A Plague Tale: Innocence
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Developer: Asobo Studio
Genre: Third Person Adventure / Stealth
Release Dates: May 14, 2019 (EU & NA)
Price: 44,99€ (Steam)
A Plague Tale: Innocence mixes the story of the Black Death, the deadliest pandemic in humankind history, at least for now, with fantasy fiction elements, creating a frighting scenario in which rats are responsible for the plague just like in real life, but this time giving them supernatural powers, allowing them to group together in the thousands which makes them a deadly force to deal with. The story follows the adventures of siblings Amicia and Hugo de Rune after the Inquisition invades their home, killing their parents along with everyone they ever knew. This initially puts them on the run trying to find a safe haven as they are overwhelmed by the plague turning society into chaos and death, just like everyone else living in France during the outbreak, while later on taking the fight back and trying to put an end to the plague, although their methods differ from those of the Inquisition and without spoiling any bit of the story let's just say Hugo plays an important role in all that which is why the Inquisition will be on his tail the whole time trying to capture him.
Alone and confused about what is happening in the world, it falls onto Amicia to protect her little brother while also trying to find a cure for his condition, something that their mother was working on before the events in the prologue, which is why she must catch up to her research on the subject and gather allies to help her with the journey, while avoiding rats and the Inquisition on the way. You mainly play as Amicia, although Hugo will be next to you for most of the story and there are also a few instances where you will take control of Hugo, but for most parts this is the tale of two siblings lost and confused in a world that is falling apart while trying to make sense of it and gather more information as the story moves on, which eventually leads to a very captivating conclusion. Although you can revisit each chapter after completion in order to look for missing collectibles, the story is linear and always moving forward to new locations and suspense filled moments, showcasing different landscapes and the people living in them dealing with the plague in a variety of ways, from abandoned villages to churches, forests and catacombs there is a lot of variety when it comes to the game's locales and each one of them has a ridiculous amount of detail infused into every corner.
Considering the game is based around the stories of the Black Death plague outbreak you should expect to see a lot of death, but what might surprise you is the variety of ways in which that inevitable death will come to different people, some may be executed by the Inquisition in their quest to purge the world, some may be victims of your actions, some may die from the plague itself, but probably most deaths you'll see will be by being eaten alive by rats, which will also happen a few times to you, but luckily for you, you're the main character of a video game so there's always checkpoints. There's also the supernatural element of the game, which not only allows rats to swarm around in large groups, but also gives some people certain powers, but I will refrain myself from further explaining that because no matter what I'll say it could be considered a spoiler and the story is truly the best part of this game and it's something that you should entirely discover for yourself.
One thing that A Plague Tale does very well is showcasing how defenseless a teenager girl and her younger brother can be from a gameplay perspective when fighting trained soldiers, neither Amicia nor Hugo have any warfare or fighting experience so you won't have a sword or armor to protect you and if a soldier catches up to you a single hit is enough to take you down. This encourages you to play stealthy when possible and avoid soldiers as much as you can, but that doesn't mean Amicia is completely clueless when it comes to combat as she's trained with a sling that can shoot different types of ammo and she has the power of alchemy on her side, meaning she can craft different ammo that can do different things. Starting with the basics, you can collect rocks and shoot them using your sling, but you have to hit the enemy in the head in order to kill them, which is fairly easily to do on a controller since the aim assist does most of the work for you, however that only works if the enemy's head is exposed. If the enemy has a helmet equipped that won't work initially, so you can either use Devorantis to force them into removing their helmet, distract them by making noise in the distance by throwing rocks or pots, or just avoid the enemy entirely.
While slinging rocks and using ammunition such as Devorantis or Somnum is key when fighting human enemies, fighting rats is a different game entirely as they are scared of fire, so staying in lit places and finding a variety of ways to get them out of your way is the way to go here. Ignifer ammo allows you to light a fire in things such braziers, torches and ember piles so you can use it to light a fire from a distance and then find a way to get there by either running towards it while the rats are scattered, distracting them using Odoris or getting rid of them completely in a small area using Luminosa. A lot of those ammo types come into play depending on the situation and while some of those situation have a little bit of freedom regarding how you can approach a challenge ahead of you, most of them only have one preconceived way in which the game wants you to do it. There are 7 different types of ammo that you can shoot with your sling from a distance, but shooting any one of them will make some noise that will notify nearby guards of your presence, so to combat that the game also allows you to throw those by hand, but the distance you can reach that way is obviously reduced. In addition to throwing specific ammo you can also throw pots that won't require a target and will distract enemies to wherever you decide to throw the pot, as well as throwing rocks at things that will produce sounds such as crates of metal armor.
Every single one of those types of ammo will gradually be introduced as you progress through the game so not everything will be available from the start, but that allows the game to make encounters more complex as you move on as each new ammo will open up new possibilities to deal with guards, as well as rats. The biggest twist comes into play in the final chapters of the game, when an event in the storyline will also significantly change the game from a combat perspective, but I won't go into any more detail about that for the sake of not spoiling anything; just know that each new chapter will open up new ways to deal with enemies and while the stealth principle introduced in the beginning will still remain a significant strategy, you will feel more powerful as you progress through the game thanks to all the additional mechanics you'll gain access to and enemies that you might have avoided at any cost in the beginning of the game will be simply another target for you to take out by the end.
A Plague Tale: Innocence is nothing less of a spectacle of triple A quality graphical design, with beautiful landscapes that will make you stop and look around for a second especially if you're playing in 4K, character animations of the highest standard and incredible lighting effects. On top of that we have to talk about the obvious part, the rat physics, the fact that you have hundreds of rats on the screen at a single time avoiding light while still facing you ready to attack if the light were to go out is impressive, and the fact that not a single one of those rats is glitching out through the map is even more impressive as you would think that many models crammed next to each other would be a recipe for disaster, but it's not. As a matter of fact, this game is so finely tuned that I haven't seen a single visual glitch or bug in the entire game which is insane considering how many elements could cause them in different scenarios. The visual effects are also of the highest quality, with fires feeling natural and lighting affecting different areas depending on where the shadows of other objects in the way align.
Charlotte McBurney is the voice behind Amicia while Logan Hannan takes on the role of Hugo, and yes they are both speaking English with a french accent, which makes sense considering the game takes place in France in the 14th century, but if you want an even more authentic experience you can also play the game in French with English subtitles. The voices of other side characters might not be of the same quality and some of them are also completely missing their french accents, but for most parts all actors do a great job bringing their characters to life, even if it's only for a few lines in a single chapter. The sound effects are of the same top notch quality as everything else and the soundtrack is incredible, although that might be a personal preference since I love instrumental music in the style of The Legend of Zelda.
You can finish the game in around 12 hours and that's pretty much it, unless you want to return for missing collectibles which could take a few more hours depending on how many of them you've missed during your main playthough, but even if you end up replaying the whole game again just for the collectibles, you will still enjoy every second of it because even knowing the outcome of the story, the gameplay is still fun and some situations can be approached differently, although it would've been even better if there was a New Game+ type deal that would allow you to replay the game with all ammo types unlocked from the start, since that would give you even more options on how to approach things earlier on.
Asobo Studios have previously worked on many different projects for a bunch of publishers including Microsoft and Ubisoft, but despite that, A Plague Tale: Innocence is by far the most refined, detailed and attention-driven product they've ever made, with a story that will keep you on your toes until the end, gameplay mechanics that change and improve each chapter and an overall idea that even though a bit insane in theory ended up working superbly in execution. If you like third person adventure games with a great story in the style of the latest Tomb Raider games but with even more fantasy elements, A Plague Tale is definitely a game for you.