Review – A Plague Tale: Innocence
From the moment I set eyes on A Plague Tale: Innocence, the latest game from Focus Home and Asobo Games, I knew we were looking at something epic. What I wasn’t expecting was one of the best story driven games that I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing since the release of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice.
Set in the year 1348 during the Black Plague, you play as Amicia de Rune, a 15 year old girl that has been forced into the responsibility of looking after her younger brother, Hugo, after the De Rune estate is attacked by the Inquisition and her parents killed. To make matters worse, Hugo is suffering from a mysterious illness that has had him locked away from society for all of his life. On the run, Amicia must protect Hugo from the Inquisitors, the British Army, terrified villagers, the Black Plague, and a horde of terrifying rats. All whilst trying to find a cure for Hugo’s condition.
A Plague Tale: Innocence is a thoroughly captivating and emotional story telling experience with an amazing plot and a cast of likeable characters. Amicia is still a child, which shows up in her dialogue often with other characters. Trusted with a little brother she hardly knows, it’s refreshing to have a character that isn’t equipped to deal with the task she has been given. Being locked away for most of his life, Hugo is curious about the world, not fully understanding the dangers outside. Occasionally he runs off when Amicia gets frustrated with him or is simply amazed at the world he has never had the chance to see. Despite Amicia’s unusual relationship with Hugo, he is still her brother and would hate for anything to happen to him. It’s a dynamic that works wonders and allows the horrors of the world to fade away. Even for just a brief moment.
Then we’ve got the characters we meet throughout the journey, all with fleshed out histories and various reasons for helping Amicia with her journey to cure Hugo. There’s Rodrick, a blacksmith’s son who is also the muscle of the group, and thieves that were initially only involved because of Amicia’s rich heritage, but are now out for revenge. Each character has their moment to shine and all of their interactions feel real. This is what makes A Plague Tale so engaging: its characters.
The black plague was a dark time in history and the visuals showcase this almost perfectly with some highly detailed environments. City streets are ruined, doors marked with the fated white cross, and bodies litter the battlegrounds. Animals have been slaughtered and stacked high in an effort to stop the spread of the plague. There are a few issues I’ve noticed with the graphics, however, such as overly repetitive character models and lip syncing that doesn’t quite match up. Also, looking too closely at the rat swarms reveal they aren’t as impressive as they seem initially.
Sound design is also stellar with some fantastic vocal performances from the lead actors, making the characters more believable and likeable. There were only a few times where there were some bad lines or poor deliveries that stood out. The soundtrack, expertly composed by Olivier Deriviere, gives the ominous sense of dread and fear. Ramping into orchestral moments as the tension rises, all feels appropriate for the era.
Gameplay consists mostly of stealth, light puzzle sections, and a few scripted set-pieces that use all the tools you acquire nicely. Amicia’s mother was an alchemist and that skill is something that Amicia herself has picked up. She can craft different ammo types for her sling, making it a powerful multi-purpose weapon you will be using on a regular basis. Rat encounters are more like horror themed puzzles. As hundreds of thousands of rats swarm around the heroes, there’s a sense of desperation in wondering how the hell you’re going to escape. Earlier sections are rather simple, as you move from one light source to an other whilst carrying a torch. Later encounters get more elaborate and require you to pay more attention to the environment and take more risks. Some light sources burn out quickly, leading to some close calls.
Though A Plague Tale isn’t all about avoiding rats, you will have to deal with the Inquisition as well, who are relentlessly hunting you down for their own reasons. Sneaking through enemy camps and trying to avoid the guards is some good tense action as you create distractions to move along. The sling is loud and will attract the guard’s attention, so Amicia will occasionally need to throw her ammo manually for the distractions to work. If rats are nearby, you can even weaponize them by putting out fires. The stealth is exciting, even if the AI seems a bit dumb, often times forgetting about you and returning to patrol mere seconds after investigating.
For the most part, the level design is pretty linear. There is always with a clear direction of where to go, but how you get there is up to you. There is just enough wiggle room to try different tactics and routes around during the stealth sections. With a few collectables to find in each level, some of which include a nice cut-scene, there’s a pretty good incentive to explore as much as possible. A few smaller puzzles are a nice break in the flow, but they were just a bit too easy. They mostly consist of moving objects to climb on or using your sling to break something. Whilst the chase sequences are thrilling, the sections that have you performing actions in quick successions or fending off enemies whilst your allies open a door or push a cart are tedious. One of my favourites is a gauntlet of quickly lighting torches and destroying small hordes of rats.
Amicia isn’t the strongest character, so if she gets caught she won’t be able to overpower the guards, though she isn’t completely defenseless. As I mentioned earlier, the sling can be used to kill enemies, but the longer wind up means it’s not great at close range. As the game progresses, tougher enemies with armour will pop-up and you will need to get more creative to take them out. There’s also a small handful of boss fights that are surprisingly well designed and make great use of the game’s mechanics.
With almost perfect pacing, A Plague Tale: Innocence took me around twelve hours to complete, not overstaying its welcome and not being too short. I played on Immersion Mode which is exactly as it sounds: removing all the HUD elements and it’s by far the best way to play. It makes stealth a much more cautious exercise by removing detection meters and allows you to dig deeper into the environments to look for collectables, as the shimmer is also gone. As for replay value, there isn’t a lot there, though loading into different chapters and experimenting during enemy encounters or just to re-experience the story again can be worthwhile.
A Plague Tale: Innocence is an ambitious linear story-driven experience and a must play for fans of the genre. It’s an instant classic with some incredible story telling and gameplay that is fun, despite being on the easy side.
A fully immersive world with some of the most beautiful and detailed environments I’ve seen.
Stealth and puzzles make up most of the gameplay, though it does fall a bit on the easy side.
Amazing voice acting with a stellar soundtrack.
Plague Tale: Innocence is a haunting, immersive, and exciting experience with a touching story.
Final Verdict: 9.5
A Plague Tale: Innocence is available now on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
Reviewed on PC.