By: Adam Leonhardt
History is filled with horrors. Horrors that seem destined to be retold in film, books and video games. There is always a morbid fascination to experience long past historical tragedies and video games seem to be an optimal outlet for such a need. What better way to put you in the throws of history than by giving you control of one who lived through it?
It was this foundation that made A Plague Tale such an interesting and unique game to play for me. Set in 1348 France during the Great Plague, you assume the role of the young Amicia de Rune, a girl forced to flee her home with her younger brother Hugo after the inquisition lays waste to their home and family.
Plague Tale sees you using stealth and cunning to evade the inquisition troops who are in relentless pursuit of you through most of the adventure. But the troops are only a small portion of the danger of A Plague Tale. As the title implies, death is around every corner and in this game Death comes in the form of an endless swarm of diseased rats.
The rats are A Plague Tale’s defining feature and gameplay staple. Blood thirsty, flesh-eating and unstoppable, the rats pour from cracks in the walls, burst from rotting corpses and spout from crevices in the ground as they move like a sea of glowing eyes and slick black fur. The sight of them is a technical marvel as they scurry in the dark by the hundreds. This game is a graphical gem and there are scenes of horror that often made me pause what I was doing just to admire the visuals.
There is no way to battle against the rats so your only hope is to push them back with light or to coax them away with other sources of food. Amicia has a bevy of tools up her sleeves that she can craft with alchemy. Igniting projectiles that create safe havens of light and scented decoys that lure the swarm away are only two of the several tricks at your disposal. These can be used in clever ways to clear your path through the rats. Launch a lure at a patrolling guard and watch the rats overcome him and pick his bones clean, giving you the perfect opportunity to sneak by.
The mechanics of this game are clever and the atmosphere and setting are unique but unfortunately they weren’t enough to carry this game to the finish line. Towards the third act of A Plague Tale something curious happened. The gameplay began to wear thin. With no actual combat in the game I began to grow tired of sneaking, hiding and running through the whole game. A Plague Tale is not a brief experience so hitting the same note over and over over the course of the 12 hour campaign began to feel tiring. Add to that a bizarre narrative turn around the 8 hour mark that takes this game from historical thriller to schlocky, B-movie supernatural horror. Plus an ending that I found positively confounding and absurd. You could say I was more than a little stunned by the turnaround towards the end of A Plague Tale.
Ultimately I was impressed by most of Asobo Studios efforts here but the closing hours of the game did their best to sour my thoughts on the experience overall. I’m excited by the future prospects of this studio but unfortunately A Plague Tale just falls short of its ambitions.