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A Plague Tale: Innocence Review

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A Million Eyes Waiting In The Dark .

Read Time 11 minutes
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When it comes to video games that surpass expectations, A Plague Tale currently comes on top of the list for me because it is so well-made that if you don't cry because of the story it tells, you'll end up crying anyways just because of how beautifully set up it is. As one of the first few graphically-intensive games I ever played after acquiring a computer that was neither a toast nor a refrigerator, I hold it close to heart for showing me that the hardships of life can be a phase if you are able to keep looking forward to the path ahead. With that introduction out of the way, today I am here to share with you how coming back to the not-so-wonderful world of A Plague Tale has changed my way of viewing its faults, as well as its glorious, almost fabled method of telling a story that not only gets us involved but also don't ever drop the bar, even when it feels like it's bound to happen.

 ...Whose genius idea was it to make a game based around the streets of NYC?... 

Drawing heavily from real-world 'concepts', the game dives deeply into the annals of history books to create what I would call a blend of the worst that has happened throughout human history. It tells us the story of Amicia and her sickly little brother Hugo de Rune, siblings chased by the inquisition, and whose lives took a big turn and went from calm and tranquil to dark and full of terrors after a series of tragic events that left both of them without the warmth of a parent's embrace. As the toughest of realities comes down crashing, it will be our mission to keep both of them alive and well for as long as necessary for them to regain their strength and return the favor to those who put them in this situation twice as rough.

Refering to the doom of humanity, the list includes items such as devastating plagues, famine and war, as well as the destruction that can be caused by the irrational/blind pursuit of faith. They are not approached directly, being more of a recurring theme that plays constantly on the background.

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A game that isn't afraid to tap upon mature topics, and one where death is so common, seeing a corpse or two being torn apart on the ground won't even be the most distressful thing you'll see. In it, our main objective will be to save civilization as we know it from collapse, as a rat-carried plague that very much alludes to the Black Death rampages what little is left of it. A game you almost could say has it all; from some of the most creative puzzles I've seen, all the way to escape sequences to get you jumping on your chair, A Plague Tale is the kind of game that quite frankly could hardly get any better, aside from perhaps making cute little Hugo be slightly less annoying, which I do admit would be quite a challenge.

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Set in early-age France, the game uses traditional, bright-toned colors alongside a wonderful medieval setting to paint a picture that sticks to memory like hot glue. Not to be confused with your everyday fairy tale where everyone gets to live a happy ever after, A Plague Tale makes a somewhat terrifying use of shock-full scenes to hook in players from practically minute one. It is an unnerving descent into the depths of hell where a torch — or pretty much any source of light, for that matter — can mean the difference between life and death, and finding respite quickly becomes an idealistic image we can only dream of achieving.

You know a game is not even slightly afraid to slap you with sensitive content when right by minute one you'll be seeing the most lovable of animals thrown into a nest of rats for the sake of sending a message — whatever can do that to a dog, is not to be messed with. While you could say that the game peaks in horridness right then and there, that'd only be the start of a formidable gut-wrenching experience.

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You know a game is not even slightly afraid to slap you with sensitive content when right by minute one you'll be seeing the most lovable of animals thrown into a nest of rats for the sake of sending a message — whatever can do that to a dog, is not to be messed with. While you could say that the game peaks in horridness right then and there, that'd only be the start of a formidable gut-wrenching experience.

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When Humans Get Outmatched: Don't Dare Turn Off The Lights .
 

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Developer: Asobo Studio

Publisher: Focus Home Int.

Release Date: May 14, 2019

Buying the game from the link above is a great way to support the site.

With its focus firmly set on selling us a narrative that is both engaging and interesting to sit through, A Plague Tale narrows my main talking points to only a handful. Those would have to be convincingness, for how believable it is, and elasticity, to see how far character arcs and plotline go, in terms of expansiveness. First, to convince someone what they see on their screen is 'real', you need to evaluate whether you are willing to go the extra mile of telling them that directly, or let your words do the work of inspiring people into believing that if they fail to save the world in-game, their house is going to actually burn down IRL. Second of all, you can kind of tell how far a game is willing to go in terms of character development by how much effort they put into making secondary characters not as one-dimensional as a wall made out of bricks.

Taking what it can from fantastical, as well as realism nodes, the game makes great use of elements of both worlds to construct an intricate experience that is kept under low profile for as long as necessary for the decisive bang to be as impactful as possible. A well-rounded experience that keeps you wishing for more, and its chapter-segmented structure helps by making it so that each piece of the set is as digestible as possible, at the same time it leaves you hanging in suspense after each and every single one of them.

A movie-like show that is shaped to fit into the stereotypical view people have of female protagonists, where women can't fight back at all and have to hide in order to survive. Except… not really…? Armed with a skull-breaking slingshot and powerful alchemical solutions we learned how to craft thanks to a close friend, there are a number of ways we can get around breathing obstacles. In the case of rats, for example, we can incinerate them with a light-emitting bomb, or as for humans, a solid piece of rock shot from our sling straight to the face should get the job done just as well, unless they are wearing helmets or similar equipment to protect their ugly smug.

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Similar to every other storyteller, A Plague Tale follows a linear framing to tell its story, meaning that our decisions won't affect the plot by much outside of unlockables and achievements we can get along the way. The plus side is that everything we hear or see should be tailor-made to only enhance the experience.

Taking the concept of the floor is lava to the next level, instead of flaming hot stones for us to avoid stepping on, we now have several biting nibblers who really want us to fall on them.

​The rule is simple: as in almost every form of media to ever exist, if it moves, it can most certainly be killed. It doesn't matter if we're talking about some kind of supernatural force, an entire army, a heavily armored foe or heck, even both of those combined into one. As you'll see in a bit, A Plague Tale makes that unlikely scenario that much easier to visualize...

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​The rule is simple: as in almost every form of media to ever exist, if it moves, it can most certainly be killed. It doesn't matter if we're talking about some kind of supernatural force, an entire army, a heavily armored foe or heck, even both of those combined into one. As you'll see in a bit, A Plague Tale makes that unlikely scenario that much easier to visualize...

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With a clear understanding that desperate times require desperate measures, A Plague Tale is quite strict when it comes to what you can and cannot do. I recall thinking fairly early into the game that the troubles of getting caught were a good enough reason to deter me from going where I wanted. This is important to know because, on the topic of exploration, sometimes you'll see items just out of reach, and while most of the time you'll be able to figure out an easy and hopefully not-so-costly route to access them, that, unfortunately, won't always be the case for more uncommonly found bits.

 

Consisting mostly of ingredients for alchemical preparations, as well as upgrade materials such as leather, strings, among other bits and pieces, these rewards, so to speak, serve to enhance the quality of our equipment, as well as their efficiency of use — just something of note: remember to only take calculated risks while looking for them, else you'll end up losing progress unnecessarily.

And since traumatizing us with scenes of innocent children getting murdered in cold blood by the common folk is indeed something the game enjoys doing without sparing a breath, that means losing progress in this context would be the same as dying over and over (and over) again to test whether or not the river is safe for crossing… for science, of course! To make matters even worse, getting sighted while going for a quick run to the nearest convenience store for pesticides won't be as easy as you'd think, thanks to enemy awareness being noticeably better than the norm.

When exploring, finding the option that is the least expensive, resources wise, should always take priority over consuming rarer brewing ingredients for, as is to be expected, they are harder to come by. For this reason, observation should be fundamental in finding the best method of progressing without inflicting much damage in one's own back pocket.

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When exploring, finding the option that is the least expensive, resources wise, should always take priority over consuming rarer brewing ingredients for, as is to be expected, they are harder to come by. For this reason, observation should be fundamental in finding the best method of progressing without inflicting much damage in one's own back pocket.

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Upgrades to our basic toolset allows our character to aim faster, hit with increased accuracy, and carry more ingredients on their pouch. Though not really necessary for completing the game, these small changes do make quite a big difference overall, and are a great way to somewhat marginally increase our odds of survival.

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All in all, it is a game that thankfully doesn't have too much handholding, and you really have to think in order to get around. It goes laps around the development of friendships in dark times and the terror that comes with losing a loved one, outlining the necessity of sticking together so as to find comfort in one another. Be prepared to get emotionally invested with characters whom you'll be worrying your skin off as they put themselves in increasingly dangerous situations to save a planet that doesn't deserve being saved in the slightest, with the obvious exception being the other animals that also happen to live in it.

As much as I hate to admit, A Plague Tale wasn't the easiest of games, from the perspective that you need to pay a lot of extra attention than you'd normally need in similar games so as to not wind up tripping. From experience, besides a very basic aim-assistance that makes shots a tad bit harder to miss, the game really wants you to stick out your neck and attempt to understand how things work, rather than relying on systems to work things for you.

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Lest Madness and Power Take Hold: From Inside They Come .
 

Assuming the prospect of an unexplainably frightening venture, an equally awful 'villain' also had to exist to take the fear factor to the next level. The game has two main antagonists, one being the rats — although they play more as ambient danger rather than anything else — and then there is the inquisition, a group of crazed lunatics who are after our protagonists' family for reasons that aren't immediately known to us. Starting from order of arrival, those rodents, which are portrayed as demonic, or of devilish origins (rightfully credited) will be a constant throughout the entire gameplay.

They are a nasty group of living nightmares with an innate fear of light that functions by consuming and devouring all they touch, thanks to their supernatural ability to work together to rip prey to pieces in an instant like a group of bloodthirsty piranas, making bodies disappear without leaving a trace behind in a matter of seconds. Representing apocalyptic beings that wake from slumber once or twice each and every millennium, they come from underground to feed on life essence, similarly to a colony of ants seeking to grow and strengthen itself — could they also perhaps have a queen of their own? And that is not limited to what they do, but also how they do it, which is important to understand their inexplicable, somewhat intelligent behavior, as well as a hivemind capacity to act together as one singular entity. 

Tiny Hugo, our younger brother is the current carrier of the Prima Macula, a latent power that sleeps in our bloodline and gets passed ahead throughout generations, usually awakening at the same time as the rats rise to devour everything in their path. Learning about Hugo's connection to the plague will be vital in understanding the intentions of the inquisition, as well as the means to fend them off of us.

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The events seen happen in A Plague Tale are described as having already happened in the past. Since it is usually a world-altering event where its effects can be heard throughout ages our ancestors might have found a way to deal with the plague, even if temporarily. The answer as to how exactly lies hidden somewhere only keen eyes and ears could suspect to find it. 

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Although present in weight throughout the entire game, as mentioned before, seeing them pour out of every random hole in the walls/ground will never not be terrifying. Seeing that sea of countless unblinking eyes is enough to send chills down a grown man's spine; way worse than any horror movie I've watched recently, I'm telling you. I dunno, something about them just makes my skin crawl, is all. Just a quick FYI: pushing them into a tight corner to see them evaporate into ashes is quite an amusing activity I'd recommend you try — it's very fun, almost like bursting bubble wrap.

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​For your shots to be lethal and guarantee a kill, they have to be clean and perfectly aimed at the head of enemies. To save yourself from the hassle, a configurable aim-assistance was put in place to make the job of hitting those peanut-brained targets from far away as trouble-free as physically possible.

It is known that revenge taste the sweetest when served cold, so aim slow and savor every moment before you make the bastards who stole everything from you pay for their crimes.

The events seen happen in A Plague Tale are described as having already happened in the past. Since it is usually a world-altering event where its effects can be heard throughout ages our ancestors might have found a way to deal with the plague, even if temporarily. The answer as to how exactly lies hidden somewhere only keen eyes and ears could suspect to find it. 

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To fight an enemy you can't physically hurt you have to be smart. My go-to strategy, as already mentioned, is to clump them together into small clusters with a torch in hand and watch them turn voluntarily back to ashes. This also serves to prove their non-organic nature, seeing as instead of squirming in pain, they just vanish on the spot without leaving a single trace of their existence behind.

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To fight an enemy you can't physically hurt you have to be smart. My go-to strategy, as already mentioned, is to clump them together into small clusters with a torch in hand and watch them turn voluntarily back to ashes. This also serves to prove their non-organic nature, seeing as instead of squirming in pain, they just vanish on the spot without leaving a single trace of their existence behind.

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As for the inquisition, they are those who spit on the face of justice — men-slaying bastards whom you can take down without regret or pity. Led by a mysterious figure titled the grand inquisitor, alongside his loyal servant who is not much more than a ruthless killer in shiny crusader armor which acts as his hunting hound of sorts, they believe that their blood-spilling is necessary to achieve greater good, but little do they know they are mere fools without a chance for salvation. Introduced into the story as a malicious bunch that kill and plunder for their own benefit, they not only seem dumb in appearance, but also in attitude, seeing as not only do they lack in brain cells to empathize with those in need, they also fail to understand the importance of cooperating in times of crisis.

Ruthless sackheads, void of coherent thinking, they are the worse possible figure of authority to have around when sh*t hits the fan. When the treatment they give unarmed civilians is worse than that of cattle, that is the precise moment we know we'll find no mercy should we find ourselves getting cornered. That, plus an unnecessary display of strength may, this time around, show that chasing after the defenseless needlessly could for once actually prove to be their downfall.

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Being the moronic mouth-breathers that they are, their existence still somehow remains more or less vital for the plot development in A Plague Tale, so we are left with no option but to slingshot their presence away from us. Actively engaging in confrontation, their also nasty behavior could be traced back to their leader, a rotten old geezer in robes who believe himself to be a saint of sorts, and yet his actions are not in the slightest seen as good by the church and its followers, including the head of the congregation, the pope himself. Perhaps acting as a form of foreshadowing, the man is no less than the person responsible for ordering the attack that leaves our poor MCs without a place to call home, for motives that are only revealed to us a little down the line.

Ruthless sackheads, void of coherent thinking, they are the worse possible figure of authority to have around when sh*t hits the fan. When the treatment they give unarmed civilians is worse than that of cattle, that is the precise moment we know we'll find no mercy should we find ourselves getting cornered. That, plus an unnecessary display of strength may, this time around, show that chasing after the defenseless needlessly could for once actually prove to be their downfall.

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In hindsight, having a single enemy to channel our entire rage towards could be a blessing in disguise, now that I think about it. Them being so open about wanting to capture us, and quite possibly kill us to achieve their twisted goals, is the exact reason why we are able to hide so efficiently, leaving them in a stalemate position where they can't have whatever it is they want from us. By brute forcing their way into our lives, they send the clear message of wanting to absolutely and undoubtedly end us, so I'm pretty sure that doing the exact same thing to them couldn't possibly be that bad.

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Always A Light At The End Of The Tunnel: Unless It Bends A Lot .
 

To see hope when times are bleak is a talent not many people are born with. When the nights are dark and full of terrors, especially in a world where said dark is alive and thirsting for a morsel of flesh, traversing the roads unprepared can quickly become a not-so-safe task to, you know, walk alone… unless the path is lit up with a trail of torches, of course! Like moths attracted to a flame, the way to navigate the map in A Plague Tale is quite simple, as now you just got to accept being guided by the almighty light-emitting object, for it shall reveal the way ahead — it just takes time and lots upon lots of patience.

That's because while it's clear where we have to go, we still have to deal with the running problem of rats pouring out of every damn hole in the ground, and that's where the creativity in A Plague Tale really shines (no pun intended) as a cleverly designed 'trail of candies' for us to innocently follow. You know, something I have to admit is that I am actually not a huge fan of puzzles, more specifically the ones where you have to think harrdd in order to solve. What I dislike even more is one that straight-up insults my intelligence with a big red arrow that points me in the direction I need to go, even if that might actually be placed there with good intent. Out of those two, only the latter exists in the game, and while the way ahead is clearly outlined, a sutile flame swaying off in the distance for guidance at the very least shouldn't be that immersion-breaking.

Another rookie mistake, or rather a personal distaste of mine, would be objects that are too conveniently placed, or that wouldn't make sense to be where they are but exist anyway just because otherwise progress would become an impossibility. Somewhat widespread, this issue is more commonly found in games that exhibit careless behavior, similar to the ones which are more slanted toward a younger audience. An example I can think of right now would be the key to a locked cell being right next to the door/gate it unlocks, which I know sounds odd, but I've seen happen more times than I can count.

From lamp posts, all the way to almost anything else you can think of that can be set ablaze (haystacks, braziers, chandeliers, etc.), scenarios, whether big or small, should always be dotted with a wide variety of similar objects that get put there with an unique purpose that isn't limited to illuminating its surroundings.

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From lamp posts, all the way to almost anything else you can think of that can be set ablaze (haystacks, braziers, chandeliers, etc.), scenarios, whether big or small, should always be dotted with a wide variety of similar objects that get put there with an unique purpose that isn't limited to illuminating its surroundings.

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​Isn't it ironic how a game that is so much about light can have so many dark undertones? In seeing it from above, you can barely imagine what might be going on under these roof tiles.

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Too much liberty can be overwhelming sometimes, especially in a game where its cities imitate real-world ones. The cluster of endless corridors would be nauseating to explore, so it's logically nice being able to see at a single glance the exact place we should be directing our full attention towards.

So, the reason I gave A Plague Tale a pass despite it very much going against these same rules I just came up with is that I realized that not everything needs to be perfect or make complete sense for its existence to be valued. Not only that, but the way ahead being marked by embers mitigates in its entirety the necessity of doing the hard thinking I am so very not fond of, with now the only real 'difficult' part being how we go about lighting them up to avoid the vermin flooding up entire streets, as well as how we deal with the guards, so we have yet another win right there as well.

The game can also be a tad too radical (but you won't hear me complain) with how it sets up clearing those same two obstacles I just mentioned, seeing as there will be moments you will have to resort to extreme tactics to get past areas completely unscathed, one such being using the freshly put to rest body of others as a kind of living bait. 

All of that, plus an uncanny inability to hold a torch for longer than a couple of moments before having to leave it somewhere, or going to encounters as unprepared as one can be, is what turns A Plague Tale into a strangely flawed piece I can't quite keep my eyes off of. The simple act of contouring an entire area full of enemies late into the game despite these immense handicaps to even up the playing field is like conquering the same shadows we used to fear, which is just too much for a single person to handle.

 

Examples include luring animals, or rather a large and surprisingly round pig towards a free meal as means to attract rats to it and the rest you can probably already imagine. As gruesome as it sounds, you'd think there had to exist better alternatives, and as a still sane human, I'd very much agree with you! Just sayin', but being around someone whose first approach to a problem is to sacrifice others would make me want to watch my back as I sleep, idk...

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For these reasons alone, I found out that going along with my battle-it-out instincts simply because something didn't quite fit would be utterly futile. And so, I just accepted things as they were, and went on without questioning stuff as they appeared in my peripheral vision, and thus ended up having an amazing time while at it.

Final Thoughts: Undeterrable Power Of A High Friendship Status .
 

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To write a story that is so awesome it makes you forget you're playing a video game is what I aspire to be when I grow up. A thrilling movie-like experience that thankfully isn't littered with more cutscenes than actual gameplay, being an interactive masterpiece from top to bottom, and being as rich storywise as a videogame can get. In my opinion, the truly surprising thing about the game wasn't even how consistent it was, but how unfiltered it managed to be without ever making me want to look away.

A real concern I had was how they would be able to get so many 'objects' on the screen at the same time without making my computer want to fry itself, so I guess I don't even need to mention it was a huge relief when I saw that performance wasn't an issue, even for those with not-so-powerful setups. The big problem I can think of is that I am not even able to pretend the game, as it stands, is anywhere near perfect, seeing as with a sequel well out and about, it should be brightly obvious there were a bunch of things the developers had to tweak and improve upon, so as to marginally make the game even better.

Arguably its greatest achievement, an overall seamless experience free of any major technical hurdles or instabilities were partly what made the game so awesome for a lot of people. Despite being on a much higher end of the spectrum, A Plague Tale runs surprisingly well on a wide range of specs.

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That is not to say this first entry was any less spectacular as is, which couldn't possibly be farther from reality. The game is fantastic and unlike anything you've seen yet (jk, perhaps you have, but still...), so there is no questioning how much I will be looking forward to play the second coming of the game some time soon.

If you're a fan of immersive storytelling and a more-than-passable gameplay, you need to check it out, no excuses. I can't wait to see what the developers have in store for the sequel, and I have no doubt in my mind that it will be an awesome time if it's just half as good as this one is.

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A true visual beauty, with many graphics settings that are sure to please most people, even on the lowest settings.

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Sufficiently long with an incredible story that not once felt short, thanks to how well the entire thing plays out.

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Established plot points are nicely written and the game remains thematically sound from start to finish.

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Well fleshed out characters and a level of performance that isn't commonly seen in similarly sized games.

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Combat is too simple, and enemy AI isn't all that great as well, making some action parts of the game feel slightly weak.

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​Puzzles are super simplistic, always reusing the same pattern, with always way too coveniently placed interactive objects.

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Upgrades aren't too special, with most being just slight buffs for some basic stats and capacity to carry extra resources.

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Only a single ending, cutting the possibility of our decisions mattering for the world and characters we interact.

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A Plague Tale: Innocence

A beautifully played 10-12 hour-long thrilling story with many enchanting, sometimes dark, yet always beautiful moments. A story that starts timidly, with the plot slowly building up to create an engaging narrative that plays on the same level of insanity through its entirety.

09/01/2022 - Caius, The Innocence Incarnate

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