Title: A Plague Tale: Innocence
Available on: Xbox One, PS4, PC
Developer: Asobo Studio
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Official Site: A Plague Tale: Innocence
Release Date: May 14th, 2019
Where to Buy: Retail, Steam, PSN, Xbox Live
The year is 1348. The plague and Inquisition soldiers are enforcing the law all across Europe, especially in France. However, they aren’t the most prominent figures tainting the land with their unholy footprint. Rats scurry from beneath the earth, creating massive sinkholes as they search for fresh blood to snack on.
Asobo Studio and publisher Focus Home Interactive capture the terror and panic of the 14th century in A Plague Tale: Innocence. It’s a journey about the bond between a brother and sister, friends and family, and man versus nature. A Plague Tale tells a stunning story about hope, relationships, and love in a breathtaking world.
Set during the early years of The Inquisition, well before they became known as the Spanish Inquisition, the game follows Amicia De Rune and her younger brother Hugo as they escape the persecution of the religious order. All while the plague spreads throughout the continent. While that may pose a problem for everyone, Hugo is also fighting against illness of his own.
Along with hunting down what Inquisitors label as heretics, they are also after Hugo for their own reasons, but he is under the watchful eye of Amicia and her mighty sling; her weapon of choice against the soldiers and rats.
Within the first 15 minutes of the game, the tension cranks up as the plot follows the siblings in their attempt to outmaneuver and outsmart the religious group. The tutorial of A Plague Tale really drives home the importance of using stealth to hide from enemies. In a game where running away is the goal, the stealth mechanic is a home run when it comes to getting around squads of soldiers.
You will hide from dozens of soldiers and rats as you traverse the game’s many chapters. By using walls, shrubs, and distractions as cover, Amicia and Hugo can sneak through undetected to reach the next safe area. But, A Plague Tale is more than just waiting for enemies to finish their strategic patrol; her sling hurls rocks towards metal objects to create an audible tone to send guards searching. When that doesn’t work, she can send a rock at their head instead.
It’s such a satisfying feeling to toss a rock at a pile of metal in the distance and have the guard investigate it. It’s also an entirely startling experience to see their giant lumbering form walk slowly to the area, the sound of their leather armor and metal boots stomping the ground is quite intimidating. One of the greatest features of the game is as the siblings get closer to patrols, their breathing increases as their panic sets in.
Amicia’s sling is able to be upgraded multiple times during the game. In the beginning, you focus your efforts on launching simple rocks until eventually, by collecting components, you’ll be able to upgrade them as well. Lighting them on fire ignites flames that frighten rats and using alchemy, you can add a form of acid to them to give soldiers a headache. Upgrading the sling not only gives Amicia different ways to complete puzzles but also improves how many rocks and items she can carry. Upgrading works by visiting workbenches with the items collected along the way. Outside of the workbench, Amicia can craft alchemical components on the fly.
The guards and rats are set on certain paths and for the most part tend to stick with it, however, if you happen to get the attention of a soldier multiple times, they will get wise to your antics and call for nearby guards to help in their search. I noticed this later on in the game while trapped in a room with two guards. They’re smart and will eventually know something is going on. You’ll know a guard is after you thanks to a friendly marker above their head, akin to Metal Gear’s exclamation mark. The mechanic is excellent when you know there are enemies around, but seeing them can be a bit of an issue sometimes. The surrounding environment can easily block their forms from your position, but more often than not, they always managed to see me from their vantage point when I wasn’t crouched. At 30 hours in, I still couldn’t tell how far their field of view stretched and am still testing it out.
The Inquisition has power and organization on their side thanks to their commanding officer Lord Nicholas. Towering over the battlefield, this impending, heavy armor wearing, and force of nature is intimidating as he stalks nonchalantly towards the siblings. The encounter with him is early on and he immediately became one of the most iconic moments of the game. I only mention him because in a game designed around stealth, knowing you can’t defeat him head-on is brilliant. The game does this a few times with other enemies, but there are ways to bring them down. Setting up the villain as this overpowering figure is great when the main character is a child with a sling. It’s a David and Goliath scenario. Don’t let the fact Amicia is a child fool you, she’s as dangerous with her sling as Wonder Woman is with her fists and lasso, and just as quickwitted and smart as Carol Danvers.
When it comes to the less smart enemies, the rats may be small, but they have numbers and their appetite working for them. Anyone with a phobia of rats will be uncomfortable with many moments in A Plague Tale. It’s like Indiana Jones said about his father, “he hates rats. He’s scared to death of them”. For good reason too, the animals plaguing the country are vicious monsters fueled by hunger and possibly something supernatural. The unholy thing driving them causes the critters to burst through mud, dirt, stone, and metal, devouring any living thing in their path. Some people think rats are cute, but these are killing machines bent on the destruction of humanity and it’s wonderful.
The way the rats interact with the environment is incredibly lifelike, aside from one aspect that only comes into play much later in the story (Think Sharknado). The one safe haven from their tiny teeth is fire, the little ankle biters despise flames and light. Running from one source of light to the other is heart pounding when you know there is a swarm behind you and another waiting just outside the next light source. They’ll sit and wait while squeaking at you, their beady yellow eyes gleaming at you as they reflect the firelight. Getting caught by them means certain death until you unlock a new alchemical weapon later on. A Plague Tale’s rats act like tiny zombies that will leave you frightened and wanting to know what lurks just beyond their writhing forms.
While fending off rats and running from The Inquisition make up the action of the game, A Plague Tale is a novel brought to life on the screen. The siblings bicker and argue like children do, even in a world full of strife, panic, and mystery. Amicia and Hugo hold hands as they hide behind cover and she’ll comfort him when he’s upset and carry him when he’s weak. It’s these moments that make the game shine. Having the second character with you can be daunting and slow down the game, but I never felt that. Hearing the two talk about their lives or get frustrated with each other and run off during the middle of a stealth mission adds more to their characters. The emotions they’re feeling and showing are real and anyone with a sibling or close friend can attest they’ve felt the same before.
Many times in the game, Amicia will have to leave Hugo behind to figure out a puzzle. If not, you won’t be fast enough to complete it together. This only adds to the tension, knowing that while you’re gone Hugo could be discovered and it gets worse the further you get from him. Once out of his line of sight, he will begin to get scared, and eventually will start to panic, cry, and possibly alert nearby guards, until Amicia returns to comfort him. You may see a simple way to achieve a goal, but knowing Hugo could blow it at any second is stressful yet engaging, it pushes you to finish it quickly so no harm comes to your sick brother. This mechanic adds a sense of time to Amicia’s missions.
There will also be times when Hugo will need to help Amicia get somewhere as well. While they are both children, Hugo is smaller and able to fit places she can’t. He’ll crawl under stone walls to reach a locked door for his sister, but the trick is getting him there. Distracting a guard only lasts a few seconds before they turn around and Amicia may have to block multiple rat swarms to make sure Hugo is safe.
A Plague Tale is outright stunning. Leaves softly fall from trees and light rays tear through the winter countryside, matching the scene of a Gothic painting pulled straight from the era. The game transitions from cut scenes to controlling Amicia seamlessly without loading screens or screen tearing. However, there were times during the shift I was unable to immediately control her and I could tell the game was still loading in a bit of the scenery. While the loading times between chapters can be long, they make up for having to wait between cut scenes. Altogether though, the load times weren’t drastic.
Throughout the game, you follow Amicia in the third person. At times this can be bothersome when you have to search the area for patrols or rats. Many times I found myself scanning the environment only to run into a swarm of rats or into the sword of an Inquisition solder. There isn’t a zoom function to be able to switch to the first person and scan for enemies. It would be a great way to know what lies ahead before just plunging into the unknown and hoping for the best. However, A Plague Tale is built upon hope, so taking it slow is actually a good thing.
The pièce de résistance (to add a bit of French of my own) of A Plague Tale is most definitely the soundtrack. Olivier Deriviere composed 26 spectacular tracks to cover the war-torn feel of medieval France. The ominous use of violins builds to a distorted cacophony when dealing with the hysteria of the rats. While the undertones highlight the despicable mission of the Inquisition and the darkness surrounding their leader, the Grand Inquisitor. Altogether, it’s a harmonious masterpiece that feels like a piece of music pulled directly from medieval France. It’s as if the game were built around the music.
The sound design is wonderful as well. The crunching of boots in an overgrown forest spurs the action as you try to find where the enemy is. Combined with the terrific soundtrack, the tones of A Plague Tale are what I imagine when I think of a hamlet built next to a lazy river in the French countryside. It makes you feel like you’re presently in the situation being shown.
Another great feature is being able to switch the language to French or German. Hearing the voice acting spoken in the language where the game takes place is beautiful. It really takes you back to the 14th century and sets you down in the middle of the action.
Verdict: A Plague Tale: Innocence is a Gothic style piece of art lovingly crafted and brought to life on screen. It’s a journey through history and the love between a sister and brother. The world is breathtaking and the story is smart, thought-provoking, and hopeful. It’s a history book brought to life with lovable characters fighting against Mother Nature and a religious order given too much power. There’s a hint of the supernatural mixed with the unbelievable and divine. Rats and soldiers aside, the most important thing is, it has heart.
- Stunning graphics
- Compelling story
- Fantastic soundtrack
- Long load times
- Odd camera angles
Scott’s been gaming since he could hold a controller in his hands. He’s a journalist who loves Dungeons and Dragons, video games, tabletop RPGs, and comic books. He has an intelligence of 6, he knows what he’s doing.