Archives by Day

A Plague Tale: Innocence

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Focus Entertainment
Developer: Asobo Studio
Release Date: May 14, 2019

About Andreas Salmen

I'm sure this is all just a misunderstanding.


As an Amazon Associate, we earn commission from qualifying purchases.

PS4 Review - 'A Plague Tale: Innocence'

by Andreas Salmen on Sept. 12, 2019 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

A Plague Tale: Innocence offers an adventure supported by an original scenario, with gameplay that blends action, adventure and stealth phases.

Buy A Plague Tale: Innocence

Even though it was teased at E3 2017, A Plague Tale: Innocence wasn't necessarily on everyone's radar when it dropped in May 2019. Looking like a mix of The Last of Us and Hellblade, the premise of Asobo Studios' title was intriguing enough. While it isn't a full AAA title, it delivers a surprisingly good and polished experience.

A Plague Tale takes place in 14th century France during The Hundred Years' War. The plague has ravaged the country, and the Inquisition runs wild in search of a cure — or so it seems. This unforgiving backdrop sets the scene for two siblings, Amicia and Hugo de Rune, children of a noble family who witness an Inquisition attack on their home that leaves them orphaned. They're now on the run from both the Inquisition and the Black Death. To make matters worse, little Hugo has a mysterious illness that attracts the interest of several parties and is the driving force of the story. Throughout the game's runtime of 10+ hours, we play as Amicia in an attempt to fend off thousands of rats and Inquisition soldiers while trying to find a cure for our little brother. It's easier said than done, especially if everything is out to kill you.

A Plague Tale is many things, but first and foremost, it tells a story, which it does exceptionally well. The story of two naive and protected children being cast into a brutal world is captivating and sometimes incredibly difficult to watch. At the same time, there are lighthearted moments and compassion from the main characters. It's a character study at times, examining how the world slowly eats away at an innocent child and the toll it takes. The characters progress, and while they're essentially children, they will eventually need to kill or, even worse, evolve into regular killers to survive and protect themselves.

The story is told in 17 chapters, all of which work really well. It alternates a few good set pieces and quieter moments with some minor plot twists to create an engaging and believable tale that is partly fiction and partly inspired by true events. It eventually gets more fictional toward the end, but it does so in a way that fits the premise of the story. Both Amicia and Hugo have an excellent story arc, and the solid supporting cast makes it a journey worth taking.

As you may guess, two young siblings are hardly a match for fully armored soldiers or a relentless horde of rats, and that's reflected in the gameplay. Stealth is our friend, and direct confrontation is to be avoided — at least in the beginning. In the long run, we won't be able to avoid some violence and killing. Amicia is equipped with a slingshot that starts off with stones as its sole ammunition type but quickly expands as we learn new alchemy recipes that grant different projectiles and usages. Amicia is the protagonist, and most of our time is spent controlling her directly or in conjunction with Hugo holding her hand. Most levels require us to stick to the shadows and tall grass to avoid enemy soldiers, or we can distract them with our slingshot by hitting noisy objects in the environment. There are also a few chase scenes, where it's key to find the correct path while avoiding enemies. Eventually, Amicia will be able to use her slingshot for more than just distractions.

Rats are another beast to master. The game renders hundreds to thousands of them on-screen at once (up to 5,000 in select scenes), and the rats stick together and wait for an opportunity to attack. The only repellent is light, so we must manage available light sources well to get past the rats. Light sources need to be moved to optimal locations in order to progress. Thankfully, rats don't take sides, so they are as much a threat to you as they are to enemy soldiers. It's very much a game of light and shadow.

As Amicia learns new alchemist recipes and upgrades her equipment, new gameplay mechanics open up. By the end of the game, we're able to light and extinguish fire, lure rats to a spot, distract guards more efficiently, destroy helmets, kill a group of rats, and put a soldier to sleep. Depending on the chapter, we may encounter soldiers, rats, or both at once, and given the varied arsenal, we can use our enemy's strength and weaknesses against each other. Soldiers with lanterns will sit in the dark with a well-timed throw, opening an opportunity for rats to devour them. Other light sources may be used to steer the rats toward a desired location. The locations you visit in A Plague Tale are as linear as they get, so do not expect total freedom; there is always a critical and logical path to progress, but there is equal opportunity for a little bit of experimentation along the way.

There are a few segments that focus on environmental puzzles outside of combat and stealth sequences. They're not difficult but require some effort, running around, and pulling levers. Throughout the journey, more companions join us, and they can be instructed to pull a lever or perform certain actions for you. They're essentially confined to a few instances, and it never gets complex or challenging. That's true for the whole gameplay experience. There is enough to do so that the title is more than a walking simulator, but the gameplay doesn't always feel as fleshed out as it could be.

There is some stealth, some shooting with the slingshot, and a basic crafting system, and they combine to create a decent gameplay experience. It doesn't feel cluttered or bloated with obsolete mechanics, but it remains focused on a few core pillars. The stealth is solid, and the shooting feels brutally impactful, which helps to move the story forward and keep the player engaged.

We've already mentioned the great story, but what really sells it is the atmosphere, and  A Plague Tale absolutely crushes it in this area. For a game where we must often hold a small child's hand, it delivers impactful situations, suspense, and creates a sense of vulnerability. Hugo may always hang around, but he is never in the way; on the contrary, it often greatly amplifies the protective care the player feels toward him. You and any of your companions die in a single hit, which makes every encounter feel intense. The graphics and sound do the rest. A Plague Tale is probably one of the prettiest games I've seen running on a PS4 Pro, including first-party titles. The game is absolutely jaw-dropping, with visuals that look like a (grim and depressing) painting come to life. The incredible lighting effects and high-detail textures provide a sense of realism that's rarely found in medium-sized projects like this.

The rats are the actual star of the show, with fascinating numbers and crowd movements that look scarily accurate from afar, but they occasionally look less ideal up close or when pushed into obstacles where they may get trapped. Nonetheless, it's an achievement and an effect that the game uses cleverly throughout the story. There's a sense of terror and dread that comes from fending off a couple of hundred pairs of blinking eyes with a single torch in hand while holding a small child with your other hand. It's also riveting to watch enemy soldiers being overwhelmed and screaming while they get chewed to bits.

The level and environmental design do the rest, with believable city streets, geometry, interiors and vistas that seem realistic. There is an authenticity here that is almost perfect. Fields of dead bodies, dirty city streets, and thick forests are crafted with an attention to detail that almost makes you forget that they're very linear and scripted. The music lives up to that standard, with an epic theatrical score that is often foreboding and occasionally complementary to sell what's occurring on-screen. For example, there is one area in the middle of the game where a thunderstorm is used as a light mechanic, and the lightning is incredibly matched by sound cues. 

Unfortunately, some areas are less than stellar. Characters look mostly good, but there is something in their faces that makes them look stiff and unrealistic. The same goes for movement and occasionally clunky controls, especially when using the slingshot, despite its aggressive auto-aim. It can feel unnatural and frustrating when a kid who usually aims like a sharpshooter controls like a tank when faced with an onslaught of enemies. It's a minor thing, but if the rest of the game is immersive, such imperfections quickly pull you out of the experience.

If you take all of those parts together, you have a good story, fantastic atmosphere, decent but linear gameplay, and some occasional clunkiness, all of which makes A Plague Tale a great one-off experience. It's reasonably close to Hellblade in what it does, and it does it very well. If you can accept its downsides and limitations, you'll find the most enjoyment from it. There are collectibles to find, but that's about all there is to warrant a replay. As a result, don't expect to get any more than 10-12 hours out of one playthrough. Those hours are definitely worth it, though.

Aside from the basic gameplay and a few rough edges, A Plague Tale: Innocence tells an incredibly gripping story about a couple of kids in the most grim circumstances imaginable. It nails the horrifying setting with standout visuals and a thick atmosphere that is worth experiencing at least once. If you're looking for the next great story to play through, A Plague Tale is definitely it.

Score: 8.6/10

More articles about A Plague Tale: Innocence
blog comments powered by Disqus