extinguishes a lot of the momentum the game had been building up. Still, it is awesome to be able to control rats properly by the end of the game, but it was a bit too late into the game to introduce us to rat manipulation.

    The final ding I want to address is the sense that A Plague Tale is ripping pages from The Last of Us at times, in such a way that it stops feeling like its own game. Amicia and her relationship with Mellie for instance, is a tad too familiar for my liking. Oh, and there’s a time where Amicia can choose to help an inquisition guard from being victimised by the rats, but then later on she’ll be uncaring about inquisition guards who are dying. The former is optional for a trophy/achievement granted, but if you have this seething vendetta against the inquisition, it could’ve done with being thorough.

    There aren’t too many games as daringly gritty as A Plague Tale: Innocence. No, it’s nothing special, with more than a handful of nods to Resident Evil and The Last of Us in its gameplay, crafting and presentation, but what the game shows you and how it presents its urgency is so well-done, that it deserves plenty of commendations. Innocence was one of my personal GOTY contenders in 2019, and while I don’t think I’d consider it GOTY now after discovering more hiccups with it, I still think it shines brightly on the merits it does have. If you haven’t played A Plague Tale: Innocence get on it, you will not be disappointed, but hopefully Requiem irons out and cleans up the kinks and becomes everything Innocence should have been.