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A Plague Tale: Innocence Review

VO: Riccardo Tucci WRITTEN BY: NR
When Asobo Studio released their first gameplay trailer for action-adventure title “A Plague Tale: Innocence” in mid-2018, they wowed audiences with the game’s striking imagery and unique mechanics. It was a lot to live up to, especially for a studio that was best known for adapting Pixar movies. So, DOES the game live up to its promise?
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It’s a germaphobes' worst nightmare! When Asobo Studio released their first gameplay trailer for action-adventure title “A Plague Tale: Innocence” in mid-2018, they wowed audiences with the game’s striking imagery and unique mechanics. It was a lot to live up to, especially for a studio that was best known for adapting Pixar movies. So, DOES the game live up to its promise?

Set in 14th century France, “A Plague Tale” sees players step into the shoes of teenage noble Amicia de Rune, as she struggles to survive and take care of her brother Hugo during the Black Death. Together, they need to evade not only plague rats, but also the sinister clutches of the Inquisition - relying on both stealth . . . [broll: stealth] and well-placed shots from Amicia’s sling. Hugo is a game sidekick with a difference. Hold his hand, and he moves in tandem with Amicia; leave him too far behind, and his cries of fear will alert enemies.

“A Plague Tale” is clearly a labour of love, a fact that’s immediately evident in the game’s gorgeous environments - from its chateaus, castles, and towns, to its autumn-tinged woods and battle-scarred plains. The developers took inspiration from master painters to simulate natural light, and to infuse the game’s landscapes with rich, dreamlike colors. The forests and farmlands in particular really feel like paintings come to life.

Of course, these romantic tableaus soon become nightmares. The Black Death killed between a third to half of Europe’s population in just four years! For people of the time, it must have felt like the end of the world - and “A Plague Tale” truly captures that sense of apocalypse . . . with some added twists. The plague rats swarm through the game’s streets and cellars, eating people alive. A.I.-wise, they’re an impressive achievement, and look fantastic in moonlit, fog-shrouded hills; but a liiittle twitchy and robotic in torchlight. Overall however, they introduce a unique dynamic into the game - requiring careful manipulation through light and other means. Fortunately for Amicia, the ancient art of alchemy has ALSO been given a fantasy spin, aiding her against both the rats and enemy soldiers. Her equipment can be upgraded through a basic “Last of Us”-like crafting system.

As in other third-person sneakers, direct confrontation is usually a bad idea. Mind you, there IS an aim assist feature, which sometimes makes things TOO easy; and enemy A.I. isn’t always on point SB [guard doesn’t notice his friends dying]. (How do you not hear your friends getting eaten right behind you?!) But, although Amicia’s sling does feel kind of like a bow in terms of game weapons, Lara Croft she’s NOT. One hit, and Amicia is rat food. This realism, and Amicia’s genuine reactions to death and killing, keeps the combat gripping. SB [Amicia’s first kill] This might be the first game in a long time where players actually feel guilty about killing people . . . SB [soldier pleads for his life]

Still, it would all be a little one-dimensional without alchemy. Every hero needs someone in R&D, and in “A Plague Tale” that role is fulfilled by apprentice alchemist Lucas, who provides snazzy new ways of dealing with rats and soldiers. Other NPC allies also lend a hand, with both alchemical gifts and special skills. Together, they round out a cast of Lost Boy-like heroes.

Amicia’s arsenal plays a crucial role in the game’s puzzles and stealth areas. WHAT role is seldom in doubt, because the game provides a VERY gentle learning curve. Prompts from Amicia and NPC allies can make progress a touch too easy. [broll: obvious NPC prompt]. Yep, thanks . . . There’s a lot of hand-holding, and for the most part, progression tends to be linear and self-evident. Only in the final chapters do the obstacles, and Amicia’s alchemical tools, get complicated enough to make things really challenging. There are few head-scratchers here, which is a shame, because when the gameplay really finds its stride, there are a lot of elements to balance, creating the potential for much more complex challenges. Without giving too much away, some of Amicia’s abilities in the final chapters are truly game-changers - leading to one of the most surreal and innovative boss battles in recent memory.

What “A Plague Tale” does have in spades are story and heart. Headed by Grand Inquisitor Vitalis, the Inquisition is hot on Amicia and Hugo’s heels, thanks to the mysterious “Prima Macula” in Hugo’s blood. Not everything is explained, but it doesn’t feel like it has to be, because the game is first and foremost about Amicia and Hugo’s character arcs and their relationship. While the game’s facial animations can be wooden, the vocal performances of Charlotte McBurney as Amicia and Logan Hannan as Hugo are absolutely fantastic.

As their relationship grows, their interactions bring light moments to an otherwise dark game. The idea of having the player hold Hugo’s hand works brilliantly, making you feel genuinely closer and protective. It helps that most of the time, Hugo is surprisingly polite and attentive. Maybe French kids are different? Or, maybe it’s the times . . . Ah, the Middle Ages! [broll: gruesome and horrible scene] The need to take care of Hugo leads to moments of nail-biting suspense, as you become ridicuously invested in preserving Hugo’s life - AND his innocence. These scenes are buoyed by a haunting soundtrack from Olivier Deriviere, who also lent his considerable talent to “Alone in the Dark”, “Remember Me”, and “Vampyr”.

“A Plague Tale” is a tumultuous ride through a meticulously crafted world. Its rat swarms bring a new and inspired element to gameplay, and its characters make it memorable. While some players may find its puzzles too guided, it’s a game that takes you on a journey that you don’t want to end - one that hopefully, someday, we’ll come back to.
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