STAFF REVIEW of A Plague Tale: Innocence (Xbox One)

Saturday, June 15, 2019.
by Adam Dileva

A Plague Tale: Innocence Box art What if I told you that a relatively small studio that created Fuel for Xbox 360 about a decade ago would go on to craft one of my favorite narrative driven storylines I’ve played in recent years? That’s exactly what Asobo Studio has done with their most recent release, A Plague Tale: Innocence. Truth be told, A Plague Tale wasn’t even on my radar before release, yet fate dealt me it to review, and I’m extremely grateful that it did, as it’s easily gone to be one of my favorite titles in recent memory, easily up there with the likes of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice.

Set in 1349 France, A Plague Tale tells a narrative driven saga about the de Rune family, specifically a young 15 year old girl named Amicia and her 5 year old brother Hugo, born into a wealthy family. Hugo though has essentially been isolated from everyone since birth, even from his own sister Amicia, so they don’t have much of a relationship, if at all.

The heartwarming, and wrenching, story begins when the Inquisition invades your village, destroying everything in their path and killing anyone in the way to find Hugo for some unknown reason. Not only is the Inquisition a deadly force, destroying everything in their path, there’s a plague ravaging the lands, carried by thousands of filthy rats that infest every area where there’s no fire or light, seemingly their weakness.

One moment Amicia and Hugo are innocent children living a life of luxury, the next, they are fleeing to escape the Inquisition together after seeing everyone they know slaughtered. Siblings are now forced together as Amicia tries to take Hugo to safety, away from the Inquisition that is unrelenting and constantly on your heels. The 1300’s were dark times, and having a plague to deal with on top of the situation they are thrust in makes for an absolutely intriguing narrative that I wish wouldn’t end. From the opening moments you start to care about these characters, and by the end, I was fully invested in their struggle and did what I could to have them and their friends survive.

While the narrative and character development are the main focus, the core gameplay is a mix of stealth and action with some puzzle elements thrown in. While the adventure itself is linear, eventually you’ll be able to solve puzzles in a number of different ways. With a playtime of roughly a dozen or so hours, it was just the right length and never felt like overstayed its welcome.

You control Amicia for the majority of the adventure, and instead of a standard sword and shield combat mechanic, she instead is only armed with a sling to fling rocks at enemies and her alchemy knowledge. While being only able to sling rocks at armed guards may seem like weak design, it adds a strong degree of tension. Sure, a direct headshot will instantly kill guards, but eventually they’ll wear helmets and have shields, making you figure out other solutions to defeating them.

The first half of the game is very stealth focused, as you don’t have a lot of tools at your disposal aside from slinging rocks, but eventually Amicia will be able to craft special alchemy concoctions, like igniters, poisons and other tricks to use against the Inquisition. The Inquisition isn’t the only enemy you’ll need to worry about though, as if you allow the hordes of rats to touch you, it’s game over. But the rats are afraid of light, so staying within the light is paramount above all else.

New crafted items are almost like abilities, as dealing with the rats are essentially the puzzle elements in A Plague Tale. There’s a guard blocking a doorway, so do you use your sling and try fighting against him directly, use an extinguishing potion to douse the torch they are carrying, causing the rats to eat him, or simply try and sneak your way past? Eventually you’ll be able to solve these puzzles in a handful of different ways, just like above. Without spoiling anything, the final hour or two of the game added a new mechanic that changed things up and I absolutely loved.

While none of the puzzles were overly complex, some do take some trial and error to figure out. What I really enjoyed was that it’s almost as if you’re solving micro puzzles one after another throughout your journey, and when I felt stuck, I would simply check my abilities and what would be the best way to progress. Sometimes grabbing a torch that burns quickly to reach the next fire pit is all it takes, other times you may need to light a brazier and push it along a cart to keep the rats at bay.

Amicia will collect items during her journey, such objects like sulphur, oil, cloth, rope, etc. These are used to craft items when you find workbenches to upgrade your sling and other abilities. You’ll need to be very thorough if you want to upgrade though, as these materials are also how you craft your needed alchemy items as well, so it’s a balance of creating the items you need to survive in combat, but also saving enough to upgrade your sling, ammo pouch, etc.

Graphically, A Plague Tale took me by complete surprise. Not that smaller studios can’t craft beautifully stunning visuals, but usually cutscenes and scenery are only this impressive in top tier AAA titles. To say that A Plague Tale looks stunning is an understatement. Amica’s journey will take her from village to forests, ruins, castles and other dark settings, all of which look amazing. While Amicia’s face may look a little dead and lifeless during gameplay, the cutscenes are absolutely top tier. I don’t know what technical wizardry the developers used to have hundreds of rats constantly on screen at any given moment, but never once did I experience slowdown or framerate drops.

The same goes for the audio, as the soundtrack is brooding and fitting the dark tale of the era, and the voice acting is some of the best I’ve experienced in recent memory. Kudos to Charlotte McBurney (Amicia), as the performance was completely believable, and more impressive, was her first voice acting role as well. Logan Hannan (Hugo) also performed flawlessly, and combined, made the siblings a pair of characters I truly cared about by the time the credits rolled. Even the supporting characters you meet along the way were amazing and made the journey much more engaging and believable.

Asobo Studios needs to be applauded for creating something so stunning and fantastic in every way. It’s not easy to make you care about characters in a short dozen or so hours, and the fact that A Plague Tale will be etched into my memory is no small feat. I don’t like to loosely throw around the term “Masterpiece”, but this is absolutely one of my favorite games that I enjoyed whole heartedly in recent memory. Needless to say, this is one plague you won’t want to avoid.

Overall: 9.5 / 10
Gameplay: 9.5 / 10
Visuals: 9.5 / 10
Sound: 10.0 / 10


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