Title: A Plague Tale: Innocence
Developer: Asobo Studio
Release Date: May 14, 2019
Reviewed On: PS4
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
I don’t think I was really prepared for developer Asobo Studio’s adventure A Plague Tale: Innocence. Even following the game since it was first announced didn’t fully convince me of its systems and story, but I was still intrigued by the world that it presented. Through its highly dramatized event scenes and bleak disturbing world, I would soon understand what makes this game a must play for all fans of the adventure genre.
A Plague Tale: Innocence begins by introducing Amicia de Rune, a young girl of a noble family. Here in the opening act, players will be introduced to Amicia and learn about her personality and certain skills such as using a sling to launch rocks at targets. What this scene also shows is a side of Amicia that players will never truly see again. She is playful, hopeful, and energetic as she frolics with her dog and learns hunting tips from her father. It’s almost a complete 180 from where the story takes the player as the Inquisition invades her home in search of her younger brother, Hugo.
Hugo and Amicia’s relationship is a strange one. Hugo is diagnosed with a mysterious illness and kept away from the rest of the town. Amicia doesn’t spend much time with Hugo and actually doesn’t know much about him at all. This relationship ends up holding them back to an extent as the two struggle to escape the Inquisition. However, they manage, but what’s interesting is how the developers highlight moments of the siblings getting to know each other over their journey and how they work together to get through some tough situations.
If that wasn’t enough, there’s also plague-ridden rats that are on the hunt for anything they can sink their teeth into. Amicia and Hugo will encounter these rats many times in their quest and will have to deal with them using any means possible. During their travels, they meet a new boy, Lucas, who joins them. Although he is helpful, Hugo actually grows a bit as he notices how Lucas approaches situations and is a bit more independent. In this regard, each character has their own strengths and they each help one another grow, which plays out wonderfully before your eyes during gameplay.
The gameplay is split between a few different modes. Exploration is a big feature in the game and although it is fairly straight forward, there are moments that the player is rewarded by looking around the environment. Collectables can be found in the world, as well as materials that are used to craft upgrades. The upgrade system is pretty easy to understand, but I actually didn’t think this game needed the feature at all. Basically, it’s there for players who enjoy upgrading characters, but overall I never encountered a moment that I felt I needed to upgrade Amicia in order to progress.
Exploration bleeds into encounters with the Inquisition who are actively looking to kill you. Amicia must sneak through enemy infested areas in order to progress the narrative. Players can also distract enemies by throwing rocks or even killing them using their sling if they aren’t wearing a helmet. While I never grew tired of these moments, I felt like they played out a little too much like a script. Soldiers walked the same paths and had their backs turned at the right angle to allow Amicia to get through. Any deviation from the path was met with a failure which meant there was usually only one way through these sections of the game.
Lastly, there are the rat encounters which sometimes include encounters with soldiers. Rats don’t like fire so using this to your advantage is necessary to get through these sections of the game. I felt like these moments of the game played out closer to a puzzle game. Lighting fires and flipping switches or ordering Hugo to bring a stick over will get you through these sections. The rat encounters aren’t too difficult, but they do require a bit of thought to get through. I actually really liked the way the developer intertwined each feature of the game and made it flow seamlessly in the world. Nothing seemed out of place or forced as the party of characters found themselves deeper into this disturbing new world of theirs.
When it comes to presentation, Asobo Studios nails the world they are trying to create. It’s so beautifully strange — the parallels in set pieces — since they lead the player through when one moment where your heart is pounding trying to escape death and the next you’re walking next to a river as the sun sets. It’s truly a wonderful thing to experience and raises the bar for indie studios overall. The team has built such a wonderful and terrifying world that you can’t help but pause and marvel at during gameplay.
While the game’s world is well-crafted, the controls in the game are decent and require some getting used to. Controlling Amicia requires using both analog sticks as the player moves the camera in order to turn her. It’s not the most intuitive system, but it works well for the stealth sections of the game and navigating Amicia through some narrow areas.
The audio design in A Plague Tale: Innocence, on the other hand, is amazing. I felt that that the music and environmental sound did a great job of adding an even greater scale of emersion to the game. Also important to the note is the voice acting — it’s phenomenal. I loved how the characters whispered during stealthy moments and expressed themselves during more emotional scenes. I also enjoyed the way these characters got to know each other in this game. Hugo is still a kid and there are moments where he forgets how much the situation he’s in is terrible as he decides to run ahead and play without a care in the world. I felt so attached to these characters thanks to how they were presented and the voice acting made it all the easier to feel this attachment.
What A Plague Tale: Innocence accomplishes is more than just a great narrative-driven adventure. The game shows the brilliant level of game design that an indie team is capable of. Following Amicia and Hugo’s quest through this world was brilliant to witness. Character development flows so naturally in this game as the brother and sister get to know each other and grow on their adventure and their relationship is just one of many reasons to see this quest through until the end.
Asobo Studio has seemingly slingshotted their way to being a developer that I will continue to follow for years to come. I can’t wait to see what this developer comes up with next, but A Plague Tale: Innocence is a heart-wrenching yet beautiful adventure that I won’t soon forget.
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