The following contains mild spoilers for A Plague Tale: Innocence.
A Plague Tale: Innocence is absolutely batshit crazy, and I’m okay with that.
The game’s trailer is deceptively coy, perhaps wisely so, selling A Plague Tale: Innocence as a historically accurate action adventure set in 14th Century France. After their home is sacked, Amicia and her brother Hugo are forced to flee from both a plague of rats and an army of human pursuers; which, as grim as it sounds, is well with the bounds of reality. There have been plagues of rats recorded, though they perhaps weren’t as determined or aggressive as those featured in the game. And the Inquisition, the source of the game’s secondary antagonists, was more than a little vicious.
But by A Plague Tale’s mid-way point, it’s parted with reality; you’re crawling through massive, alienesque rat warrens and fleeing from mini rat-tornados. And then there’s the ending which, without giving too much away, is completely hatstand. When the dust and the rat-droppings have cleared, it’s easy to look back at the game and see that it’s chock full of ideas borrowed from bad sci-fi channel movies. But when you’re in the thick of it, you never once question its reality.
A Plague Tale: Innocence gets away with this by drip-feeding you its madness, drop by deranged drop. It’s not, strictly speaking, necessary for the game to raise the stakes; the swarms of the rats that the game throws at you are horrifying enough, without giving them gruesome new configurations and methods of attack. For a moment, you’ll start to panic, wondering how you’re supposed to deal with this new menace. But, lo and behold, the game gifts you a new ability which, as luck would have it, is capable of dispersing the rat tornados (ratnados?).
Read more: A Plague Tale: Innocence review
Yes, it’s contrived, but the sense of relief at being able to combat your new-and-improved enemies (human and rat alike) holds you back from noticing that the game is slowly transforming into a rodent-themed Lord of the Rings. Likewise, the game’s lore is layered in such a manner that its final confrontation, which is well into the realms of fantasy, seems like a natural conclusion to Hugo and Amicia’s respective arcs.
I was so on board with A Plague Tale: Innocence’s story that you could have pitched me against a 100-foot Ratzilla who vomited a steam of smaller rats, and I wouldn’t have blinked an eye. It helps that Hugo and Amicia are such appealing characters, even though I initially wanted to throw Hugo to the rats. Thankfully, he became less irritating over time; keeping the pair alive offers another mental diversion from the escalation of A Plague Tale‘s fantastical plot.
This of course isn’t the only game to adopt the frog in boiling water approach. There are plenty of examples out there, but Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is just one other game that, viewed retrospectively, is utterly barmy. Yet, like A Plague Tale: Innocence, the characters and situations are so compelling, and the story doled out so carefully, that it’s not until the game’s conclusion that you stand back and realise how ridiculous the whole affair has been.
Had A Plague Tale: Innocence introduced its odder elements earlier on in the game, my eyebrows would have been hitting the ceiling. But by cementing each element before moving on, the game ensured I was thoroughly engaged.
A Plague Tale: Innocence is a great game in its own right, but it deserves special acclaim for the sheer nonsense it gets away with. It goes far beyond its original premise to become something utterly mad but rather wonderful.
I definitely need Ratzilla in the sequel, though.