The history books are full of tales of misery and horrendous diseases that have decimated mankind. Each has its gruesome narrative and outcome, but I think we can all agree that the bubonic plague was horrific. It never surprises me that developers use this as the plot for their games and I’m always intrigued to see how far they will push their narrative to shock and appal their audience. A Plague Tale: Innocence uses a hearty mix of history, dark imagery, and fantasy in its heartfelt story.
Developed by Asobo Studio and published by Focus Home Interactive, this is a heartfelt story of survival filled with puzzling elements. Using the most disgusting and disturbing images from this blot on mankind’s timeline, you’ll be creeped out and left shuddering throughout. The oppressive world you explore is highly detailed but disappointingly lacks an open-world feel. The linear storyline leads from A to B with some delightful narration and simple but fulfilling puzzles to solve.
A Plague Tale: Innocence tells a tale of a ruined childhood and a dark family secret.
Set in France in the 14th century, the game takes place during the Hundred Years’ War. You control Amicia and Hugo de Rune who must escape the French Inquisition led by the black knight Lord Nicholas. The story revolves around Hugo and a mystery illness that has captured Lord Nicholas’ attention. He is a frail young boy who screams when he’s scared and relies heavily on Amicia. As you explore each of the seventeen chapters, you’ll overcome basic puzzles, using stealth as your go-to mechanic.
Amicia is both the brains and the brawn behind this young partnership. She is Hugo’s guardian angel and she’ll stop at nothing to protect him. Armed with her wits and a slingshot, they must evade the attentions of the Inquisition. The pair work together to solve the mystery surrounding their situation while moving slowly to safety.
Being chased by a bloodthirsty French army is bad enough, but how about adding plague-infected rats to the equation? These scurrying, nibbling disease spreaders burst from the ground and walls by the hundreds. The flood of vermin will make your skin crawl as they hiss and jostle to chew the meat from your bones.
Stealth, the French Inquisition, and rats make up the three key mechanics of this wonderful game. You’ll be kept on your toes throughout and will feel genuine fear and panic as you are pushed through this linear tale.
The “strong” protecting the “weak”.
Like many games of this ilk, the stronger link in the party takes the lion’s share of the work. Hugo sadly lacks strength, courage, or good health. His small stature makes him useful, and he can crawl through gaps in walls and climb through windows. Using him forms a key component of many of the puzzles and his tiny frame helps you evade capture many times. Amicia uses an array of tools to distract the guards, she’ll hit metal objects with stones or smash pots to create loud noises. You quickly learn that discretion is the greater part of valour, and staying in the shadows is your best option. Combat is usually the last resort, and until the later chapters, you’ll refrain from drawing too much attention to yourselves.
As well as the guards, you’ll want to avoid the teeth of the stinking rats. Luckily, these disease-ridden vermin are petrified of fire and daylight. Remembering this is essential, as burning paths prevent you from being killed and allow you to progress. Routes are created with lanterns, pyres that are lit with feeble twigs, and a concoction known as Ignifier. You must collect materials, plan routes, and avoid the army of rats. It’s tense, fills you with dread, and is super uncomfortable. Yet after a few chapters, you become accustomed to the horror and it fails to have the same impact.
Alchemy, resources, and odd boss battles.
The seventeen chapters are punctuated by strange boss battles. These events lack challenge and are devoid of the stylised mechanics used throughout the rest of the gameplay. Stealth and logic are out of the window, and dodging and brute force are the aims of the game. It was pleasant to have a change of pace from the constant cat-and-mouse action, but I would have liked something a little more in-depth. Therefore the final battle is both fantastic and disappointing in equal measures. Every element of the last encounter is phenomenal, and everything I was craving. The disappointment comes as I wish the developers had drip-fed this into the other battles to make a more fulfilling experience. A Plague Tale: Innocence isn’t tarnished by the lack of depth. I simply wanted more.
Great adventure games balance resource gathering with their difficulty curve perfectly. If the materials are plentiful it reduces the grind but also skews the challenge in the player’s favour. Sadly, A Plague Tale: Innocence hasn’t got the balance right. Equipment upgrades and the alchemy tools rely heavily on everything you gather, so when everything is at your fingertip you become wasteful. Whether it’s distracting guards or dispersing rats, you never worry that you’ll run out of the tools for the job. This undermines the fear element of the game, making it less suspenseful than intended.
A few shortcomings, but its story and characters fill it with charm.
Its lack of difficulty and almost obvious solutions will annoy some gamers, but I enjoyed going along for the ride. Its few shortcomings are shored up by an incredible story and a world of odd characters that add a macabre charm. Hiding from the guards or manipulating the rodents may not be difficult, but you’ll still get swept up in the emotion of the situation. Much of the time I knew there was nothing to fear, but my heart was still racing as I sprinted from fire to fire or bush to bush. I found the action to be captivating and I can see why a sequel is being worked on for a 2022 release.
A Plague Tale: Innocence has an array of environments and beautifully detailed graphics.
I was amazed by the variety of landscapes incorporated across the seventeen chapters. The developers have gone all out to create a game that is truthful to its era while still mixing in fantasy elements. The use of dark tones and imagery add to the oppressive nature even during the upbeat moments. The constant inclusion of rats and symbols of death pull the story back to its disease-ridden roots. Though it was unpleasant to see, I loved how the game kept returning to its core theme.
With fantastic acting, sinister music, and the horrific sound of hissing and scratching, you’ll be on edge throughout. I’m sure living when the bubonic plague was rife was horribly unpleasant and Asobo Studio has captured this perfectly. The on/off relationship between Amicia and Hugo is brilliantly acted and the additional characters in this fantasy plot play their roles brilliantly. The amount of narration and cutscenes is balanced well with the action allowing you to lose yourself in its heartfelt plot.
The well-defined UI keeps things simple.
When a game relies heavily on stealth mechanics, it’s essential that crouching, hiding, and sneaking is easy to achieve. Fortunately, the well laid out controller setup makes playing simple. The clear and well-defined UI enables you to understand the controls with little effort. When new equipment is added you are given a straightforward tutorial that explains the fundamentals with little fuss. A Plague Tale: Innocence had the potential to be complex. Fortunately, it isn’t and you’ll spend your time enjoying the story.
Because of its linear approach, the replay value is impacted. However, with fifteen hours of gameplay and an array of new mechanics, you’ll be kept interested throughout. If you lack the completionist instinct, you’ll enjoy the story, but won’t return once you finish it. If you crave achievements and the 100% status, you have plenty of collectables that offer a small amount of replay value.
A Plague Tale: Innocence is a wonderful puzzle stealth game with a heartfelt story.
With its fantastic but dark fantasy tale, and nice stealth mechanics, this is a game that’ll keep you interested from the opening chapter. A Plague Tale: Innocence combines excellent environments, great acting, and simple puzzles to create a captivating experience. I thoroughly enjoyed it and recommend you to buy it here! Gamepass subscribers can also install it for free. You must work together to stay hidden and avoid the army of rats. Accept the help of strangers and use their strengths to overcome obstacles. Can you discover the dark secret hidden in your family’s past, or will the rats consume you?