A dark / emotional journey: A Plague Tale Innocence
If you were to describe a single trait of a good survival game, what would it be?
To me, it’s fear.
When you bring darkness in your room and the only sources of light your eyes can see are one from the LED strips in your fancy PC casing/ tiny lights of the console and the other, darker one from the screen where the characters are struggling in a dark atmosphere, your skin should feel a nudge, at least once in a while. There should be a shivering feeling down that stubborn spine of yours as you try to navigate the darkness with the game characters.
Think that you are a teenage girl, running in the jungles and plague struck towns of 14th century France as a fugitive with a little kid brother, who has a tendency of becoming agitated every once in a while and get you into trouble. Your name, is Amicia De Rune and the little brother named Hugo is the most wanted kid in the whole region. All you have is a handmade sling and some stones in your armory, while the opposition is a heavily armed army who will kill you as soon as they find you. And then there’s the main character. Rats.
There’s a lot of them as they bring Black Death with them. When it’s dark, their hordes pop up from the earth and devour everything that’s not in the light. (A beautiful representation of the interrelation of light and dark- darkness appears as soon as there’s an absence of light). You have to be careful while navigating because even the slightest error can cause a horrible death that can take you by surprise when it happens first. You can feel it in your bones as your character gets devoured by the hordes of Black Death. Asobo studios have made sure you move your body in awe, fear and frustration while you play their devoted story experience in their latest piece- A Plague Tale: Innocence.
As a story it’s pretty dark, so is the experience. You’ll get into action from the very first scene as the seemingly beautiful life exists only a few minutes as you face the first crisis. The sense of loss is eminent as they were pretty gruesome even in the beginning of the game. The creators made sure that the gamer feels the intensity and inevitability of death right from the beginning. They were so hell bent on achieving that feat (which they did, obviously), that they probably rushed a bit. It was kind of shocking when I had to witness an almost clean-sweep slaughter so early in the game. I usually need some time to get attached to a character. As for NPCs (non-player characters), it’s more difficult to develop emotional connection and empathy towards them unless you have a really compelling narrative. Nevertheless, I believe there’s a minimum time required for the gamer to empathize with both NPCs and PCs. In the case of NPCs, the time required is probably more as gamers can empathize with PCs in an easier fashion. So when we witness an entire royal family wiped out within so little time of knowing them, it’s tough for us to empathize in the manner it demands. But it does instigate something else.
Not in the terms of a shot of it, rather in a more holistic way. It makes you feel the insane power of the antagonist (the enemy), in this case, the inquisition, who wants your brother Hugo for the Grand Inquisitor’s secret need. It also makes you understand the fact that you are alone in this fight from there on. It creates a subtle nervousness as you feel like no help will be given and you probably have to pull it off all by yourself. Here’s a point where Asobo gets full points from me- they could make me feel like I am really there inside the game, facing it all by myself as a De Rune and I was kind of uncertain, thinking about how I would be able to defeat these brutal antagonist with only stones and potions.
The tale, as expected, is a grim one. It has an aura of tragedy mixed all around it. The fact that your little brother grew up without you, despite living in the same castle, due to his mysterious sickness- is horrible. Also, from being the children of a good Lord to becoming orphans in a matter of minutes was pretty gruesome as well. But that was just the beginning. In A plague tale: Innocence, you will go through the grinding experience of moral dilemma as you learn to kill to survive. From repenting every single kill you make in chapters 1–5 to killing in a frenzy after chapter 12/13, it takes a tremendous amount of hate. Thankfully, the inquisition have proven to be a totally worthy foe, who could piss you off in a good enough level. But that’s not even the ending. Eventually you have to use a kid to fight and do unspeakable things to people. Makes you wonder where’s the boundary between survival and morality, if there’s any. You’ll witness mortal sacrifices, blind hatred and fear. You’ll face the ultimate choice of truth and lies. At times, you’ll feel what all babysitters face- the continuous challenge of keeping the kid happy and safe at the same time.
You’ll be in the run, no doubt. It’s a survival game after all. But what will set the experience apart from just another survival game, is the motivation and mechanism. The game does provide the motivational drive to fight the enemies, but at times it rushed a bit too much in the early chapters. The dialogues depicting the intimacy among the good characters seemed a bit too early at times. In terms of mechanism, it is an intense experience. The combination of lighting, sound effects and game scenarios are astounding. The effort is clearly visible as you follow the trails of light to survive and estimate the position of the enemy by the direction of the sound. Also, the usage of environment is substantial. It gives away many techniques of survival. For example, whenever you see a clay pot somewhere, you would understand that it’s time to get rid of the old one by using it to distract the enemy nearby. At the same time, it’s not even a mandatory technique. You can pass the scenario in any way you wish. The stones turn out to be far more useful than they seem like, initially. The usage of fire is also very real, which makes the game feel more close to real. Due to the dark nature of the story, you’ll eventually have to learn to fight fire with fire, at some time.
A Plague tale: Innocence is not all about darkness, pain and tragedy. It gives you glimpses of beautiful moments to cherish, one of them being Hugo plucking different flowers for Amicia as she put them in her hair, and in the inventory, you can learn about the flower in detail as well.
It also makes you at home in the environment by including some tiny details, such as remembering someone by interacting with the place they used to stay, tools they used to use. The story might seem a bit predictable after a while, but at least a couple of big big surprises will await you.
Listen to the sound of eminent death as the rats gather, rest your mind in the tragic and dark sound effect throughout the journey. You will feel exactly at home in 14th century, with all the dangers associated. You’ll feel the urge to survive against the looming, horrible death as you run and grow a knack for revenge. Go against the odds, feel the fear, enjoy the epic journey in 17 chapters. The game isn’t too long, that had its good and bad sides both. But nonetheless, the experience is epic.
Experience and witness death in one of its most cruel forms. Breathe in the horrible sound of human body getting devoured by the hordes and participate in the epic survival in darkness, with darkness and light both. Don’t judge yourself too much in this terrifying journey.
“The night was dark, no father was there.”
[Screenshot courtesy: IGN]