A Plague Tale: Innocence is at its core a story driven puzzle game that often drifts into wanting to be a more fast paced action adventure with mixed results.
The whole thing has a feel of a AAA indie game, not too different to Ninja Theory’s Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. I like the idea of developers doing this sort of thing. As a gamer who doesn’t necessarily always have the time to sink 30-40 hours into a game, it’s nice to have a AAA experience in a 12-15 hour playtime at a reasonable price… So does French based developer Asobo Studio manage to pull this off? For the most part, yes.
The first thing that stands out is just how stunning the game looks, especially during its darker scenes. If you have seen anything from this game then chances are you’ve seen the games protagonist – Amicia – alongside little bother Hugo quietly sneaking their way through plague-ridden thirteenth century France, trying to avoid both enemy soldiers and the swarms of rats that plague the city. Those swarms of rats are an impressive feat, and seeing the physics of hundreds and hundreds of them all climb over each other and crawl away into their little hidey-holes as you approach them is enough to make your skin crawl. The rats are also where many of the game’s puzzles really shine. They will scurry away from any light source, meaning the player must use fire and natural light to try make a path through rat-ridden caves and basements; sometimes this will by lighting braziers or using torches to scare them off – Using the torches to light a path can be a terrifying experience as some of them are only temporary, and will go out after an unspecified amount of time, meaning the thousands of flesh-eating rats with their piercing eyes are just surrounding you in the darkness… Waiting for their chance to strike. What I loved about the rats the most though was how they’re used throughout the story; they’re not just there as a puzzle to solve, they’re part of the narrative, and the way you interact with them evolves as you progress, meaning their involvement never grows dull.
The gameplay is incredibly fun for the most part – Stealth is the aim of the game here, you’re taught very early on how to distract guards, sneak past enemies and solve puzzles to progress while all along holding the hand of your younger brother. Although I enjoyed solving these puzzles, I never really felt overly challenged and on the odd occasion I did struggle, a supporting character was quick to jump in and give me the answer, which was quite disappointing as it took away the satisfaction of overcoming a big hurdle. You’re often given many different options in progressing through a chapter which is really cool, usually having the option to simply sneak past undetected or to try pick off the guards one by one… Though there was one mechanic that I found odd; you have the option to tell Hugo to stay or hide while Amicia goes off alone for a short while, but I never found a part of the game where I really needed to use this feature outside of the parts where I was forced into it. Overall though, I still really enjoyed doing the majority of the game’s puzzles.
Stealth and puzzle solving isn’t all there is here, there’s actually a surprising amount of action as well, including the game’s own take on boss fights. This was a pleasant surprise as it was a nice change of pace to just sneaking around. Amicia is armed with only her trusty slingshot, don’t be fooled though as she is able to cause a lot of damage with this little weapon, and it feels satisfying to use, especially when using it to both solve puzzles as well as fight off enemies at the same time. The only real issue was that as the game progresses and the action picks up a little, the game’s mechanics seem to struggle to keep up with the action, especially when fighting off multiple enemies in a short space of time… This was frustrating, but far from game breaking.
For me the outright best part of A Plague Tale is its glorious locations. Whether it’s a brightly lit castle, an evening sunset in the woods, or one of the game’s wonderfully gross darker scenes littered with dead bodies, I thoroughly enjoyed spending time in this world. There’s a few collectables to be found throughout these beautiful locations, as well as materials that can be used to craft ammo, perform alchemy and upgrade Amicia’s slingshot. Unless you are hunting the platinum (Which I may well do later), I found the collectables to be a bit pointless and the game never really gave me a good reason to go exploring for them other than to see more of these stunning locations… Did I mention that I enjoyed the locations in this game?! I think the visuals work so well because similar to something like a Naughty Dog game – You’re led down a linear track with wonderfully filled backgrounds and well choreographed events happening around the player. Speaking of Naughty Dog games, there are definitely comparisons to be made to The Last of Us here… Whether that’s the graphics, gameplay, or even in some cases the story. I don’t mean to keep comparing Plague Tale to other games, but it does a great job at taking ideas from here and there and making it work well in its own unique setting.
The characters are another highlight here. The story services the them well, the voice acting is truly top-notch, and each one of them have their own personality and set of skills that help Amicia along here journey. Amicia herself is a great protagonist, she starts as a sheltered young adult who due to certain circumstances has to grow up pretty quickly – I really enjoyed how her character changes through the game, and even how she struggles with having to kill enemies. You’d be forgiven for thinking that Amicia and little brother Hugo were going to be the only two that the story focuses on, but that’s not the case, I was surprised to find how many additional characters were highlighted throughout the story and how much I ended up caring about each of them; it even got to the point that in the chapters when you have to go it alone I really felt the loneliness of not having them about. I’ll avoid saying any more about the additional characters though as to avoid spoiling the story.
I found the overall plot highly enjoyable, and was pretty much hooked from chapter 1. By the time the roughly 12-14 hour story was all said and done, I was left satisfied though was slightly disappointed just how video gamey parts of it got towards the end after hours of some really good story telling. Another issue I had with the story was that the game would sometimes give you a moral choice to make, such as sacrificing an enemy to the rats for easy passage or choosing to save them and figure out another way round, I enjoyed these little moments but as far as I’m aware the decisions I made didn’t provide any rewards or consequences come the end of the game. With all that being said, I was really sad when the credits rolled and my time with these characters was over; I look forward to a second playthrough and would be all in for a potential sequel if developer Asobo decided to go down that route.
At the end of the day, I really enjoyed my time with A Plague Tale: Innocence. It’s a great yet short AAA experience at a reasonable price with deep and interesting characters – The journey is dark and depressing, meaning the little moments of happiness and light shines bright. It’s slightly let down by some sluggish mechanics during those faster paced moments and some questionable gameplay choices towards the end, but what I will always remember is the time I spent in this beautiful world, whether that’s the parts that are full of colour, or the blackest of black plague-ridden scenes; I will never forget this wonderful experience.
I give A Plague Tale: Innocence