During Focus Home Interactive's What's Next event last week in Paris, we were able to see all of the games that the French publisher has coming in the next couple of years. Among the titless we were already well aware of there was also one or two that we don't know much about at all, and of those, there was one in particular that caught our attention. A Plague Tale: Innocence, developed by independent studio Asobo, made quite an impression on us. This wasn't the first time that the game had been on display (as a matter of fact, it was shown off last year at the same event and then again at E3) but information about it has been thin on the ground and its development remained shrouded in secrecy. Asobo, a studio that has already worked on games like Fuel and Quantum Break, is building an adventure that definitely won't be to your tastes you if you're afraid of things that scurry. Here there are swarms of rats everywhere; a technical challenge imposed by a dark, melancholic, and stressful story.
There's no open world here, and the story is very much scripted. In this moody adventure, Amicia, 14, and Hugo, her 8-year-old brother, are on their own in a nightmarish world. The plot takes place in the southeast of France where a terrible plague is ravaging the population. Rats, feeding on the corpses of local citizens, are taking control of the streets. Luckily, the rodents are afraid of the light, which is just about enough to prevent them from devouring you on sight. In order to maintain a semblance of order, the Inquisition patrols the area, arresting lone travellers. You can't rely on a sword here, nor magical superpowers; being smart is the only way to save these siblings.
Kevin Choteau, the game's lead designer, talked us through part of chapter 4, and the first thing we noticed was the graphics. The developers wanted to make a beautiful, precise, detailed game and they have pretty much nailed it. In particular, we noted some impressive work in terms of lighting effects. But the photorealistic rendering we saw is also helped by a cinematic style. It's reminiscent of The Last of Us, or more recently Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice. The movements look real, your surroundings are detailed, and the scenery impressive.
The gameplay demo revealed a huge battlefield where corpses of lifeless soldiers littered the ground; a real feast for the rats that swarmed the area in their thousands. Despite the sheer number of the rodents on screen at any one time, they don't seem to collide with each other and they looked terrifyingly genuine. Regarding the mechanics surrounding gameplay, as mentioned before, they are essentially based around managing light sources and staying out of the darkness and therefore harm's way. To get through each area you have to light torches, campfires, and any of the flammable objects that might be scattered around the vicinity. The light of the flames scares away the nearby rats and therefore opens up a path. You'll still have to be very cautious, as the rodents will feast on your flesh if you venture into darkness, and therein lies the challenge offered by the game.