Listed as an action-adventure title, A Plague Tale: Innocence is that, plus so much more. Developed by Asobo Studio and published by Focus Home Interactive, A Plague Tale: Innocence could arguably be considered as a nominee for 2019’s Game of the Year. Unfortunately, due to a lack of advertising and marketing content during the buildup to its release (unless you were subscribed to a select few specific outlets that previewed the game), this may very well be the first time you’ve heard of it. The game is not perfect, namely with some of its combat and control mechanics. However, A Plague Tale: Innocence overcomes its technical woes with complex characters that players can actually care about, an incredibly emotional and immersive narrative, and pulse-pounding stealth gameplay mechanics, along the lines of the survival-horror genre, that will keep players holding their breath until the final credits roll.
Having known nothing about A Plague Tale: Innocence before actually playing the game, it was easy to come into the review with zero expectations. Honestly, that’s exactly how it should be experienced, and could even be the reason why there wasn’t a ton of advertisements leading up to its release. Knowing what to expect and having any insights into the story won’t necessarily take away from the play through experience, but the game will have a much more satisfying impact if you come in with a blank slate, especially considering the roller coaster of emotions that the game’s narrative will take you through.
A Plague Tale: Innocence tells the story of two estranged siblings - Hugo, the overprotected little brother who has been battling a strange sickness since birth, and Amicia, his rebellious older sister who is always ready for an adventure. Although they barely had any relationship, if any, the two are forced to depend on one another after their home is attacked by The Inquisition, making their way across the French countryside in search of a cure for Hugo and, with the help of some friends along the way, just trying to survive the rat-infested, plague-ridden land.
The game begins innocent enough, with the first action being petting a dog (which is always a good way to get a 5-star review). It’s all downhill from there, though. A Plague Tale: Innocence’s narrative is one of the best in recent memory, but players shouldn’t expect to have much to smile about. The gritty, tense, and often gruesome story and visuals effectively pull players in thanks to characters that are easy to believe and care about, along with an equally as impressive musical score that helps set the tone of everything from dire situations, such as the skittering violins that violently clash while wading through the swarms of rats in the depths of a dungeon, to the game’s sweeter, more endearing moments.
A Plague Tale: Innocence plays very much like the rebooted Tomb Raider trilogy, but a little more simplistic. Amicia’s only weapon is a rock-slinging leather sling, but as the game progresses, she is able to add other special slung weapons to her bag of tricks, such as fire and explosive rounds. Unfortunately, A Plague Tale: Innocence’s combat control scheme leaves plenty to be desired. Until Amicia is able to upgrade her sling, it takes a surprising amount of force applied to the PlayStation 4 DualShock trigger button to actually get a shot off. Honestly, my index finger was sore after playing from having to slam down on the R2 button as hard as I could. However, it seems that this was intentional, as it eventually requires less force once the sling has been upgraded.
Battling the enemies that spot Amicia and crew also pose a bit of a struggle, with most of the player’s success riding on timing and luck. All too often, Amicia (or someone else in the group) would be killed due to a botched aim or failing to push the trigger button as hard as necessary. As such, it becomes that much more important to pick your battles as you move quietly in the shadows so as not to be seen.
Adding to the game’s Tomb Raider-like experience, A Plague Tale: Innocence’s stealth system relies heavily on obstacles to remain hidden behind, maintaining a low auditory presence, and using distractions to avoid being detected by the Inquisition soldiers. Sometimes, this is even coupled with the need to solve environmental puzzles while doing so.
Of course, what story would A Plague Tale: Innocence be without highlighting the namesake vermin that carries “The Bite,” as it is called? We’ve seen a recent influx of swarm-based enemies in the way of zombie hordes, via Days Gone and World War Z. As successful as those games are in portraying massive groups of zombies, they can’t hold a candle in the wind when compared to the sheer magnitude of the plague-ridden rats that are encountered throughout A Plague Tale: Innocence. The term “heebie-jeebies” would be an understatement but was no doubt the feeling experienced, even as early as the game’s opening menu screen. The initial encounters with the swarms of rats - of which there are hundreds, if not thousands of at a single time - provide plenty of breath-holding, tense moments as Amicia and Hugo walk through the black, blood-thirsty sea of rats, saved only by the light of a hand-held torch, as the vermin are afraid of light. Although Amicia and Hugo are the stars of the show, the rats are certainly an important piece to the story, which all comes to a head in the game’s final moments.
It’s a shame that A Plague Tale: Innocence likely won’t be played to the extent that it deserves. The game is a raw, gruesome experience that isn’t for the faint of heart, but it succeeds overwhelmingly in its story and portrayal of the blood bond between siblings, and the lengths that they will go to protect one another.
4.5 out of 5 stars
A copy of A Plague Tale: Innocence was purchased by TheGamer for this review. The game is available now for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.