Reviews// A Plague Tale: Innocence

Posted 17 Jun 2019 10:00 by
Amicia and Hugo de Rune must travel across plague ravaged fourteenth century France to escape the clutches of the Inquisition and find a way to help Hugo overcome a mysterious illness. Along the way they will find allies and cross new enemies relentless in their search for the de Rune families secrets.

Asobo Studio, who has mostly worked with other studios on their titles and created games based on established brands in the past, has created something entirely unexpected with A Plague Tale: Innocence. It is a beautifully realised grotesquery of horrors surrounding a cast of well rounded and superbly acted characters.

France in A Plagues Tale's mid-fourteenth century was a place of death and disease as both war and The Black Death spread across the land. In the wake of these twin calamities come a scourge of rats with unnatural behaviour and the ability to strip a corpse’s flesh in moments. Those lucky enough to escape the rats with nothing but a bite soon succumb to a sickness known as The Bite.

Hugo de Rune, a five-year old boy, housebound by an illness far stranger than The Bite or the Plague, but yet connected, sees his sheltered life destroyed when his older sister, Amicia, makes a grim discovery in the forest near her home and Lord Nicholas of the Inquisition descends upon the de Rune family estate.

You play as Amicia de Rune, armed with her wits and a trusty hunting sling you must protect your young brother as you journey through villages, ruins and the blighted French countryside. Amicia is brave, though she is but a child and thus cannot stand up to the adults that would do her and Hugo harm. You will spend much of the game sneaking around and desperately trying to stay out of conflict because if caught Amicia will die to a single blow.

There comes a point where Amicia must use her sling for more than distraction though and she is forced to defend her brother with a well placed stone, the resulting death sticks with Amicia. Later on you are placed in a situation where you can sneak through a camp of soldiers or pick them off one-by-one. If you go down the path of violence, an ally will ask if Amicia is sure she wants to go down this route to which Amicia replies that she is tired of running, there is steel in her voice and whilst the trauma of that first murder stays with her she also has the resolve to do whatever it takes to protect her brother.

Game play is deceptively simple. Each section of a chapter becomes a puzzle that can be solved with stealth and the application of different sling ammunition that can be crafted from resources found throughout the world. A lot of these scenarios feature the game's other stars. The rats. They're deathly afraid of light and can be manipulated through the lighting of braziers or the redirection of light. Sticks can be used as makeshift torches, but they only last for a short while so you are forced to pick your route carefully through the rat infested shadows.

Thousands of these furred menaces can be on screen at any one time, their chittering filling the air and their glowing, beady eyes staring hungrily at you. Thankfully that hunger can be turned on the people hunting you by smashing their lanterns or moving the light from braziers away to give the rats an opening to feed. It is horrific.

A Plague Tale makes use of a relatively new technology from a company called Quixel Megascans. This uses photogrammetry to create game scenery from real world photograph, which results in game environments that can be extremely realistic and detailed. Couple this with outstanding lighting and every environment takes on an otherworldly painted look. Character models are highly detailed with expressive faces and richly detailed costumes. There are few games that look this good out currently, especially from a relatively small team.

Asobo Studio has worked wonders on this passion project. Their devotion to bringing Hugo and Amicia’s story to life sings through the excellent script that is supported by heartfelt deliveries across English, French and German deliveries.

Tying all of this together are the tortured strings and anxiety building percussion of Olivier Derivière composition. For the most part the music blends in to the overall soundscape that underpins and accentuates the mounting horror, but when the mood requires the music will ride roughshod over everything else to exquisite effect ramping up the tension in a squeal of strings as a tidal wave of rats descends upon the player.

A Plague Tale: Innocence is a game everyone looking for a narrative rich experience should play - as a small tip I recommend putting the HUD option into "immersive" mode. There are a few sections late in the game that you can easily fail and may be a bit frustrating, but overall this has been one of the best games released this year and we’ve already had some fantastic releases.

Asobo Studio deserves to be proud of this excellent game it has created and I cannot wait to see what is next for them, especially with an image from the recent Focus Home event that screams of a direct sequel.

+ A harrowing story that will keep you gripped from start to finish
+ Amicia and Hugo de Rune are wonderful, heart wrenching characters
+ Outstanding level design and environments
+ Elegant gameplay that serves the narrative well
+ Everything is glued together with excellent audio design and music

- A few easily failed scenarios can be frustrating
- Swapping between ammunition types can be finicky

Score: 9/10

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