A Plague Tale: Innocence Review – A Drearily Beautiful Alt-History Take on Medieval France

A Plague Tale: Innocence
Asobo Studio/Focus Home Interactive

One of the first things I did when researching the new stealth-survival title, A Plague Tale: Innocence, was check out the development team that made it. Asobo Studio is an indie French group of developers who in the past, mainly stuck to developing other company’s IPs (mainly facilitating ports and tie-ins). So, by all appearances, A Plague Tale: Innocence is the first game that the small studio actually wanted to make.

A Plague Tale: Innocence feels like a project that Asobo Studio has been wanting to make for a long time, but they never had the sufficient funding to finance the project…until now. However, has this game’s zeitgeist already passed it by? Has the initial fire that lit the passion dwindled into but a flicker?

After watching some of the trailer and gameplay footage of A Plague Tale: Innocence, I had assumed the worst. I’d mistakenly thought that the much-ballyhooed about, gaming mechanic—of having thousands of disease-ridden rats swarming around all on-screen at once—was a gimmick. Instead, this game is a fine example of combining a gripping narrative with near-triple-AAA production values, without the usual over-commercialism contained in most triple-AAA titles these days.

A Plague Tale: Innocence takes place in an alt-history version of mid-fourteenth century France. The Black Death, a plague of biblical proportions, is well underway and is racking up millions upon millions of victims. Rats of all sizes are thriving in this horrific atmosphere and are also the main culprits for spreading the virulent super-disease. Whereas in history, the Black Death was spread via fleas that were carried by rats, here, the rats are the star of the show and prefer to pass it on through biting folks.

In the middle of this terrible set of circumstances is main protagonist Amicia De Rune, who is on the run with her little brother Hugo. Although Hugo has been debilitated by a mysterious illness, high ranking members of the Catholic Inquisition have a rather deadly interest in the boy.

A Plague Tale: Innocence sort of reminded me of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, but since this had to be a more “progressive” version they had to replace the older male with a female. The backdrop is fittingly morbid and depressing, not dissimilar to the highly-engrossing Warhammer Fantasy setting. However, unlike in Brothers, you are only in direct control of one sibling, with the management of additional characters occurring from time to time.

Gameplay-wise, A Plague Tale: Innocence is vaguely reminiscent of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, sans the epic combat system. You sneak around a lot, utilizing the game’s rather simplistic stealth mechanics, as well as solve a series of equally easy-to-figure-out puzzles. There is also an alchemical crafting system in place that can aid you in concocting ever more deadly ranged weapons as you progress throughout the game.

The ever-present rats are both a curse and a boon. Sometimes, you’ll be utilizing whatever light source (usually a simple torch) you have on hand to avoid their gnashing teeth, while other times you’ll use that same source of illumination to “steer” the little voracious varmints toward whatever baddies that may be bothering you and your brother.

Like the two aforementioned games, A Plague Tale: Innocence is not a game purely based on exploration and choices. It most certainly won’t be a turn off by those gamers out there who just can’t get enough of the “walking simulator” – type games. “Emergent,” “deep,” and “choice-based” aren’t terms I would ever ascribe to this title, as it feels as though it is an on-the-rails type of experience, albeit quite an exciting rollercoaster ride.

The real reasons to appreciate this game are in its odd characters, drearily beautiful (and sometimes shocking) environments, and excellent writing. The multitudes of rats are suitably disturbing and are impressively rendered—being that there can be literally thousands of them on your screen, simultaneously.

Overall, A Plague Tale: Innocence is a fun, if slightly depressing, jaunt through an alt-history medieval France. It’s general “loss of innocence” is carefully handled, and for the most part, thought-provoking without being too heavy-handed, and should appeal to stealth/puzzle solving enthusiasts as well as those appreciative of good writing and immersive storylines.

SCORE: 74%

A Plague Tale: Innocence features some pretty nice looking graphics that make its stealth/survival gameplay truly shine. However, you want to have a pretty beefy gaming PC or gaming laptop in order to play it at a decent framerate. So, you may just want to invest in a decent gaming rig:

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