A Plague Tale: Innocence is one of those games that came out of nowhere but has completely blown me away. Having overlooked Asobo Studio’s narrative adventure game, at least until the very final trailer, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the dark, disturbing picture the developer has managed to paint.
A Plague Tale: Innocence tells a tale of mystery. It does very little to set up the story that you’re unwillingly thrown into and it’s absolutely brilliant. At first, things seem all peachy as you assume the role of daughter Amicia as you’re hunting with your father. Things quickly take a turn for the worst and you’re given very little explanation why. Furthermore, you’re then introduced to your little brother, Hugo, who has, for the most part, been kept locked away as your mother attempts to find a cure for a mysterious illness.
To cut a relatively long story short, you end up having to flee the confines of your castle and into the woods that are littered with soldiers of the Inquisition who’ll stop at nothing to kill you and capture your little brother.
Now you’re probably wondering why the Inquisition are after your little brother, and in the beginning, you have no idea why… you’re just running and running and running and every time you find somewhere which may seem like it could offer you asylum, something goes wrong and just pushes you out. A Plague Take: Innocence does very little to leave you feeling comfortable, and that’s probably the most compelling part of the game.
You constantly have this feeling of looking over your shoulder for someone who may impale you on a pike, and if you’re not careful, that exact thing will happen. That’s another thing, this game doesn’t shy from showing you that you’ve fucked up, whether it’s a member of the Inquisition knocking you down then slicing you with his sword, or whether it’s getting engulfed by the sea of infected rats.
The game doesn’t shy away from showing you the result of many of your difficult choices, which once again helps decorate this dark brutal world you find yourself engulfed in. Whether it’s destroying a soldier’s lamp so they become rat feed, or ushering the last remaining pig on a farm to its death so you can get ahead, there are times where I felt physically uncomfortable about a situation and had no other way around it. It’s beautifully harsh, and the most invested in a game I’ve felt in a while.
In terms of gameplay, A Plague Tale: Innocence is mostly a linear adventure game which blends puzzle-solving with stealth elements. Throughout the game, you’ll be faced with areas swarming with enemies, whether it’s the Inquisition, disgruntled villagers burned by the plague, or English soldiers accusing you of looting the bodies of their fallen comrades. Ultimately, they all want you dead or captured so your best bet is to sneak by unnoticed. This is made much more difficult as you’re also having to keep a hold of little Hugo, otherwise, he begins to panic and draws the attention of those nearby.
For the most part, you’re required to figure out the routes and ways to distract patrolling soldiers which can be done by either throwing a rock at something or collecting and chucking breakable pots about the place. This usually gives you enough time to dash by without detection, but like with all good stealth games, you’re bound to be spotted at some point which is indicated by little icons above their heads. There’s white, yellow, and red. White being unnoticed, yellow being noticed, but not spotted, and red basically means you’re screwed.
Fortunately, there are plenty of places to hide if you do get noticed and it’s relatively easy to avoid capture if you’re quick enough. Though it still doesn’t quell the feeling of panic whenever one of the little icons pings from white to yellow.
Adding to this, there are also moments in the story where running is the only option and they’re just as panic-inducing as the stealth areas as you’ll be running with no real idea where you’re going with passages being cut off either by enemies, or the environment itself. Fortunately, in areas where you need to think quickly in order to proceed, you are given enough time to actually find a way out rather than being apprehended before you even get a chance to look around.
Outside of the tense stealth areas are puzzles which usually have you figuring out how to progress without being gobbled up by crazed rodents. Fortunately, they’re sensitive to light, so you’ll have to figure out how to clear the path by lighting lamps, smoldering piles of ash in fire pits, and searching for bundles of sticks in order to get some temporary light so you can cross a path quickly. These areas often provide the much-needed respite from the more anxiety-inducing areas.
While, for the most part, Amicia and Hugo are harmless, there are times where Amicia needs to make hard decisions in order to keep them safe. This usually involves her trusty sling which can be upgraded throughout the game via handy workbench locations. In addition, Amicia learns how to craft items to aid their journey, whether it’s firebombs which can help spread light (and fire) from a distance or poison which can be used to send their foes on a long, permanent nap.
Throughout the game though, you can’t help but feel for both Amicia and Hugo who don’t want to knock down enemies, set them alight, or feed them to the ravenous plague rats. At first, I couldn’t have cared for Hugo who seemed to be more of a burden than anything causing attention to be drawn at the worst of times and Amicia wasn’t shy about letting Hugo know that.
As the game progresses, however, I began to empathize with both siblings and Amicia’s bond with Hugo, who was practically a stranger to her before their journey began, grows much stronger. Hugo starts to trust Amicia more and is willing to help, and Amicia begins to let Hugo have more responsibilities. While this is all presented through gameplay, you can’t help but notice the intentions of the developers in this case.
Eventually, Amicia and Hugo gather a band of equally young allies who aid them on their journey, whether it’s being another body to help solve puzzles, or simply someone who can pick locks to help gather crafting items or access new locations. But with more bodies comes more risk of being caught, and again the game doesn’t shy away from letting you know you’ve messed up leaving you to re-think your overall strategy.
Overall, A Plague Tale: Innocence is a diamond in the rough. While the game has been easy to overlook, I’d definitely recommend giving the game a try. Its story is gripping, the gameplay is well balanced between puzzle solving and stealth, and despite the fairly dull color-pallette, it looks damn good too.