1349 is one of the most terrible dates in European history. Against the backdrop of the recent, just 12 years ago, outbreak of the war, which much later will be called the Hundred Years, a disaster came from the east that was not expected – the Black Death. Death and grief came to palaces and to the homes of the poor. Fear and hatred settled in the hearts of people. The stench and stench of the fires on which the innocent were burned enveloped the continent. A Plague Tale: Innocence is the story of a brother and sister trying to survive the chaos and death of the darkest period of the Middle Ages.
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Platforms Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Languages Russian, English
Developer Asobo Studio
Publisher Focus Home Interactive
Amicia de Rune is the young daughter of a poor French nobleman. Despite gender and age, she spends more time with her father than with her mother. Beatrice de Rune devoted the last five years of her life to caring for her son, Hugo. The boy is seriously ill and practically does not leave his room. Amicia hardly knows her brother, and when she and five-year-old Hugo are forced to run away from home, brother and sister turn out to be strangers to each other. What they have to go through, wandering through the cities of war-torn and plague-ridden France, will make them family. Hugo is all that the girl has left, and she will do her best to save her brother.
The authors of A Plague Tale: Innocence, the French Asobo Studio, are mainly known for game adaptations of Pixar cartoons, such as Ratatouille, WALL-E, Up, Toy Story 3 and work on other people’s projects. The studio’s only in-house game, the open-world arcade racing game Fuel , was released in 2009 to mixed reviews from gamers and the press. Fuel is still the game with the largest open world (14,400 km 2 ), but there is not much to do in this world. In general, it is surprising that the studio took on such a serious story project as A Plague Tale, which has practically nothing in common with the previous games of the company.
The developers do not hide the projects that served as sources of inspiration for A Plague Tale: Innocence are The Last of Us and Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons . The first game inherited the emotional attachment of the player to the characters, the need to protect someone who is weaker than you, from the second – the idea of interaction between two characters to complete the level. I would also add Enslaved: Odyssey to the West and Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice by Ninja Theory to the list of primary sources.
In general, from an emotional point of view, A Plague Tale: Innocence is perhaps the strongest game since The Last of Us. That tension, the emotional intensity that is present in the final act of Metro Exodus , is maintained in A Plague Tale throughout the game. Yes, there are short peaceful stops here to take a breath and admire the surrounding beauties, but at any moment they can be interrupted by a scene that tears your heart apart.
France in 1349 is not the most pleasant place to live. Here you can stumble upon a crowd of citizens brutalized with grief, thirsting for blood; on marauders capable of killing for a piece of bread; on unscrupulous human traffickers; on the ambulances for the massacre of the inquisitors and on the hordes of rats that bring death with them. Amicia and Hugo will have to make their way through the battlefield strewn with corpses, literally stepping on the dead; descend into the abomination of rat nests; sneak through plague graveyards and survive in the dungeons of the Inquisition, where unthinkable atrocities are happening. A Plague Tale: Innocence knows how to shock and does it with enviable regularity until the very end credits.
Most of the puzzles in the game are based on the interaction of brother and sister or other characters, because Amicia and Hugo will not always be together. The girl and the boy will have to travel in the company of other orphans whom they will meet during their travels. Moreover, one of the levels, the weakest in terms of gameplay, you will have to go through for Hugo. All levels in A Plague Tale: Innocence are linear, and the main thing here is to find the right and only solution to problems, usually related to stealth and interaction with hordes of rats and light.
When it comes to countering human enemies, Amicia has a little more options. Although the girl is fragile and any soldier can offend her, she is good with a sling with a wide range of projectiles and can use the environment to unleash rats on opponents. Sling and ammunition can be improved as the game progresses. By the way, the way Amicia survives her first kill, and how she gradually hardens in battles, is shown in A Plague Tale an order of magnitude better than in the same Tomb Raider . Partly because the girl herself pronounces her feelings and motivations, partly due to the excellent work of the animators and voice actors, partly because of Hugo, who comments on what is happening, behaves very lively and directly and, in fact, is Amicia’s conscience. Those moments when an unsuspecting Hugo continues to cheerfully comment on what is happening, and you, along with Amicia, already know what will happen next, really hurt.
If we had to give out the 2019 Best Actress Oscar for Best Actress, I wouldn’t hesitate to give it to Amicia de Roon. The authors of A Plague Tale managed to create an incredibly lively, charming, real heroine. Where is that Lara. Amicia can only be compared to Ellie in Last of Us or Senua from Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. And yes, Amicia also has to go through a personal hell.
If desired, in addition to the quite obvious anti-war, humanistic messages, in A Plague Tale: Innocence you can find notes of teenage rebellion. After all, the community that orphans create in the game opposes the world of cruelty and meanness in which adults want to force them to live. Children here oppose everything disgusting that adults have brought into this world: against false faith, against blind fanaticism, against the unbridled lust for power. And they are ready to give their lives for their ideals and for their friends. Rats are not the main enemies of the heroes of A Plague Tale: Innocence.
We rarely focus on the graphical component of the game, the screenshots presented in the article, as a rule, speak for themselves, but in the case of A Plague Tale: Innocence, I would like to dwell on this separately. It may not be evident in the screenshots, but in the dynamics of the game’s graphics, this is the best we’ve seen. And it’s not at all about the support of newfangled NVIDIA technologies, it’s about the artistic approach. In terms of lighting, and light plays the most important role in this game from the point of view of gameplay, in terms of the tone of the picture, in terms of mood – we have before us, as it were, the paintings of French and Dutch masters of the 15th-16th centuries that came to life. The authors single out the Frenchman Claude Lorrain among other artists, I personally lean towards the Dutch Adrian and Esias van de Velde, Jan van Goyen and Hercules Seghers.
From a technical point of view, A Plague Tale: Innocence, made on the studio’s own engine (probably an improved version of ACE from Fuel), is also more than okay. We have never seen such detailed and realistic textures of wood, brickwork, stones, such fantastically real wall paintings, frescoes and clothing trim. At the same time, the authors are extremely correct and accurate in depicting the medieval surroundings, the same furniture, room furnishings, and household items. If you have visited European museums with recreated interiors of the XIV-XV centuries, then you will be amazed at how accurately the authors conveyed the texture, carvings on furniture, tapestries, etc. Excellent work, Asobo Studio. By the way, the game has collectible items that will allow you to learn more about life in the Middle Ages, a kind of built-in optional encyclopedia.
Special mention deserves the unique feature of A Plague Tale – hordes of rats. The non-trivial problem of the interaction of hundreds of creatures, and in some game scenes in the frame up to 5000 (!) rats, environmental objects, NPCs and light that scares away creatures, was brilliantly solved. Yes, sometimes individual rats get stuck in corners of light and evaporate, but in general, hordes, tangles and mountains of rats look quite frightening and repulsive. Yes, local rats are not quite real creatures, rather they are a kind of materialization of deep human fears, in some way a symbol.
A Plague Tale: Innocence is valuable for its mood, and an important role in its creation is played by the soundtrack, which is directly related to what is happening on the screen. The compositions for the game were composed by Olivier Derivière, a French composer who has worked on projects such as Alone in the Dark (2008), Remember Me , Vampyr , and 11-11 Memories Retold . And it seems that this time the maestro outdid himself. The dark melodies associated with the gloomy episodes of the game, and the light compositions that sound in moments of calm, are simply beautiful. Separate mention deserves the organic interweaving of parts of traditional folk instruments into the sound canvas. You probably don’t want to listen to the A Plague Tale soundtrack on its own, it’s still quite complex, close to classical music, but in the context of the game it’s just perfect.
By and large, in addition to the linearity associated with the plot component of the game, somewhat monotonous stealth and phantasmagoria in the battle with the final boss, there is nothing more to complain about in A Plague Tale: Innocence. No, if you wish, you can find flaws in the game, for example, the fuzzy motivation of the main villain or the introduction of mystical elements closer to the finale, but, frankly, you don’t want to do this. After all, the 10 hours that you spend in the dark Middle Ages will surely be remembered for a long time.
Today, when publishers are ready to sell their souls to the devil for a Games as a Service project, small story games like A Plague Tale: Innocence are an incredible rarity. It is worth appreciating and supporting, including hryvnia, people who create such small masterpieces. It is gratifying that a month before the release of A Plague Tale, the game’s publisher, Focus Home Interactive, announced the continuation of cooperation with Asobo Studio on at least one more project. Let’s hope this is A Plague Tale 2, especially since the end of the story allows you to move the sequel to almost any place.