Review: A Plague Tale: Innocence (Computer)

Reviewed by Tom Bond, posted May 17, 2019
May 17, 2019
  • Release Date (NA): May 14, 2019
  • Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
  • Developer: Asobo Studio
  • Genres: Stealth, Adventure
  • ESRB Rating: Mature
  • PEGI Rating: Eighteen years and older
  • Also For: PlayStation 4, Xbox One
  • Single player
    Local Multiplayer
    Online Multiplayer
    Co-operative
With the deadly Black Plague and the Hundred Years War abound, can you save your little brother from almost certain death?
Tom Bond

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Rats. Lots and Lots of Rats.

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A Plague Tale: Innocence is an adventure stealth game that follows the story of Amicia and her little brother Hugo De Rune, in the mid 1300’s in France. With the scourge of the Black Plague and the Hundred Years War in full swing during this time period, you can already tell that A Plague Tale will be a grisly, gruesome game right from the main menu, showing you a lovely, massive pile of black rats just chilling in a home. After this great title screen, you enter into the game as Amicia De Rune, out for a nice jaunt in the woods with her father, Robert, and their gorgeous dog Lion (which, as with any good game with a doggo in it, you can pet). And right from the get-go you can see that A Plague Tale: Innocence will be a gorgeous looking game; the introductory forest scenery looks wonderful, bright and fairly detailed, and is a great start to show off just how great looking the setting of the game will be.

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After a short walk through the woods with your father, you come to a nice clearing with a nice apple tree, where Amicia decides to take the “Knight’s Test” with her father, and is rather simple: Shoot 6 apples off the apple tree within 10 seconds. Shoot them with what, you ask? Amicia’s weapon of choice for your adventure is a sling, a rather primitive but apparently very effective weapon that can sling rocks and, as you progress further in the game, various other projectiles. Using the sling is fairly straightforward, you hold down the aim button at whatever you want to hit, wait for the diamond to close in on the target, and shoot. Simple as that. Whether you succeed or fail your “Knight’s Test”, the game continues on with Lion, your trusty hunting dog, going crazy and chasing after a wild boar. After a short chase and catching up to Lion, you’re given a quick tutorial on the utter basics of the stealth mechanics, and must take down the boar...with your sling. Not exactly a weapon I’d use against something with a thick hide, but hey why not! After thwacking the boar in the head with a rock, the chase picks up again with Lion and the boar, and here’s where things start to turn bad. As you go deeper into the forest, you come across some splotches of blood, and some nice dead, half-eaten animals. And then all those good things in the beginning come crumbling down. Your precious doggo friend, Lion, is trapped in some kind of dark, disgusting hole, whimpering and in pain. And as Amicia and your father reach him, to try and help, he’s sucked down into that hole and is gone.

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After the loss of your precious pupper, you and your father ride back to your home to start a hunt, to find whatever ate your dog in that forest. Amicia, being tasked with telling her mother, Beatrice, finds her with her sickly little brother Hugo. Hugo and Amicia have a rocky relationship. Ever since he was born, he’s been a rather sickly child whom Beatrice looked after 24/7, and whom Amicia was able to interact with very rarely. From this short interaction, it’s clear Amicia and Beatrice don’t get along too well, but this is cut short when the Inquisition arrives, unexpectedly of course, who are looking for Hugo. Because things can always get worse, you watch your father killed, your home is torn apart, and you’re eventually given a taste of how A Plague Tale will play the rest of the game.

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As soldiers ransack your home and kill off your servants, Amicia and Hugo must sneak their way out of the house and avoid being caught by the Inquisition. Yes, A Plague Tale is basically a massive stealth escort mission, and already I can hear people saying “No thanks, Tom”. But hold on, because this isn’t just a stealth escort mission, it’s a stealth escort mission done well. As you sneak about, Hugo is basically attached to your hip 24/7. He’s not that tiny bit slower than you, so you have to stop and go every 10 seconds waiting for him to catch up, he doesn’t run all willy nilly into guards and gets himself killed, he doesn’t make noise to try and get you caught, he’s simply right there by your side, all the time. You can order him to stand still while you try and clear a path, or you can order him to wiggle his way into a small tight space to open up a path for you, but beyond this it’s as if you’re playing an escort mission without your escort. Which works really well with the stealth mechanics, because you really have to be quick when you’re sneaking about. The first bit of stealth you’ll encounter is sneaking your way past inquisitors and soldiers on your way out of the garden along with your mother, Beatrice. She teaches you all about being sneaky, from sneaking past guards by crouching through patches of long grass to distracting enemies by throwing rocks at conveniently placed boxes of armor or by throwing pots away from yourself. While rather simple sounding at first, as you progress through the game stealth becomes much more involved and difficult, in some cases requiring multiple distractions for multiple guards and even involves picking off an enemy or two with your sling just to make it past a specific area. Yes, you can apparently kill enemies with your sling using simple rocks, which is rather unfortunate, especially during scenes where you're simply forced to do so. Amicia's usual reluctance to kill is something I would've liked to stick to, in an attempt to protect both Hugo from seeing more death, and from Amicia from causing it.

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But while stealth is important for human enemies, it takes a backseat when dealing with the second major disaster: rats. Lots and lots of rats. After initially escaping the inquisition, and running through a crazy murder-hungry town, you’ll be given your first taste of many of the evil black rats that will plague your journey. Your first encounter will teach you that these rats, for whatever reason, can't stand any source of light. Instead of sneaking your way through, you must use light sources of any kind to make your way through the army of rats that have apparently invaded most of Europe. This usually involves finding a pile of sticks, lighting them, and then rushing your way through to the next source of light to keep the rats away. One of the more annoying parts of a Plague Tale is with this kind of gameplay mechanic, mainly with the way Amicia and co handle torches and these sticks. Where a smart person might take a big handful of sticks from the pile next to a fire, Amicia just plucks out one and that's it. When you get the rare chance of using a real torch (a seemingly infinite source of light), you're forced to abandon it when the slightest obstacle, like a small ledge, gets in your way. I can understand why the game is designed this way, so you can't just run around everywhere with a torch and never have to see a rat again, but a better excuse would be nice to have other than "just because".

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Unlike the human soldiers, there are no easy distraction techniques for the mound of rats you’ll encounter as you make your way through dark crypts or towns that have been plagued with rats. But thankfully, as you progress, you’re given additional ammunition for your sling to help make your way through rats when a handy torch or bundle of sticks isn’t immediately available. This includes things like small firebombs, to light up torches or braziers that are past a horde of rats, to actual huge firebombs that can take out a mass of rats, all at once. These particular types of ammunition are discovered by the alchemist-in-training, Lucas, whom you’ll meet along the way as you progress, and can eventually be crafted using components found as you sneak about by Amicia. And that’s not the only thing that can be crafted. Along with new types of additional ammunition, Amicia can upgrade various things about her person that will benefit her along the way; you can upgrade your sling to allow for quicker aiming, your pouches and ammunition belts to carry more components and ammunition, you can alter parts of your clothing to decrease the amount of noise you make when running or walking, and eventually can even improve upon the ammunition Lucas provides you with to have additional effects, like being able to distract enemies without the need of a random box of armor laying around.

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And all of this combines into what is, in my opinion, an excellent gaming experience. The relationship you gain with Hugo as you make your way towards various goals is heartwarming and sweet, with small gestures of sibling affection strewn about, sometimes in the form of collectibles like little flowers Hugo finds and puts in Amicia’s hair, to little gifts and curiosities you can find as you explore towns. The horror and disgust you’ll feel as you make your way through rat-infested towns with dead, rotten bodies scattered all over the place is a chilling experience, and fits well with the general aesthetic of the game. The inquisition's quest to capture Hugo brings about a sense of urgency as you sneak past guards and soldiers, hoping to finally make it to safety after everything that has happened to Amicia and Hugo. And the friendships you make along the way to other children, orphans by the chaos around them, is wholesome and delightful to experience, even with all the death and destruction that follows in Amicia’s path.

Verdict
Pros
+ Looks absolutely beautiful, from the nice forest scenery in the beginning to the horrific, gruesome towns with bodies piled high.
+ Excellent overall aesthetic.
+ Voice acting is quite well done.
+ Great story with well-written characters.
Cons
- I wish you could opt not to kill enemies at all.
- Some forced interactions (like dropping a perfectly good torch) is a tad silly.
10 Presentation
A Plague Tale: Innocence is a gorgeous game, and is presented quite well. The transitions between each chapter is nicely done, and each area you wind up having to go through are well designed (if a bit hallway-esque) and great to look through.
8 Gameplay
A stealth escort mission with the perfect kind of stealth escort gameplay makes A Plague Tale: Innocence a great game to play. While the mechanics aren't too in-depth in the beginning, they do pick up the more you play.
8 Lasting Appeal
There are a few instances in A Plague Tale where you can choose how to move through the game (although these choices aren't overly important), and there are plenty of collectibles and things to find that makes A Plague Tale worth, at the very least, a second playthrough to try and grab them all.
8.5
out of 10
Overall (not an average)
A Plague Tale: Innocence is an exceptional experience from start to finish. With an excellent story and well written characters, I would definitely recommend A Plague Tale: Innocence to anyone who loves story-driven games with great stealth mechanics and actually good escort mission gameplay.


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