Developer: Asobo Studios
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Review Context: I usually avoid stealth games like the plague, but this game was a special exception due to the story and historical setting.
Date of Playthrough: May 2019
Disclosure: This review is based off of a review copy.
A Plague Tale: Innocence, developed by Asobo Studios, is a game that I found out about in late 2018, and also a game I potentially want to play. A Plague Tale is a story set in 1349 while the plague causes death and destruction in France. It’s this premise of the game that caught my interest the most because I can’t recall any games taking place in this time period. Although the game’s plot and premise were appealing, I was cautious to play this due to the gameplay being mostly stealth, a game genre that I don’t play much of or good at. I was so drawn to this game’s historical setting and plot that I decided to play this anyway.
While the overall setting of the game is during the plague in France, there is also The Inquisition, who’s constant pursuit of Amicia De Rune and her little brother Hugo De Rune is the driving force of the entire game. Playing as Amicia with Hugo by your side you have to avoid getting killed by the plague and at the same time avoid The Inquisition in this long dark and grim journey. What is really impressive the most in this is the constant level intensity from the very beginning, almost like a play starting in the second act. As the plot develops from the mystery of why The Inquisition is in pursuit of Amicia and Hugo, particularly Hugo, the story takes many interesting twists and turns.
There are many games that tell stories where the gameplay choice seems like a completely subjective and flexible decision to attach the story, but the stealth gameplay in A Plague Tale really fits perfectly with the story being told and the environment you’re in. Play in third-person as Amicia, she has a slingshot as her primary weapon to take out foes. Although the slingshot has auto-aim, for the most part, it didn’t take away from the experience because this is a story driven game, minus enemies crowded together where the aim jumps around. Most of the game involves stealth, a genre I usually steer away from, but the movement and controls are very well done and responsive, making the game feel comfortable even for a stealth game amateur like me. During your journey you will have to avoid deadly rats infested with the plague and the slingshot isn’t your only weapon.
One of the other central gameplay elements in A Plague Tale is surviving rats and using light for survival. Along the way you will find craftable materials to help upgrade your sling and also for general survival upgrades. Additionally, you will have to find alchemy materials to help create potions/mixtures that can be thrown by hand or shot through your slingshot either at rats or The Inquisition. This is the part of the game that adds player choice because you can’t craft every upgrade, so choose wisely. Similarly to a game like Tomb Raider (2013), this game has explorable linearity and it rewards you. The game has a central path, but you can try to go off in different directions within the confines of the path you’re on in a given area to try to get more materials for crafting. For myself, I tried to do as much exploring as I could, but by the end I clearly missed a lot of materials because I wasn’t fully upgraded. Although the user interface of the crafting menu could be a little better, as it felt really compact and could use larger font for upgrade descriptions, it does a good job of letting you know the materials you are missing for each upgrade.
As I continued my progression through A Plague Tale, I realized just how hooked and attached I was to the story being told. Asobo Studios did an excellent job of slowly unfurling the mystery of why The Inquisition was after Hugo, causing me to always want to play more of the game. The game never feels like a chore to get through because the game is always introducing new gameplay elements to add to the mix and new kinds of puzzles for the player to get through. It doesn’t hurt that the voice acting is absolutely one of the best I’ve ever experienced in a video game with an incredible ensemble of characters. A Plague Tale also has an excellent soundtrack to go along with the dark setting. There is one late game gameplay element that has a sound associated with it done very well.
From Chapter 1 to the very end you are treated to very beautiful graphics that presents a dark setting with crisp lighting and shadows. From the moment you have to grab a torch for the first to keep rats away you see this first hand. Equally impressive are the rat animations, as parts with large groups of rats together on the ground seems like the rats were carefully animated so each rat isn’t doing the same movement pattern in unison with every other rats. It’s hard to say one particularly moment was visually stunning because the entire game is. That being said, I can’t neglect mention of the cinematography and camera perspective for one late chapter that I was particularly blown away by, making the stealth experience in that chapter all the more immersive.
A Plague Tale: Innocence is a game that intrigued me and far exceeded what I thought it would bring, especially in terms of gameplay. By the end of my experience I was left stunned by the excellence of the storytelling by Asobo Studios. This story will no doubt tug on your heartstrings in one of the most memorable gaming experiences of 2019 that you definitely should play.
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Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons (PC)
The Last of Us (PS3)