A Plague Tale: Innocence
May 14th, 2019
Platform PC (Steam), PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Publisher Asobo Studio
Developer Focus Home Interactive
Kingdom of France, 1349. Life seems normal for those living in the kingdom, despite having to deal with political unrest and all the difficulties that come from simply trying to stay alive. These difficulties, however, are nothing compared to the terrible calamity that is set to strike the kingdom, a plague brought by some vicious creatures, a plague that destroys everything it touches, whether it is nature, animals or humans. When entire armies fall to this, how could a 15 years old girl and her sickly brother survive after losing their home, their family and everything that mattered to them? A Plague Tale: Innocence is the story of how the will to live is stronger than any danger, and how bonds forged out of necessity can make the difference between life and death.
A Plague Tale: Innocence stars Amicia de Rune and her younger brother Hugo. One fateful day when out hunting with her father Robert, Amicia discovers something sinister that devours life. Hastily returning to the family’s estate, Amicia is soon forced to deal with yet an extremely complicated situation that will change her life forever. The Inquisition is after Hugo de Rune, Amicia’s younger and sickly brother with whom she never truly bonded. Upon the Inquisition’s arrival, Amicia’s mother tasks her with protecting Hugo at all costs, escape the estate and seek Laurentius, who seemingly knows what is afflicting Hugo. Things, however, become more complicated very quickly, as Amicia and Hugo will not only have to deal with the Inquisition seeking them out but also the plague itself, which is starting to ravage the land and spread fear among not only the French population but also the invading English army.
A Plague Tale: Innocence does its best to keep players engaged with its story and characters, and it masterfully succeeds in doing so. While the tale of two people trying to survive a catastrophe isn’t anything new, it is developed extremely well here, also thanks to the great character development for both Amicia and Hugo, which is a delight to experience, as they go from being completely helpless to being the key to solve the mystery of the plague and save the land.
One more thing that makes the story so interesting is how very little is depicted as clearly good or evil. The narration is very nuanced and all the characters, including those from the Inquisition, are not inherently good or evil, it’s just the terrible circumstances that are forcing these horrible acts. Amicia herself is often forced to commit deplorable acts in order to stay alive, such as sacrificing another human to save herself, her little brother and the companions that will accompany them from time to time. This mature storytelling does a lot in making the experience even more engaging.
A Plague Tale: Innocence’s story is extremely good, but this is not the only great thing the game has got going for itself, as the gameplay is quite solid as well. A Plague Tale: Innocence is basically a third-person stealth game, where players will have to sneak around other humans and stay out of their field of vision. If discovered, Amicia has very limited ways to fight back, and if an enemy gets too close, it’s game over. The most useful tool in her arsenal is the sling, which can be used to throw rocks and other projectiles with enough strength that they can even knock down enemies if needed. Projectiles can also be used to attract the enemies’ attention so to avoid confrontations altogether. There are also other ways to stay hidden from enemies, such as heading into the tall grass and using every object found in the field.
While the basics are extremely simple to grasp, also thanks to the excellent tutorial system which introduces players to new gameplay elements gradually, things become more complicated as the game moves on. For starters, Amicia is never by herself as Hugo has to follow her at all times. Players can decide to leave Hugo behind temporarily or even send him ahead to find items, open doors, activate contraptions and so on. If Hugo is discovered by the enemy, however, players will only have a very short time to save him to avoid getting a game over screen.
Humans aren’t the only ones that Amicia and Hugo will have to avoid, as they will also have to be very careful about the vicious rats bringing the plague. During the sequences involving these terrible rodents, the gameplay experience changes slightly, as players must always be near a source of light to keep them at bay. This also means that players will have to find, at times, torches and sticks to light in the fire and move extremely carefully, as once the rats are onto Amicia and Hugo, it’s over.
What makes the A Plague Tale: Innocence gameplay so engaging is how varied the experience actually is. Once the basics of these two types of situations have been introduced, the game mixes them up in some very clever ways, and more often than not players will have to deal with both humans and rats at the same time, using one type of enemy to deal with the other as well. Things are further spiced up by a few other situations where Amicia loses the use of her gear, forcing players to completely rethink their approach. Light crafting and upgrading elements, which allow players to create different items and improve equipment like the ammo pouch and sling, add even more complexity to the experience.
While the experience is definitely well-crafted, there are some small issues that could turn off some. The whole game is very linear and it’s not possible to backtrack at any time unless the story requires it, limiting the inclusion of optional content. Replay value is also really limited as players have no freedom in how to tackle the various situations: there’s only one way to make it to safety, and that’s that.
Despite not being a proper AAA title, A Plague Tale: Innocence features an excellent presentation that is on par with some of the best looking games released in recent years. Characters and locations are extremely detailed. Lighting is also used appropriately, creating the somber atmosphere that permeates the game. A Plague Tale: Innocence also runs smoothly on PC, keeping a steady 60 FPS frame rate at Ultra settings, 1080p resolution on a machine sporting an i7-3770 CPU, GTX 980 Ti, and 16 GB RAM. There are a lot of graphics settings available, so it’s possible to get a smooth experience with some tweaks here and there. Soundtrack and voice acting are both very well done as well, which helps immersion a lot.
A Plague Tale: Innocence looked and sounded great on paper, but it’s probably even better than most expected. With an emotional and gripping story enhanced by the charming characters, mature storytelling and themes, a great atmosphere and solid gameplay mechanics, A Plague Tale: Innocence is, without a doubt, one of the best games released this year so far.
PC Version tested. Review copy provided by the publisher.
A Plague Tale: Innocence is definitely among the gaming surprises of 2019, exceeding expectations in the best possible ways. With its gripping tale, charming characters and solid gameplay mechanics, the game is a must-have for those who like single-player games with a strong focus on story and character development. Even if the tale does not take in you, A Plague Tale: Innocence still offers a solid third-person stealth experience that fans of the genre will surely appreciate.
- Excellent story
- Charming characters
- Solid stealth gameplay mechanics
- Collectibles tied to the story
- Linear experience
- Limited optional content and replay value
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