This week, Yahtzee reviews A Plague Tale: Innocence.
Innocence (HRUUH) A Plague Tale, or possibly A Plague Tale (HRUUH) Innocence - I've seen both at different times, and it hardly matters, just as long as you get the three key elements in there: innocence, plagues, and HRUUH - is a story-focused action aventure where the dry heave is actually quite thematically relevant. It reminds me rather strongly of The Last of Us, popular tentpole of the "Serious Hairy Dad" genre, but taken a step further - "Serious Hairy Dad: The Next Generation", I suppose - where the usual subject of the "Serious Hairy Dad" game, "Serious Innocent Daughter-Type Girl", has to become the protagonist and pay it forward by escorting an even younger child: "Serious Dirty Older Sibling", perhaps. I guess the next logical step for this would be a game where you play as the even younger child who has to escort a small bird or a hedgehog or something.
In contrast to The Last of Us, though, Innocence: A Tale of Two Plagues is set in 14th-century France rather than the post-apocalypse, difficult as it may be to distinguish those two things; I mean, Christ, even today, going to France is basically exactly the same as sticking your head in a huge bucket of turds that think they're better than you. But anyway. Our protagonist is Amicia de Rune, and with a name like that, they were only ever going to be one of two things: medieval French noblewoman or someone who runs a blog talking about their life in the astral realms as a giant humanoid badger who dresses like they're in Final Fantasy IX.
Amicia is living a carefree life in the French countryside with her serious hairy dad, skipping playfully through the manure and murdering the shit out of pigs, when something terrible encroaches upon their household, and for once, it's not the local cheese. Our entire household and serious hairy dad get slaughtered by a branch of the Inquisition whom we most certainly did not expect, and Amicia has to go on the run with her sickly little brother, Hugo, who the Inquisition are desperate to get hold of because there's a weird supernatural connection between him and a plague of diseased rats that are terrorizing the region with their very own spirited attempt at a pre-Industrial grey goo scenario.
Now, Tale: An Innocent Plague came out quite a few weeks back, but up till now, I've never been able to get through the whole thing because something would always come up that I found vastly more interesting, like Observation, or a patch of grease in my driveway that looked a bit like Thomas Dolby, because the fact is, original as the concept is, "The Railway Children, but set in medieval France during a rat-based apocalypse", there's something terribly uninspired about Innocent Until Proven Plague. Gameplay is a rather unfocused grab bag of elements that AAA audiences seem to like, so a lot of it is the usual stealth arrangement where you crouch behind breast-high walls, flinging stones at noisy things to distract guards, but every now and again, that gives way to flat-out action where our sling-wielding 14-year-old girl protagonist has to take down armored professional soldiers with a remarkable stone-cold brutal efficiency that makes one wonder why the entire French army hasn't been taken over by Girl Guide troops.
Besides that, you've also got environmental puzzles based around using fire and bright light to create paths through rivers of rats (which is as original as things get), and then, of course, there's the usual fucking crafting. You have to craft all your ammo, and Christ knows why; ammo is required to solve most of the mandatory puzzles, so they plonk down creation materials every six fucking steps. Might as well have just given me infinite amounts of it rather than inexplicably carpet the game world in medieval children's chemistry sets.
I tend to die a lot in An American Tail: Fievel Goes Plague; despite having the offensive capability of a military-grade sniper rifle with racial epithets tippexed along the barrel, Amicia is still a small, fragile European and doesn't have much defense, dying instantly from any attack or from accidentally stepping on a square foot of space that a rat widdled on at one point. That's what makes the stealth so annoying: that the slightest mistake sends your corpse cartwheeling merrily back to one of the just-far-enough-apart-to-make-it-even-more-annoying save points. And with the linear map layout, there's not really anywhere to run to as the cock-ups begin to cascade.
Counter-intuitively, death can be bad for a horror game; I mean, it kind of needs to be there to threaten us, but the moment it actually happens, it kind of kills all the mystique. That's why Outlast 2 lost me in the first five minutes, when I witnessed my John Thomas get converted into an unwanted second belly button. But now that I've mentioned that, it's made me wonder, is Plague: Innocence a horror game? At first glance, it's hard to imagine what else it could be; an awful lot of people die horribly in it, and there's all the business with swarms of nightmare rats with glowing eyes straight from the most harrowing therapy sessions of Winston Smith, highbrow gag.
But a horror game needs to also, in some way, make me poo my pants, if you'll forgive the dense academic jargon, and I was less scared or unnerved than I was mildly annoyed most of the time. Part of that was the frequent death, but the game also slips occasionally into an Uncharted-y sort of tone where we puzzle our way through some ancient machine or other designed to funnel the rats like they're fucking light beams in a Zelda temple or something, all the while cheerfully snarking with our support character as slow, horrific death by a thousand nibbles chitters monstrously scant feet away.
See, it's not just the gameplay; the story somewhat loses focus as you go through as well. It starts with you and the little bastard on the run through hostile territory trying to reach some distant location on vague promises of safety, and eventually, you get to an abandoned castle and things shift to "Let's just live here and assemble a miniature Avengers team with a bunch of other orphans, each of whom in their own way also has the ability to overpower a fully-armored professional soldier!", which, again, makes you wonder why medieval France bothers with armies at all when a trip to the local orphanage will apparently yield the potential offensive power of a tactical nuclear strike. So then the story wibbles about for a bit, until finally, the sprog in our chard runs away and gets captured by the enemy for no great reason, except they must have thought to themselves, "Well, no one else is going to get things moving towards a fucking conclusion anytime soon!"
But maybe I'm being too hard on Innocency: A Plency Tency; maybe it's just all the French-ness about it stirring up my English blood and making me seek vengeance for Agincourt. There are plenty worse games, it's functional, and the variety of gameplay means you certainly couldn't call it "one-note", but I struggle to summon enthusiasm for any of the notes it did play. I suppose if I had to pick one thing to praise about it other than its evident ability to run without causing my PC to urinate coolant all over the office carpet, it'd be the rats; it is quite impressive as new spins on the apocalypse go, seeing the game render hundreds of little greasy cunts simultaneously, and not a little alarming the first time you see them bearing down on you in a tidal wave of little brown turds like some kind of bleak metaphor for the first few years of parenthood.
- Dweller in filth: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- And the characters all spend the whole game speaking English in overdone French accents which felt a wee bit Assassin's Creed 2-y
- I tried changing the spoken language to French but it brought back too many bad memories of high school