A PLAGUE TALE: INNOCENCE
Developed by Asobo Studio
Published by Focus Home Interactive
Available on PC, Xbox One and PS4
A pair of siblings must fight for answers and survival in plague-ridden 14th century France in this action-adventure stealth game.
The games opens as you’re introduced to the main character, Amicia De Rune, who’s out hunting with her father and her dog. When her dog and the boar they’re hunting fall foul to an unknown predator, they rush back to the estate of her wealthy family where her father instructs Amicia to visit her mother.
From the information we’re provided, Amicia is a 15 year old teenager who seems a bit isolated. Her father spends his time running the family’s estate whilst she rarely sees her mother due to her tending to her sick younger brother, Hugo – a 5 year old little boy she’s never really known. The arrival of the Inquisition brings Amicia and Hugo together as they flee their family home in search of help. With the Inquisition eager to capture Amicia’s little brother for some unknown reason, slaughtering everyone they come into contact with, the game becomes a quest for answers. However, those answers aren’t that forthcoming when the duo encounter another problem – the plague. Almost everyone have shut themselves away from the events in the town due to the sickness and when night falls, it’s not only the Inquisition to be wary of as savage, flesh hungry rats roam in the shadows, spreading the disease. With seemingly the world against them, the siblings must cling onto hope as they try to find help and refuge, not to mention medicine for young Hugo who’s debilitating illness begins to worsen.
A PLAGUE TALE: INNOCENCE is an incredibly beautiful, story-driven linear game which feels like a blend of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons and ICO. Combining stealth with puzzle solving and ranged attacks might make for an unusual combination on the surface but works perfectly here for the journey of the two De Rune siblings. Near enough always accompanied by her brother Hugo, Amicia is the guardian that has to protect those around her. Whilst she is the only character you directly control, you can also instruct her brother to wait behind or to go and unlock a door on her behalf, especially in scenarios where there’s only room for a small child to crawl through. Later in the game you can also instruct allies to interact with objects in a similar way, much like you’d do with AI squads in war games.
Evading enemy Inquisition guards becomes a tactic you must take with you throughout the game, whether it’s through diversion or sneaking, though later on in the game there’s always the option of directly and passively attacking the guards using Amicia’s trusty sling shot; a weapon which can be upgraded throughout the game. A character you meet a quarter way into the game will also give you alchemy skills so that you can use these to help craft offensive potions or to create fire from ingredients scattered throughout the environment. Fire and light are a huge part of this game as that is just one of only a few things that keep the other nasty enemy of the game at bay: the plague of rats. Compared to the rest of the game which goes for semi-realism, the infestation of rats that run like a river throughout the streets at night are slightly exaggerated and therefore feel a bit cartoonish amidst the semi-realistic setting. They also have an appetite for flesh and, much like the scarab beetles in the awesome 1998 The Mummy movie, will blanket and suffocate you whilst devouring every inch of flesh from your bones. The rats lurk in the darkness but are extremely afraid of light so lamps, torches and fire pits become your friend once the sun sets.
With the game being rather linear compared to the sprawling scenarios of RPG’s Kingdom Come: Deliverance and Skyrim, there’s no real way to get lost or wonder what you have to do next. There’s no hand-holding though and you can decide to evade enemies in any way you see fit so whilst freedom of movement round the environment may be limited, you do still have options in how you get from point A to point B. This structure is perfectly used to keep the tightly-woven story at the forefront of the player’s mind and with emotional cutscenes and authentic dialogue spoken throughout the live gameplay, it’s hard not to feel deeply involved with the De Rune siblings. I’d go as far to say this game feels more like an interactive movie at times and that’s no bad thing.
The game itself is split into 17 chapters, some of which are longer and action-packed than others. With each chapter comes a new step within the story as we follow the De Rune siblings’ quest for survival. It’s thrilling stuff and, coupled with the stunning location graphics, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the entire world that’s been created. Never have I seen such authentic farmyard animals such as chickens roaming around the villages. All of this adds to the feeling of being in a living, breathing world and this is where the game triumphs. In order for us to believe and really feel the story, the game has to capture on all levels which it does… apart from the aforementioned rats. As the rats are a smaller part of this story, the only time they stick out like a sore thumb is when they’re actually present.
A PLAGUE TALE: INNOCENCE is around 15 hours in length but those hours are jam-packed with such story and heart that it feels much more. A refreshing, engaging, cinematic twist on the usual linear games makes for an enthralling experience from beginning right to the very end.