This one came as a bit of a shock. Bought purely to make fun of my wife’s fear of rodents. A Plague Tale: Innocence is without reservation one of the best games of this year and in the absence of Splinter Cell, one of the best stealth experiences available now.
Set in 100 – year war era rural France, you mainly play as Amicia De Rune, the teenage daughter of a local lord and lady. You have a sick younger brother called Hugo who you need to lead by the hand through certain situations. So far so simple. When things take a turn for the worst in the game Amicia has to use stealth and distraction to guide her brother to safety through increasingly complex scenarios.
The star of the show here are the waves and waves of grotesque rats that spring out of the ground and come at you like an all-consuming wave. They are a fantastic and striking mechanic in the game and by the time you first encounter them you are well versed in the mechanics of stealth. The rats are afraid of light and fire so you may enter an area that is carpeted by thousands of the creatures except for small havens of light. It is usually the case that you need to find ways of getting from one island of light to the other while using stealth, alchemy and basic physics puzzles. Despite the game being quite linear, there is plenty of scope for using your own solutions to the problems created, especially in the later levels.
In the first quarter, the game alternates between stealth missions with human enemies trying to kill/ capture you and the aforementioned rat missions, soon however you get a combination of both meaning the rats that were once the bane of your existence can be turned on the enemies. Your sling is your only weapon, but this is more than enough in the context of the game. An enemy without a helmet can be killed with a rock to the head, one with a helmet needs it knocked off first and armoured ones need different approaches. In mixed enemy/rat areas, the enemies are just as scared of the rodent menace as you are and carry lanterns and flaming torches that can be extinguished with a well-placed shot. Once their protection goes the rats make short work of any enemy.
The stealth gameplay may seem simplistic but in-fact it just makes sense. Throw a stone over here at some helmets or shields to distract an enemy then creep past. Throw a clay pot and sneak past, hit their lantern with a rock and you get the idea. Taking many of the cheat elements out of stealth games like the tech involved in Metal Gear, means you need to use your brain to get around these tasks. Surprisingly for someone that gets easily frustrated with stealth games A Plague Tale: Innocence never gets old and you get a real sense of achievement when you hit the next area.
Of course, the excellent mechanics and gameplay are only half the picture here. The graphics and story are both triple A. From the oceans of rats to the use of light the game pops off the screen. You are never in doubt as to when you are safe from rats and when you are in the danger zone. The character models are robust and the cut scenes generate genuine emotion as the tragic story unfolds. By the end, you will have been on a rollercoaster of loss and trauma.
If there is one minor gripe the last section of the game can feel a little cheap. You have to contend with enemies that can throw spears and archers who seem to be a dead shot with their bows. As one-hit kills, this can lead to a few restarts when you think you are behind cover but get picked off. There are also two pretty annoying boss fights towards the end that took multiple tries. The reason they stand out compared to the rest of the game is their over-reliance on luck and positional sense. In both, you have to run to locations within tiny windows of opportunity. The rest of the game allows for careful planning before you execute your plan. When you’re forced to move quickly the movement isn’t precise enough. It is a small complaint but the last hour of the game is more frustrating than the previous 14 combined.
It really is a contender for game of the year. The title suggests we may get sequels in the future and I can only hope so. If not this will be one of the sleeper hits of this generation that hopefully will be talked about for generations to come.