There are very few games that hook you with a single trailer, instantly flicking the hype switch deep within you and turning you into a walking advertisement as you tell everyone about what you just saw. A Plague Tale: Innocence was one such title that had me excited from the first time I saw the extended E3 gameplay video last year. Not only was I excited, but I was also rather intrigued as to how they would make it work with thousands of rats on screen at the same time whilst on modern consoles – surely they would have to make a compromise?
Fast forward to today, the day this fantastic game gets released to the world. I’ve had the game for almost a week now, played it from beginning to end and took the time to explore and try to discover everything the game has to offer. Thankfully, not only has there been no obvious compromises to performance or visual quality, but the game was so much more than I initially thought it would be. So, turn on your lights so that the rats can’t get you, and let’s take a look at one of the best games I’ve played this year…
Without going over to Spoiler-ville, A Plague Tale: Innocence is the story of two siblings, Amica and Hugo, who are caught in the middle of multiple tragic events. Not only are they being hunted by the Inquisition for reasons unknown, but a deadly plague has broken out all across Europe, a plague which is being transmitted and passed on via the vast quantities of rats that have suddenly appeared in the streets at night. Armed with only a slingshot for both defence and offence, you must make your way from village to village as you seek out urgent medical care for your younger sibling whilst trying to avoid becoming rat food.
Loosely taking real-life inspiration from the catastrophic ‘Black Death’, a deadly disease that appeared within Europe between 1347 and 1351, A Plague Tale: Innocence delivers an interesting spin on the events as it perfectly mixes facts with fiction to create a truly memorable gaming experience.
Thankfully, you don’t have to take on these deadly threats alone. As the story progresses you’ll be united with various companions who will travel with you on your journey to support you via either helping you create new and powerful tools or getting their hands dirty as you investigate. Whether you’re trying to solve a puzzle in order to trap the vermin within massive pits, timing your shots so that you extinguish the Inquisition’s torches and send them to their doom, or simply sneaking around so that nobody knows you’re there, you’ll be on the edge of your seat and hooked from the moment you see your first swarm of rats…
What is A Plague Tale: Innocence? If I had to sum it up in one word, I’d probably say Stealth. Just like Sniper Elite V2, stealth is the only way you’re going to stay alive within this game, the Inquisition isn’t messing around and they’ll take you down with a single blow to the face (followed by a rather brutal sword or sharp shield to the chest). So, you must adapt and utilise your surroundings in order to progress without being seen, or at least take them out before they see you!
Initially, the first few chapters are all about being the defenceless fifteen-year-old who grabs her brother by the hand and leads him around like an escort mission (it’s not as brutal as most escort mission games though). However, you’ll soon bump into a young apprentice to an infamous alchemist who chooses to tag along and offer his new creations for you to utilise and craft on the fly. Just in case you don’t know, the rats can’t go into the light, they must stay in the shadows and they’ll literally eat anything they come into contact with, right down to the bone. So, you’re best off staying in the light – this is something the soldiers do as well, as they carry around lanterns and open torches. Do you see where this is going?
Utilising various abilities you’ll gain, you’ll be able to entice the guards to certain areas, as you would in an Ubisoft game by throwing things, then either smash their lantern or put out their torch. It’s brutal, but the rats will take care of your pursuer and you’re free to walk on by – two birds, literally one stone! You’ll also come into possession of craftable abilities such as starting fires to protect yourself, causing the rats to explode, commanding the rats to move to a certain area, and more.
Believe me, as the game goes on, it becomes more about understanding and adapting to the situation via the various tools at your disposal, rather than straight-up stealth and avoiding confrontation.
Crafting and resources
Now, the throwing of rocks against noisy structures isn’t the only thing that reminds me of games like Far Cry, the whole ‘crafting your inventory’ did as well. I know it’s been done a million times in various games, but I’ve just stopped playing Far Cry, so that’s fresh in my mind. The various chapters are littered with useful components you can pick up, such as flint, fabric, stones, and leather. These can be used on-the-fly to craft the various abilities you have unlocked, or saved up and used to purchase upgrades for your character via workbenches (or also on-the-fly if you have unlocked that ability).
And thus begins the second not-so-obvious strategic element within A Plague Tale: Innocence. You see, resources may be plentiful but they aren’t unlimited. You need to decide whether you really need to craft that particular ability, the one which almost certainly guarantees you’ll make it out alive, or keep the materials for upgrading and discover another solution to the problem at hand. Similarly, should you really be using all your resources to give yourself a bigger pouch for slingshot ammo when you’re about to enter an area full of guards and no ignite or distinguish items currently crafted?
Crafting new and useful upgrades at the workbenches isn’t only useful in order to gain a trophy, it’s also required if you wish to stay alive. You’ll improve your reloading speed, the strength of your shots, earn the ability to fire certain items from afar and utilise their ability without having to get close, and even reduce the amount of noise you make whilst walking and running. I personally didn’t have that many issues with balancing whether I was going to craft new items or upgrade my personal benefits, most areas will have a stash of the required components just before you need them, you just have to hold back from utilising them as soon as you pick them up if you’ve acquired the ability to craft without a table…
Okay, this is the one mechanic I really didn’t like, yet it’s intentionally bad. As a fifteen-year-old girl, you’re bound to not be skilled enough to take on a big butch Inquisitor, face-on. Instead, the game wants you to deal with the threats by utilising the surrounding environments – namely, the rats. However, there are a few instances where you’re forced to resort to combat, although I really wish it didn’t. As almost a tutorial segment, you’ll encounter a fight early on which requires you to constantly dodge out of the way of attacks and then take a quick shot in order to strip the guy of his armour. Once that’s done, one shot to the head instantly puts him to sleep, permanently. You see, despite her young age and lack of a decent weapon, Amicia is deadly with her headshots!
Throughout the game, there are only a handful of forced combat segments and they all go the same way – aim for their heads in order to perform a clean kill. However, when you have a brute running at you full speed and you’re trying to stay in the light to avoid being eaten by the rats, it’s sometimes a little difficult to hold your composure. Thankfully, there are a few other abilities you can use to help you by slowing down the enemies or causing them to remove their helmet which is now eating through their skin. I just wasn’t a massive fan of certain ‘fights’, including one I don’t wish to talk about.
Puzzles and non-stealth segments
As I previously mentioned, A Plague Tale: Innocence actually contains a number of rather unique environmental puzzles. These are perfectly embedded within the gameplay such as working out how to cross a sea of rats when you have no means of creating a light, how to move various pillars and trap a bunch of rats within a massive pit, or how to cause an event which will clear the room of guards and then make your way through the hundreds of rats that appeared. They aren’t very difficult or frustrating, but they are fun to work out and you may even unlock some secret trophies if you think outside of the box and go about completing them in a different way other than the obvious method. I honestly wasn’t expecting these as I thought it was going to be stealth throughout, but it’s a great way to break up the gameplay.
There’s a lot of walking around and listening to the various characters interact with one another within A Plague Tale: Innocence. Not as much as you would expect from a walking simulator, for example, but for a linear narrative-driven adventure game, there’s a decent amount of exploration and investigation which can be had. Although I completed the game within around 15-20 hours, I still haven’t collected or seen everything the game has to offer. If you go off the set path then you’ll most likely find one of the many collectables such as flowers, gifts or trinkets which are scattered around. There are even scripted sequences for you to find such as a tomb where you and your brother have a cute moment paying your respects. Also, for those who love their trophies, there’s a chapter select which tells you exactly how many things you’ve missed so you can keep track of them nice and easily.
There are a few forced side-missions within the game as well, such as helping rescue your new friends, save your brother, and you’ll even get to play as another character as you infiltrate the church in search of someone. These all have a combination of stealth, puzzles and combat but in a way that makes them feel fresh and new. Although you’re almost performing the same actions from chapter to chapter, albeit with your new abilities, the game never gets repetitive and there’s always a new surprise or plot reveal just around the corner.
For me, I absolutely loved the chapters that took place during the day as the lighting is so beautiful and you can clearly make out the amazing visuals that are on display. Although, there’s nothing more intense than playing the missions which are during the night and seeing thousands of eyes in the darkness as they’re all focused on you, awaiting the moment you step into the shadows and allow them to feast on your flesh. What I found myself doing a lot was taking out all of the guards (as my version of Amicia was a badass) and then just walking around and looking at the various locations. I uncovered a number of trophies by doing this, but I was doing it as it broke up the stealth segments (I’m not the biggest fan of stealth).
A Plague Tale: Innocence is one of the best looking games I’ve played in a while. The visuals are stunning, whether you’re playing int the bright, highly detailed daytime, or the dark and creepy nights, everything looks so beautiful and perfect in its recreation. Well, almost everything. I was playing the game on the PS4 Pro and a lot of the in-game parts seemed a little out of focus. I’m not sure if it’s intentional, maybe the developers did this to simulate the peripheral vision of the character, even though it’s in the third person? You see, the centre of the screen looks great – very highly detailed – but as you get towards the edges, certain scenes became much softer – kind of like I was playing a VR game.
However, this unusual occurrence didn’t impact the game at all and I still found the visuals to be stunning, despite the slightly blurry image during gameplay. Although, I hope the developers can release some kind of update which removes this filter off the top of the game, or maybe it’s an increased AA solution? The cutscenes don’t have this issue and they play with much sharper image quality.
Sound-wise, where do I begin? The voice acting is perfect – from the innocent yet bratty tone of young Hugo to the young Amicia who is trying to stay in control whilst everything around her, falls apart – it all works perfectly. The supporting voice actors who provide lines for multiple soldiers and townsfolk are also done really well, with no obvious dips in quality. Seeing as A Plague Tale: Innocence is a linear game, each new area has pre-defined scripted conversations between the NPCs, so you won’t be hearing the same things repeated over and over like a lot of games do.
In terms of the music – it’s very subtle at times. The soundtrack creates the perfect ambience in the background, depending on the situation you’re currently in, but a lot of the time you’ll be playing in silence with only the shrieking of thousands of rats down your ears! When the music does kick in though, it’s been perfectly adapted to match what’s happening on screen. The emotional scenes get more of an impact, the horrific events get more intense, and the calm moments feel much more relaxing.
A Plague Tale: Innocence is a brilliant new IP that satisfied me in every way imaginable. The visuals were simply stunning, albeit a little blurry in certain scenes, the voice acting and music were perfectly recorded and pieced together, the gameplay was broken up between stealth, exploration and puzzles, and the narrative was both exciting and engaging to play through. Despite the few personal issues I had with the forced combat segments, I thoroughly enjoyed playing through this alternative take on the deadly Black Death and how two siblings worked together to overcome the dangers they were faced with.
For a narrative-based action RPG adventure game, A Plague Tale: Innocence more than met my expectations with its inclusion of crafting, offering numerous ways to progress through the missions, and very exciting narrative direction. If it’s not obvious, I highly recommend this game and easily recommend it to everyone who isn’t scared of rats – if you are, maybe you should give this one a miss…
A Plague Tale: Innocence£44.99
- - Very detailed world which comes to life in every scene
- - Interesting integrated puzzles within the awesome narrative
- - A number of cool craftable abilities to help you fend off the horde of rats and the Inquisition
- - The music and voice acting are perfect
- - One of the best narrative games I've played this year
- - The visuals are a little blurry in gameplay
- - Some combat segments are a bit out of place compared to the rest of the game