Detailing a young woman’s fall from innocence, A Plague Tale: Innocence is an engaging experience steeped in a dark atmosphere. Asobo Studio, the French developer behind the game, has created an incredibly detailed environment that evokes the terror of plague-infested 14th century France. Featuring polished gameplay and compelling central characters, A Plague Tale: Innocence is a success, despite some minor frustrations.
Set in 1349, A Plague Tale details the De Rune children’s struggle for survival in a world plagued by diseased rats. The player takes on the role of the eldest De Rune child, Amicia, a strong 15 year old girl who must take care of her younger brother, Hugo, after the murder of their parents by the Inquisition. Hugo is afflicted with a disease that has kept him hidden away from the world and his estranged sister, which allows the player to experience Amicia’s growing relationship with her sibling.
Each new mechanic is introduced slowly to give players time to grasp the concepts. However, every level then acts as a tutorial for the newly which hinders the player’s opportunity for experimentation. Additionally, the full variety of ammunitions only becomes available in the final two chapters, which is disappointing as little opportunity is then left to experiment. Many levels also seemingly have only one or two solutions to progress, which prevents creative problem solving despite the vast array of choice.
The lack of variation has one worthwhile trade-off: it emphasises the theme of innocence. As the game progresses, killing enemies using rats or slinging them with rocks becomes more prevalent, demonstrating the loss of innocence. This transition to a combat over stealth approach feels natural and shows a careful consideration to create mechanics that complement and drive the narrative.
Hugo’s design bears something undeniably compelling. His character embodies innocence in a way that evokes a desperate, primal need to take care of him. Add to this some gorgeously sweet dialogue, and the player is prepared to do anything to protect that little boy. Asobo Studio set out to create a bond between Hugo and the player, and it has undoubtedly succeeded. From shielding him from rats to collecting flowers for ‘Hugo’s Herbarium’, the player is invested in Hugo’s happiness, which draws them deeper into the unfolding narrative.
A Plague Tale focuses much of its narrative energy into the relationship between Amicia and Hugo. Understanding the mystery surrounding the plague comes secondary to watching their love grow while driving the player towards the ending. The game’s gentle conclusion is less satisfying, however, due to an incredibly frustrating final battle that is tedious and aggravating.
Worthy of particular praise is the incredible atmosphere created through the highly detailed art and design. The prologue does an exceptional job of presenting a colourful, stunning world as it descends into the dark chaos of plague that highlights the grim tone that pervades the game. Swarms of black rats often clutter the screen with a terrifying ferocity. Decrepit buildings feature hanging dead bodies and decapitated corpses that add to the terror that the plague instills. All of these elements are present in realistic detail, creating a wholly immersive experience.
Asobo Studio has crafted an exceptionally dark atmosphere that brings the journey of its innocent characters to life. Both action and stealth-oriented players will find something to love in the mechanics despite their leading nature towards a particular playstyle. Those that love an immersive experience will be engrossed by the highly detailed, grim world. Some frustration with later levels may hinder the impact of the ending, but, regardless, A Plague Tale is a gorgeous game with endearing characters and smooth gameplay that showcases the potential of Asobo Studio.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4.