Everyone has an idea of the perfect game in their mind. For some, it’s an endless stream of multiplayer matches, modes, and unlockables. For others, it’s a riveting story in a rich world with countless hours of content to discover. For me, it’s more the latter than the former, but I can appreciate all manner of gaming’s offerings. And that’s why I love this industry so much.
A Plague Tale: Innocence brings us a truly unique setting and story, combined with an experience only gaming can provide. Join Amicia and Hugo de Rune as they flee through the French countryside during the Black Death of the 14th century. The Inquisition will hunt them to the ends of the Earth in order to capture Amicia’s little brother. Read on, dear friends, to find out why this is one of the best games you’ll play in 2019.
A Riveting Tale of Loss, Trust, and Perseverance
When I first saw A Plague Tale: Innocence, I thought it could be something special. I can’t think of another title, let alone two or three, set in 14th century France during the time of the Black Death. This was a time of chaos, anarchy, and carnage in history. It seems like the perfect setting for a game, and yet, A Plague Tale is the first to dive into this setting that I can recall.
The developers as Asobo Studio wisely decided to embrace the belief of the time in their story, which makes this a historical fiction and less of a history lesson. As a game, this was the right decision because it allows them to embrace the superstition and supernatural beliefs of the time period in some truly exciting ways.
The setup is this: you play as Amicia de Rune, daughter of a French noble family living in the countryside. Things are going very well at the beginning, but it’s clear that Amicia and her mother have a strained relationship.
This is due to her little brother’s sickness. Hugo spends most of his time sequestered from the family as his mother tends to his needs. This has made Amicia somewhat jealous and bitter towards the two of them.
Within the first chapter, things go awry. The Inquisition arrives, demanding that the de Rune family gives up Hugo to them for reasons unknown. Of course, they refuse, and carnage ensues. The soldiers begin to slaughter the family and their servants in cold blood.
Amicia quickly takes Hugo’s hand at their mother’s behest and together they begin a journey that will take them to hell and back (almost literally). What starts as a tale of chaos and loss slowly descends into something far darker as you witness the true scope of the plague.
It’s the game’s iconic rats that really steal the show. While there’s plenty to be said about their gameplay influence, the vast swarms of infected rodents are truly a sight to behold, and a driving force for much of the game as you stealth your way through cities, countryside vistas, and blood-soaked battlefields.
Looking at the quality of A Plague Tale: Innocence, I expected a game about six to eight hours in length. What I got was something in the range of twelve to fourteen hours! This was a huge surprise, and a welcome one at that.
With this kind of mileage, the story has all the time it needs to flesh out the relationship between Amicia and Hugo, while also adding a cast of supporting characters that put most main characters to shame. These are all relatively young people, but they’re all flawed and damaged in their own unique ways.
They’ve all witnessed death and felt the crushing pain of loss due to the plague and the Inquisition. It’s this common trauma that binds them together and makes every moment feel both raw and real.
There’s an incredibly strong story with a much wider scope than I expected driving everything forward, but it comes down to the little details and interactions that really sold the narrative for me. Amicia and Hugo feel like real siblings, with plenty of tender moments and arguments to go around as they learn to lean on each other and play to their individual strengths.
The Inquisition also puts forth some truly terrifying villains that I won’t spoil here, but suffice to say, this story hits all the right notes you would expect from a massive AAA release. This is truly amazing considering that A Plague Tale: Innocence is more in line with a AA budget, so it’s a credit to Asobo Studio that they were able to tell such a rich, lengthy, and powerful story using the resources they had available to them.
Of course, story isn’t everything, so let’s talk gameplay.
A Near Perfect Difficulty Curve
It’s no secret among my friends that I’m not a huge fan of stealth in games. I say this, but games like Metal Gear Solid are still among my favorites of all time, so why is that? Well, it’s because I’m just not particularly good at stealth, and therefore I tend to shy away from it when I can.
A Plague Tale: Innocence is indeed a stealth game at its heart, but it’s the way the game introduces and layers on its mechanics that make it easy to embrace. The opening chapters are admittedly pretty easy, with clear indications on where you should throw rocks or clay pots to cause distractions.
As you get into the game, though, alchemical recipes allow you to craft a host of different items and ammunition for your sling, which greatly increases your strategic options in any given scenario. Enemies increase in number, paths become less obvious, and of course, the rats make their big debut.
It’s this consistent increase in difficulty and challenge that helps ease you into the game’s wide selection of options. Despite being linear, I really felt like later chapters gave you a lot of freedom in how you approach certain situations.
In terms of your options, you’ll have rocks to throw that can be used on metal objects to create distractions. You can also carry clay pots that offer a distraction anywhere you wish to throw them. Later, you’ll get items that allow you to manipulate fires, make enemies vulnerable to your sling, and plenty more, but I don’t want to spoil that here. Just trust me when I say you’ll enjoy the options at your disposal.
There are a variety of collectibles and pickups to keep an eye out for as well. You’ll find crafting materials and rocks to pick up everywhere, along with workbenches that give you the chance to upgrade your clothing, storage, or your sling. These upgrades are incredibly useful, allowing you to move silently, carry more materials, or even fire faster with your sling.
When it comes to throwing projectiles, you have two options. You can remain in cover or hidden and throw objects with your hands using L1. A generous lock-on system pulls you over to enemies or interactive objects, but since the aiming is sort of slow, this was a godsend for me.
The other options is to prep your sling with L2. This will expose you to enemies, but after a few rotations, you can send rocks flying into breakable objects or enemies. A rock to the head will take out some enemies, but those with helmets will be more difficult.
Between the stealth segments, A Plague Tale also offers some environmental puzzles. While these are never difficult, I did find that they offered a challenge in later levels and always broke up the other gameplay elements well.
Last, but not least, it’s time to talk about those rats. I saved the best for last here, because the rats in A Plague Tale: Innocence are the star of the show. They show up early and often, becoming a focal point as you go on.
They swarm in positively terrifying numbers, sometimes covering vast distances of the environment with hundreds of writhing bodies and flickering red eyes. Your only defense against them is light, so you’ll always be running from one place to another, or quickly shuffling through their ranks with a torch in hand.
Stepping into their domain of darkness will result in a gruesome death as they devour you alive, followed by a quick cut to black before you reload. Of course, this applies to your enemies as well. Again, I’m going to avoid spoilers here, but let’s just say you’ll have plenty of opportunities to put Inquisition soldiers in compromising positions that make them a tasty snack for the rats.
I’m not going to lie, I took a small level of satisfaction in watching rats swarm a soldier and cover them in a living ocean of blood and fur as they pull them down into their undulating swarm. It’s especially satisfying when you plan the entire scenario out and execute it perfectly. This can be snuffing out a flame, breaking a lantern in their hand, or other fun options.
As both a force of nature and an unlikely ally, the rats in A Plague Tale: Innocence really take the gameplay to the next level and mix together with the other elements to create an experience that never feels repetitive, dull, or out of place. In fact, there were multiple nights during my time with the game where I played for hours on end, simply engrossed in the world and absorbed by the perfect rhythm of it all.
Incredible Graphics and Detail
The graphics, music, voice acting, and general polish in A Plague Tale: Innocence are all reminiscent of a title that has a massive budget, but that’s not the case here. The developers at Asobo Studio and the publishing team at Focus Home Interactive have somehow managed to create an experience that puts most AAA titles to shame using a budget of, I assume, far less than what other titles have to work with.
At a quick glance, it’s easy to see the detailed characters, the rich environments, and the striking use of color and contrast. That’s just the beginning though, as the animations on both people and rats are incredibly lifelike. There’s also just so many little details that you take for granted.
An example would how Amicia holds Hugo close to her when you walk slowly through a swarm of rats with nothing but a torch to keep you safe. She hunches low, wraps her arm around him, and slowly waves the torch back and forth as they move. This has nothing to do with you, but her careful movement adds even more tension to the situation.
Even the voice acting offers similar details. When enemies are present, for example, characters whisper softly to each other so as not to be heard. Then there’s the music. The soundtrack here is absolutely incredible, conveying massive amounts of emotion in every track. The use of strings conveys both serene moments and sharp intensity when rats are present, using a fast tempo to almost simulate the scratching of their feet against stone.
Surprises like A Plague Tale: Innocence don’t come along very often, but when they do, it’s always a special moment for me as a gamer and a journalist. As I eagerly awaited for the review embargo to lift, I quietly played A Plague Tale in my living room, hunched over on the edge of my seat, grinning with delight as I realized I was playing a part of history.
Mark my words, Asobo Studio is going to be a developer to watch. A Plague Tale: Innocence is one of the best games I’ve played in 2019, and one of the best stories I’ve experienced on the PS4. The story, gameplay, length, and incredible polish all make this worth every penny.
I titled this review “Sic Parvis Magna” which is Latin for “Greatness from Small Beginnings.” It’s a phrase used a lot in Sony’s flagship Uncharted series, which in and of itself began from small roots as a PS3 title.
Asobo Studio may not have been a developer on everyone’s radar before, but they sure will be now. Focus Home Interactive was right to invest in their talent and their vision, and you will be too. Greatness truly awaits.
Final Score: 9.5/10
A copy of A Plague Tale: Innocence was provided to PS4 Experts for review purposes
Article by - Bradley Ramsey
Insert date - 5/14/19