E3 2017: If You’re Not Scared of Rats, A Plague Tale: Innocence Will Fix That (Preview)

June 21, 2017

Not every game shown at E3 has to be a huge, all-encompassing blockbuster title. Sometimes, the titles that leave the greatest impression on you are just based around a small idea, or unique use of technology, but executed in a creative and memorable way. This is the case with A Plague Tale: Innocence, a game set in France, 1349, during the Black Plague. It’s a single-player game for PC and consoles (but no Switch release), that focuses on a pretty simple fear – rats. And not just any rats, but the nastiest, most evil looking rats you’ve seen a long time, who move in the thousands like pools of ravenous, flowing liquid around their prey. It’s a very dark and moody title, a combination of a horror, stealth and adventure game. While I wasn’t able to go hands-on with the game, I did watch a developer-run walkthrough demo that was made specially for E3, which showcases aspects of the gameplay but not representative of a level in the final game.

You play as the older sister of a brother/sister pair struggling to survive in the midst of the Black Plague. However, this is not just any representation of the plague – while the developers claim there isn’t really a supernatural element to the story, there’s definitely something fantastical at play. The plague rats’ glowing eyes give that much away, at least. However, the developers claim that while it may be somewhat fantasy-based by our standards, it would seem real/grounded to those living at the time.

Much of the gameplay involves sneaking around Spanish Inquisition guards roaming the streets, trying to hide from them. In this demo, the brother has been held captive by the guards, and the sister is trying to save him. There are massive swarms of rats around, in the showpiece bit of tech in this game, as over 3000 rats can be on-screen at once. The rats only have one fear – light/heat and they form circles around the guards who carry lanterns. The sister character has a slingshot, which she can use to break the guards’ lanterns, thereby removing their protection from the rats and allowing the to swarm and consume them. The rats make short work of the guards, and she can progress while they’re busy eating. She frees her brother and they escape. This interaction is an example of the relationship between the three main forces in the game – the children are prey to the guards, while the guards can be prey to the rats. 

The next area was in a church, which is filled with a strange boney biomass that the sister identifies as being built by the rats as a kind of nest. In here, the assist mechanics with the little brother can be seen – he can be directed to crawl under gates or to hard-to-reach places to retrieve items you need. In this instance, he collects a candle which you can use to light a lantern to clear the path ahead. The developers commented that there will be other assist characters who will join you throughout the game, some of who will have offensive abilities. However, before the pair can go much further, a massive swarm of rats, bigger than any we’ve seen before erupts from the back of the church. All the pair can do is huddle together with the little light they have and try to make their way through the rats as they surround them. They reach a tunnel at the back of the church, which is filled with bones, and as they descend the brother thinks he can hear their mother calling and runs ahead, despite his sister’s desperate cries that it’s definitely not her.

That’s where the demo ends. While it was only a short demonstration, the tech is impressive and the mood is suitably dark and oppressive. It seems like a unique and twisted little title that should be able to find a spot in any self-respecting horror fan’s library. The devs are anticipating the game will be about 10 hours long, and it’s currently set for a 2018 release date.