A Plague Tale: Innocence Review
Release Date: May 14th, 2019
Developer: Asobo Studio
Platforms: Xbox One (Reviewed on Xbox One X), PS4, PC
From characters in-game to the players out of game, deep bonds can occur in a variety of forms when investing in something for a large period of time that it causes you to be immersed in the world and story being told. Sometimes we find ourselves within the characters, or as a bystander from the outside looking in, feeling helpless being unable to help at the mercy of the writing for a particular medium. Titles like The Last of Us, the recent Tomb Raider titles, God of War, Telltale's Walking Dead series, Life is Strange, and classics like Haunting Grounds and Silent Hill are considered deep and evocative experiences that have connected with us for years and continue to be talked about, but an important aspect that all of these share and the reason why they latch onto us is down to one thing: companionship. A Plague Tale: Innocence is very much in the same vein as these, following the lives of siblings Amicia and Hugo as they try to survive what we would know in history as the beginnings of the Hundred Years' War and Black Plague.
The setting, while bleak, is beautiful. As you're quickly introduced to the main character, Amicia, the first chapter sees an introduction to a stunning forest with detail so meticulously crafted I spent a good portion of my beginning gameplay simply looking around at the shrubbery and vegetation, with the god rays of the sunset seeping through the dense trees animating the flora, brought further to life by the sounds of crickets, butterflies, birds, and more that deepen the sense of immersion of 14th century France. As you're walking through the forest with your father, you'll learn how to use your sling, which will be your main tool throughout A Plague Tale. While Amicia proves her skill at aiming to her father's approval, their dog runs off in a separate direction deep in the forest where he shouldn't be going. Running after him, the forest slowly becomes more rotten and execrable. After witnessing trees turning black and wildlife ceasing to exist, you find your dog stuck in hole weeping, but as you try to get closer stepping over thick mud, it's swallowed whole by something mysterious. This leaves Amicia distraught, with her father having to pull her away as they run back to town. Once you've made it back to your abode, things go very wrong very quickly as you attempt to find your mother before inevitably running into your brother who you'll have to protect throughout the duration of the game.
A Plague Tale: Innocence's actual gameplay is mostly be based around stealth and survival as you avoid infestations of rats and knights looking to capture and murder you. As you progress through the game, slowly but surely your chances of survival do rise, but not without cost as you'll find new ways to craft alchemical objects to combine with your sling as you take down environmental objects or simply defend yourself against incoming peril. Every upgrade and replenishment costs materials, and I do feel it's fair and balanced in the amount that each takes, though it does also require you to be frugal with what you have. The world has a fair amount of materials scattered throughout, and I do like that's it's never made immediately apparent, but if you look for them in the right places chances are you'll find something. The developers never make your chances of survival feel like it's unfair, and instead rewarding you for your efforts at risking being caught or hurt for the possibility of a crate with tons of supplies to keep you going just a bit longer. A Plague Tale's environment is also presented in a linear format with plenty of collectibles to find - with a lot probably being missed on your initial playthrough even with thorough scouring of the areas - enticing those going for 100% collection to replay chapters. Every collectible from flowers to key items, to documents and beyond give a glimpse at what life was like in the mid 1300's, with each memento you find having an in-depth entry explaining a bit of backstory not only to the game but to the history of the item in question. With all the research and development that can clearly be felt and seen in a A Plague Tale by Asobo Studio, it's very reminiscent of how the Assassin's Creed games handles its historical influence, providing a deeper, more profound insight into a different era.
Puzzles make up a good portion of a A Plague Tale, allowing for more thought put into how to advance to the next moment of survival. Even in areas where there may not be any guards or rats, players are left to their own devices as they attempt to properly position or provide aid to and from other characters you come across, including Hugo. As is one case when attempting to get everyone across a small bridge that's been pulled up so two must rotate a wheel to bring it down at the same time. You can assign tasks to NPCs as you find solutions to these puzzles, and even while sneaking across certain landscapes you can tell Hugo or others to stay put while you figure things out as to not get caught with them. As is with A Plague's Tale constant dread that looms over it, however, getting too far from Hugo can cause him to panic since he doesn't feel safe without his big sister. Having Hugo panic can cause him to go into hysterics, alerting any nearby guards. While I found myself stumped at some moments of puzzles, as is with the rest of A Plague Tale: Innocence it never once feels unfair or unpolished in its approach. Survival is a big emphasis on the game's ideology to story and design, so you have to think really rationally and put yourself in the shoes of Amicia, which I frequently found myself in. Throughout my playthrough, I believe I only died three or four times, and it was mainly due to a lack of attention or some sort of distraction on my end. The game has plenty of difficult moments, however, that could easily frustrate players and cost them a restart at the last checkpoint, but with my long history and love for stealth-based games, puzzles, and a dire need to keep Amicia and Hugo alive at all costs, I was entranced beyond the norm and kept mistakes at a minimum. I felt every leaf and twig crack as I stepped on them, making me worry about who could have heard as I wanted to protect them as much as they wanted to protect each other, and with the relationship Amicia and Hugo have, every hug is cherished.
A Plague Tale: Innocence has so much heart and passion put into it that exudes through its attention to detail, especially in 4K/HDR on Xbox One X. From the relationship between Amicia and Hugo, the meticulously crafted architecture of the 14th century, to the palpable story of survival, the game attaches to you and keeps you curious about what happens next as it presents itself in chapters. I found myself in the shoes of Amicia as I was playing through, not only seeing but feeling the dread and trepidation brought upon by the infested plague of rats swarming at every angle, with the light quite literally being my only source of hope. While the action elements done from the player are kept at a minimum, the world around you breathes and keeps you on your toes with its dynamic weather, plethora of rats, and the inquisition searching for you at all costs. The stealth, while basic, works well, and as you progress and unlock more through your crafting, you'll have more and more ways to survive and traverse with the assets at hand. I've always loved dark stories that make you unsure of how it'll end or where it'll go, and A Plague Tale: Innocence gives all of this with a historical setting that's as captivating as it is astounding.
Asobo Studio should be commended in their efforts to craft something truly unique and special, from the impeccable score to the hundreds of rats on screen at once fully rendered and animated, it's a dark yet beautiful vision of a time that once was. Having characters that are relatable and memorable make A Plague Tale: Innocence one that sticks with you, and easily a contender for one of the most unique games of this console generation and a sleeper hit for 2019. If you love history, a deeply emotional narrative, masterclass craftsmanship and artistry, look no further than a A Plague Tale: Innocence.
- The relationship between Amicia and Hugo feels authentic
- The story and game as a whole exude originality, delivering a unique experience never explored before
- Research by the developers can clearly be seen and felt through the detail of its time period and architecture
- French voice acting feels more appropriate, and it's all done very well, as well as the other languages involved
- Considering the game is mostly stealth based when dealing with other NPCs, they could be better
- Crafting, while useful, can sometimes feel like an afterthought
- No photo mode
Our deepest gratitude to Focus Home Interactive and Asobo Studio for sending us a copy of A Plague Tale: Innocence for the purpose of this review