By Richard Winstone
In A Plague Tale: Innocence Death by a Thousand Cuts. History meets Fantasy in Asobo’s twisted Tail (it’s a pun, not a spelling error) The Latest Game from Asobo Studios released on the 14 of May 2019 for PC/PS4/Xbox One.
A grim story based on historical events with a twist into fantasy. We are transported back to the 14th century where we meet the noble De Rune Family, as the story of the plague, the Inquisition unfold with a dark fantasy twist involving hoards of rats.
This stealth-based game is reinforced with a compelling story and invokes some serious morality and reflection creating one of the most interesting games I have played in a long time. Full disclosure, I have been gaming for years and have always been a more action-shooter based gamer besides the early metal gear games and splinter cell I have not really enjoyed the stealthy approach, as this review unfolds you hopefully understand why I found this game so gripping. I was fortunate enough to preview A Plague Tale: Innocence found here.
So were greeted by the beautiful French landscape, and the graphics are simply stunning as you venture through the woods as the main character Amicia the teenage daughter of the noble family, yourself, your father and your trusty dog lion venture out on a hunting trip.
It’s clear that Amecia is a bold, adventurous soul. This is where the plot begins to unfold as running through the woods Lion is found torn apart as Amecia and her father react to the horror before them. You head back home to inform the villagers the woods are out of bounds and inform your mother and the inquisition arrives, in the first 10 minutes you made aware of the families stature, their wealth the beautiful home as it all torn away from you. This is where you meet Hugo your younger brother, house-bound due to illness.
This is where Nicolas the hand of the Grand Inquisitor turns up, you witness the death of your father to his hand as you begin to flee your estate. As you sneak away through the garden you also see your mother fall to Nicola’s sword, you run through the same woods as before this time with the inquisition troops in pursuit as the sun sets the darker atmosphere is accompanied with screams of pain.
It dawns on you as Amecia, your family home is overrun, your parents are dead and you have the sole responsibility for Hugo’s safety as your mother’s final words were to keep him safe and get him to the alchemist to cure his illness. Your relationship with Hugo is fragile and distance as you must learn to trust one another and build the relationship.
Hugo is the big difference between this and many other stealth based games, your young brother requires you to hold his hand and if left alone he will get scared and increasingly get louder as he tries to get your attention, this adds some difficulty and gives you a sense of care much like the compelling theme to The Last of Us, you’re his protector.
It becomes apparent very early that the world is ominously empty, people fleeing the empty streets, markets filled with rotten fruit and veg. you seldom come across others who don’t want your head. You are greeted with large towns and massive landscapes although they’re not as big or as daunting as they originally appeared, your path is pretty restricted and guides by blocked paths or guards, Plague Tale: Innocence doesn’t feel guided, the dialogue and clues you come across and the fact your usually running or sneaking for your lives makes the path feels natural.
As the story unfolds you meet an alchemists son who assists you in trying to find a cure for your brother, this leads you deeper into 14th -century France as you cross battlefields, mass graves abandoned castles with regular puzzles based around passing guards and the hoards of rats.
As Plague Tale: Innocence develops so does your character, learning new alchemy skills, upgrading your kit including your trusty sling. The main gameplay mechanic is detection, where the guards will usually kill you if detected, this system felt good, yes the guards have particular patterns that you can watch and follow to sneak past but that just adds to the suspense of the game.
You do have the ability to kill the guard but this must be planned and you must use the correct projectile to take them down, being a simple rock, or a particular alchemy potion. But each kill you make your companions point it out, there is a real sense of morality and your relationship with your brother is strained every time you kill.
There are some full-on action sequences that require you to go on an all-out attack that’s accompanied by a real sense of panic. As you progress so do the hoards of Rats, becoming large in population, there fear of light being your only saving grace as the circle you and your companions as you light a stick hoping you can make it to the next area before it burns out and your bodies are stripped of flesh and bone.
It really is a great mechanic and adds a real fear factor as one false move turning the wrong corner or not preparing the right alchemy concoction can end you in an instant, Plague Tale: Innocence is kind in the regard of very regular checkpoint removing the frustration of having to re-run large sections of the game.
Later in Plague Tale: Innocence, you meet several other companions that all have there own unique skills to assist you such as lock picking, distractions and even the ability to outright kill guards at your request. You even find a home for your ragtag band of children where everyone feels a sense of security and belonging with some dialogue around the troubled thief whos conflicted by his past of being constantly on the move.
There is a chapter where you get to play as Hugo, which is fantastic after seeing the world from Amecia’s perspective even the smallest room feels huge the camera angles are perfect and gave you the very real sense of being a young child.
My Final Thoughts: A Plague Tale: Innocence has one of the most compelling stories I have had the pleasure of playing in years it really is up there with The Last of Us, God of War and the Persona series. The graphics are fantastic along with the gameplay mechanics.
The only thing I can fault the game on is the movement system particularly the camera, on the PS4 at least it’s a little fidgety and seems to have momentum that you need to overcome when looking left to right, its not something I picked up on in the PC version, however.
Plague Tale: Innocence gives good value with the main game taking me over 20 hours of playtime, I started out checking every corner assuming a shorter game and ended up rushing the last 8 chapters to ensure I had finished the game in time to write this review and I plan to replay it in immersive mode (I have done the first few chapters and the removal on-screen cues really adds to the story).