When we saw A Plague Tale: Innocence at E3, I was both surprised and fascinated by the experience. Even if it is largely about the fear surrounding the Black Plague and the belief rats were the cause, something scientists don’t believe to be true, it is largely the story of a brother and sister coming together while everything else is falling apart. Now that A Plague Tale: Innocence is out, does it tell a worthwhile story or is it just a game that has a lot of rats running around?
A Plague Tale: Innocence starts with Amicia following her father on a hunt. The bright visuals and strong relationship between them only makes the predictable fall so much sadder. In addition to seeing things decline, the inquisition is there to dispatch Hugo, her younger brother. After getting a fair amount of support the two escape, not without their share of losses, only to start their journey towards freedom and developing a closer relationship between the two. But, before they can worry about the destination, they need to get there first.
One of the first things that stood out is their approach to doing a tutorial. At its core, there really isn’t much to explain, so there is a contrived sequence of someone telling you what to do, followed by doing it. Regardless of how they set this scene up, it still highlights how to play without being overly demanding or giving players paragraphs and being expected to understand it immediately.
The main idea to the experience is to use the world to your advantage. So, maybe you find a pot, it can be thrown to distract a guard or perhaps push over an item to cause a bigger distraction. The point is never to be the hero through violence, something that could make the experience far easier, but rather wits.
Most puzzles are solved by looking at the pieces and figuring out the most likely solution. Maybe there are some rocks, a guard, some cover and a bell, with the solution being you throw the rocks at the bell to distract the guard as you move between cover. Things get more complicated than that, especially when you have more resources to work with or multiple solutions to the same problem, it’s just the end goal that remains the same.
If there is an issue with this design choice, it’s that some of the solutions can be hard to understand and overly scripted. Both of these elements are highlighted at the climax of the first chapter when you run from the inquisition.
During this sequence there are multiple enemies, a mysterious force dispatching them and a looming threat chasing after you. The only option is to run or die, so obviously you choose the former, except now you need to dodge spears and all these other threats. As near as I can tell, it isn’t possible to die to the spears, just like some enemies exist solely to limit potential paths, forcing players to go down a predetermined road. What makes this hard to solve is the requirement to out run your pursuers.
My first attempt ended in failure because I tried to find a more complicated path, with any straight rush ended with them catching up to Amicia and Hugo. It wasn’t until I attempted to move from left to right and back again in a poor attempt to slow them down, did I actually make it to the end. I’m not sure if that time I just ran down the right path enough to find salvation or are players expected to bob and weave in hopes of confusing them. Regardless of which or possibly both being right, the point is simply, sometimes things are not as obvious as they should be.
Despite these shortcomings, A Plague Tale: Innocence is fairly nice to look at. Seeing the unstoppable force of rats, especially on an OLED, can be outright terrifying, with the world itself having a fair amount of life. Asobo Studio wasn’t afraid to give the background a terrifying image, nor does it shy away from matching the overall feelings of the moment. Be it the bright and hopeful world we’re introduced to or the black forest fraught with danger that propels the pair on their journey.
It’s important to understand A Plague Tale: Innocence is more story driven than anything else. It doesn’t matter if there are some rough patches here or there could be a little more polish there, as it’s largely about Amicia and Hugo’s journey. When you start to see, not just in words, but how the two interact between scenes, you can start to see how the two develop. It makes for a thrilling ride, even if the opposition can be quite terrifying. Combine that with puzzles and it’s a solid adventure for fans of story driven or strategic titles.
[Editor’s Note: A Plague Tale: Innocence was reviewed on PS4 platform. The game was provided to us by the publisher for review purposes.]