GameTech: Innocence lost as the rats take over

Plague Tale - Innocence oozes quality, as well as infectious pus.

When you smell a rat, it usually means something bad is going down. Things get far worse, however, when a rat smells you. In the excellent A Plague Tale: Innocence, the rodents act like land-based piranhas, hunting down humans in packs and devouring people whole.

The horrific rats might be the selling point of A Plague Tale, but the game oozes more than just infectious pus. It oozes charm and quality too. A Plague Tale is one of the best-written and most compelling games of 2019 so far.

Set in medieval France during the time of the Black Death, A Plague Tale puts you in the mud-splashed shoes of Amicia, who is tasked with protecting her brother Hugo from mysterious inquisitors, who think that Hugo is special and are trying to capture him. Amicia isn’t really prepared for the task — she is just 15 years old and Hugo, five years old, has been estranged from her all his life.

The dialogue and interaction between Amicia and Hugo is believable and beautifully incorporated into A Plague Tale’s overall design. For example Amicia might lose her temper with Hugo, as any big sister would do, and Hugo runs off into trouble. The acting and pacing in this regard is superb.

The character development really plays into the core mechanics, which largely revolve around using stealth to avoid the supernatural man-eating rats, while the siblings journey through the French townlands and countryside.

The more you care about Amicia and Hugo, the more horrific the prospect of being swarmed by those terrifying rodents. Make no mistake — A Plague Tale is truly disturbing at times, leaving you in no doubt that this world is a place where children are killed without a second thought.

While the stealth gameplay itself is nothing especially unique, the design is compelling enough to maintain momentum. The developers do a good job of keeping you guessing, with ‘boss’ battles and other significant events often requiring interesting use of Amicia’s sling and the manipulation of fire (which the rats fear) and shadow, which the rats love. Later in the game, a twist on proceedings makes things even more compelling, turning the tide a little and empowering the player in a really satisfying manner.

Overall, A Plague Tale: Innocence is one of the best mid-budget games in recent years and a lesson in how passion for characters, storytelling and art design can make a small game a big success.

PAY TO WIN

Meanwhile, the real plague on gaming is microtransactions and ‘pay-to-win’ mechanics. In the US, a bill is being proposed to make such practices illegal, but it’s still a long way from being passed. In the meantime, it sounds like even Nintendo are getting in on the dastardly act.

People with access to the Mario Kart Tour closed beta are reporting that the game is packed to the brim with pay-to-win elements. Thankfully, Mario Kart Tour is a mobile-only entry to the series and not a mainline Mario Kart game. However, the reports still make for depressing reading.

Hundreds of reports online have confirmed that the Mario Kart Tour beta requires players to level up their characters in order to win races, achieve five ‘grand stars’ and progress in the game.

Unfortunately, managing this feat without paying to unlock progress is reported to be extremely difficult. In the game, you race against the ‘AI’ of other players, meaning if they have paid for upgrades and you have not, winning becomes too difficult.

Mario Kart Tour will be free upon its release, but if the beta reports are anything to go by, we’ll sitting this one out. So what is this legislative bill being proposed in the US, tackling microtransactions?

It’s called the ‘Protecting Children From Abusive Games Act’ and it has gained bipartisan support in the US, which is a significant step forward. The bill proposes to ban games aimed at minors that include loot boxes or pay-to-win mechanics.

“Only the addiction economy could produce a business model that relies on placing a casino in the hands of every child in America with the goal of getting them desperately hooked,” the bill’s creator Senator Josh Hawley said.

“I’m proud to introduce this landmark, bipartisan legislation to end these exploitative practices.”

The bill, which has been formally introduced, must now gain approval for next steps to be taken.

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