A Plague Tale: Innocence (PS4) – Not Quite A Review

So, A Plague Tale: Requiem is coming out this year – not for PS4, though – and so I very recently decided to finally have a go at Asobo Studio’s A Plage Tale: Innocence, to satisfy my curiosity and despite my misgivings, that prevented me from playing this critically acclaimed game earlier. I finished it with mixed feelings. While it has a lot going for it, there were a couple of things that rubbed me the wrong way. More on that later.

It’s a beautiful world – not.

Visually, the game is extremely beautiful. Set in France, we follow the de Rune siblings Amicia and Hugo as they try to make sense of a world gone mad. It is a classic setup and I could not help but compare the journey to Life Is Strange 2. And while I have yet to play the latter to the end, the very first episode gave me more of an emotional connection with these two brothers than the entire A Plague Tale: Innocence-story did.

So, let’s look at the story first. Hugo, an adorable five year old, is carrying a sickness that prevents him from participating in their family’s life and it also keeps their mother by his side most of the time, much to Amicia’s annoyance. She is much closer to her father than her, that is for sure. One fine day, then, the Inquisition – not sure when this is supposed to take place, it is a fantasy tale, after all, but it does look like roughly 14th century, maybe? – stop by their holdings, looking for Hugo. The soldiers butcher everyone except the children, who manage to escape.

It soon becomes clear that the world they know has fallen prey to some sort of plague, and they do their best to stay alive and find help for Hugo, whose sickness is progressing. All the while they have to evade the Inquisition’s hunters and packs of rats that have seemingly overrun the country.

And this is where I have to address what really bugged me about the game.

Rats Get A Bad Rep – Again

Rats. Extremely ugly, aggressive rats. Packs of thousands of them, consuming people at a rate that is quite frankly absurd. Luckily, they are afraid of light… For whatever reason. They were the reason why I did not play this game earlier.

See, I have pet rats. Adorable little fluffballs that are extremely affectionate and very clean. They are not to be compared with wild rats, of course, but I don’t really detest those either. Yet the way rats are depicted and used in this game just disturbed me. While Dishonored – one of my favorite franchises – also uses rats for shock value, I somehow never felt as disgusted as I did when playing A Plague Tale: Innocence. Especially the last boss fight was extremely galling. It is – quite literally – overkill. Yes, it is a fantasy setting and that allows for the absurdities depicted there, but – to me – it was just…

Hi, there!
It’s me, Noah!

Meet Noah!

Mom had to go have a quick lie-down, she got so worked up, so I decided to take over this part of this sorta-review. I am a 1.5 year old mink-hooded pet rat and I like tap-dancing on Mom’s PS4-controller, preferably when she is in the middle of a boss fight.

Found her notes! So, this is what she took issue with:

  1. Carriers Of The Plague: Nope, not our wild cousins, but the fleas. Nasty little buggers.
  2. Black Rats: The brown ones are actually much more common in Europe. And elsewhere.
  3. Light Sensitivity: We have poor eyesight and bright lights don’t help, but when required, we can adapt to daylight well enough.
  4. Devouring Humans: We are actually herbivores, but partial to some animal protein now and then. Speaking for my mischief, we don’t bite – ever – but if we did, our lower and upper incisors would punch two holes in your flesh, like a stapler, and certainly make you bleed. Profusely, if we hit the right spot. Our incisors are about 4 mm (upper) and 7 mm (lower) long. So, we would not exactly rip the flesh off of your bones.
  5. . Rat Tornadoes: Absolutely not.

More On Rats In Video Games

As mentioned, there are other games that I enjoy where rats are used for shock value. In Dishonored, the protagonist can take over a rat’s body and use it to get through rat tunnels and enter otherwise off-limits places. Cool, right? They can also command a pack of rats and set them on their enemies, much like A Plague Tale: Innocence‘s Hugo will learn to do in the last stretch of the game. But: Dishonored leaves you the option whether or not to acquire that Skill. You are not obliged to use it. In A Plague Tale: Innocence, Hugo is encouraged to use that power during a prison break. There is no other option.

Of course, the game is all about making these life-or-death decisions. Amicia uses her sling to kill, telling herself that she has no other choice. The sling does not really have a non-lethal option either. Non-lethal options are throwing stones or pots as a distraction or using a special potion to put an unaware guard to sleep. Interestingly enough, those pots are hard to come by. And you can only fashion one single sleeping potion for your arsenal. Also, the positioning of the guards often does not allow for a non-lethal option.

When it comes to the rats, they are, as mentioned, simply disgusting to look at. Which is a big let down. Also, there are seemingly millions of them. Where’d they come from, I wonder? Well. As you can tell, I am not impressed with how rats were used in the game and in hind-sight my misgivings about it were fully justified. It is still a visually beautiful game and I enjoyed everything BUT the rats.

In Vampyr, rats are a substitute source of nutrition for hero Dr. Jonathan Reid. Yet when it comes to the decision of whether to end the life of a human character or suck on innocent rats, I confess that I can live with the latter. I always have a bad conscience, but it is a very in- character decision for a man – okay, vampire – following the Hippocratic oath.

There are many more examples, as detailled in this great compilation by Bloody Disgusting. It’s worth a read.

Until then, keep on playing!