Back in 2017, I had the opportunity to check out an early build of A Plague Tale: Innocence. At the time, I was very intrigued by the concept. A stealth/adventure game set in medieval France appealed to the history buff in me. Now, two years later, the game has finally arrived. And I am so happy to report that A Plague Tale surpassed my expectations, especially in mechanics and story.
At its heart, A Plague Tale is a story of a sister and brother duo, both doing their best to survive a horrible time in history. In 1349 France, the plague has swept the land, causing widespread panic, illness, and death. On top of that, the Inquisition has entered their lives in a devastating way. Essentially alone and scared, the story follows the older sister, Amicia, as she attempts to protect her sick brother Hugo in a dangerous situation.
Asobo Studios could have taken the easy way out and kept the story bare bones. After all, the plague rats are a huge selling point for the game and could have easily been the sole focus of the game. Instead, the developers added countless moments that showcase how Amicia and Hugo bond over time. At first, the pair are obviously not pleased to be together. Amicia struggles to deal with a young boy who has been sheltered and sick most of his life. Hugo just wants his mother and home and is painfully unaware of what is happening. Eventually, their devastating situation pushes them to grow and overcome their fears.
Essentially, A Plague Tale is centered around escort and stealth missions. A byproduct of Hugo’s illness and upbringing is his inability to be alone or to function by himself in this plague filled landscape. Amicia helps Hugo through the game by holding his hand. He can be commanded to enter small areas or stay put until an area is clear. If anything happens to Hugo, then you must restart. You don’t escort Hugo 100% of the game, in case you were wondering.
With the Inquisition hot on your tale and thousands of plague rats all over the place, your best bet at survival is stealth. An argument can be made that stealth areas are fairly easy to navigate. Guard patterns are easy to identify and you can take all the time you need to get past them. The same can be said for rat areas. You survive as long as you stay close to light sources. Some will argue that these areas are too easy. I, for one, enjoyed the pace and ability to take my time and strategize through these areas. Egregious mistakes will cost you your life, but a frequent autosave function means you don’t need to repeat long stretches.
Amicia has access to a variety of tools to help her and Hugo survive. Her main weapon is a sling that can be upgraded with material found throughout the game. She uses the sling to knock out enemies, light or extinguish torches, and break locks. Amicia also uses alchemy to ignite fires or create a corrosive liquid that exposes weak points on the enemy. With all of these tools, you have some flexibility in terms of how you get through fairly linear levels.
The story is very moving and the gameplay plays well into displaying the fear and unsettled nature of Amicia and Hugo’s situation. To further show their dire situation, the developers have created some nasty plague rats. Rats come out through the ground and devour any flesh that they see. You must avoid them at all costs, but they can be used in some situations to kill enemy soldiers. There are hundreds on screen at any given time, and they leave piles of stripped flesh and bone. It’s really gruesome and looks incredible on screen.
In fact, the game itself is absolutely stunning. The details in the environment are beautiful, along with the detail in the horrors of that time period. The visuals can contrast rather abruptly during the game. Beautiful French countryside gets replaced in an instant by the dead victims of war and plague. The character designs are very detailed, including the detail on victims of the rats. I was very impressed by the visuals and sound design.
I need to point out that I hit a couple of bugs during my playthrough. These bugs, including falling through a floor and frozen frames, required me to restart the game. However, as I mentioned above, the frequent autosaves let me restart without having to redo a bunch of areas.
A Plague Tale: Innocence is a genuine surprise in terms of story depth and beauty. The game mechanics drive the plot further, giving us a truly terrifying look at siblings who are in way over their head. I can imagine that some will find the constant escort and stealth tedious over time, but I was on the edge of my seat the entire time. I would consider A Plague Tale an earlier contender for surprise hit of the year. Don’t miss out on this game!
Note: GameOctane editor Ryan Welch received a digital code from the publisher for the purpose of reviewing this game. Any code or product intended for reviews is distributed to the team to review and stream for our audience.
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Beautiful, yet horrifying environments
Mechanics that wonderfully show the dire situation of the protagonists
Can be tedious for those who dislike stealth and escort missions