One of if not my favorite video game from the last generation was The Last of Us. While I had high expectations for the game, it somehow exceeded those expectations. Combining good gameplay with a truly moving story, The Last of Us was very close to being a perfect video game. I bring this up because when I first saw A Plague Tale: Innocence it reminded me a lot of The Last of Us. Clearly the two games had quite a few differences, most notably that A Plague Tale: Innocence takes places in a totally different time period, but the gameplay and overall atmosphere seemed to be pretty similar. A Plague Tale: Innocence may be on the easy side, but it combines a compelling story with great gameplay to create a truly engaging experience.
We at Geeky Hobbies would like to thank Asobo Studio and Focus Home Interactive for the review copy of A Plague Tale: Innocence used for this review. Other than receiving a free copy of the game to review, we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation for this review. Receiving the review copy for free had no impact on the content of this review or the final score.
A Plague Tale: Innocence takes place in 1349 France. You play as Amicia De Rune. Joining you is Hugo your younger brother who is afflicted with an unknown disease that kept him from leaving his room. Everything changes when a swarm of rats invade France bringing with them a plague (the Black Death). As the sickness grows the Inquisition storms the De Rune home in search of Hugo for unknown reasons. Despite not really spending much time with her younger brother due to his illness, the two De Rune children must work together in order to escape the Inquisition and finally find safety from the hordes of rats.
If I were to describe A Plague Tale: Innocence I would probably say that it is a combination of action, exploration, puzzle and stealth mechanics. Lets begin by talking about the stealth and combat mechanics. Throughout the game you will encounter situations where Inquisition soldiers or other nefarious characters stand between you and your destination. Sometimes the game takes the decision out of your hands, but you are usually given the option of either sneaking past enemies or directly confronting them.
The stealth mechanics are pretty typical of the genre. You mostly need to just stay out of your enemies’ vision. Sound also plays a factor as you want to keep quiet in order to avoid attracting their attention. In order to avoid enemies without attacking them you have a couple options. First you can hide behind objects or in tall grass/plants. Your second option is to create a distraction in order to divert their attention elsewhere. This can be done by throwing pots that break or by throwing stones at metal objects which creates noises. After the guards are distracted you can then move to another cover and continue on your way.
For players that prefer a more direct option though, the game does include combat. It is not your typical combat though since if an enemy catches you it is an automatic death unless you use a craftable item that uses a lot of resources. This means that the combat still involves quite a bit of stealth as you can’t go rushing into situations as you will die quickly. Amicia is equipped with a sling which she can use to fling stones at enemies’ heads which kill them. To use the sling you need time to power it up and then you need to aim it at the enemy’s head or their lamp which attracts the rats to kill them. At the beginning of the game you can only attack enemies that aren’t wearing a helmet. As you progress through the game though you are given recipes which you can use to craft special ammunition that gives you more options when attacking enemies. Basically the combat involves a lot of sneaking around looking for opportunities where you can dispatch enemies.
For the most part I really liked this part of A Plague Tale: Innocence. Sometimes the game forces you to use stealth or combat (mostly when introducing new mechanics), but for the most part the game gives you the option to choose whichever you prefer. Quite a few sections of the game even have several different paths through them which emphasize one of the approaches. While people that want to go guns blazing into every situation might not really like this approach (they will die quickly), I think it is a fun mechanic and actually does a good job supporting the theme as a teenage girl is never going to be able to handle several trained soldiers at the same time.
Outside of the combat/stealth, A Plague Tale: Innocence has some puzzle mechanics. These mechanics mostly involve an obstacle blocking your way to your next destination. This usually involves the hordes of rats. Basically the rats are extremely deadly. Walk through them for more than a couple seconds and you will die instantly. This means that you have to make a path through the rats in order to proceed. This is mostly accomplished by utilizing light which the rats are afraid of. If you have access to fire or can create a path of fire, you can clear the rats from your path. This mostly involves using your sling or your companions to move objects in the environment.
Being a big fan of puzzle games I was really interested in seeing how this aspect of the game would turn out. While the puzzle design is pretty good, I would say that the puzzles are pretty simple. The puzzles for the most part are quite straightforward as you can figure out what you need to do pretty quickly. Most of the challenge comes from finding the object/location that you need to target next. Even if you are a little stumped by a puzzle, the game is all too willing to give you an audio hint pointing to what you should do next. Quite a few of these occur before you are even given enough time to analyze the situation.
The final significant mechanic in A Plague Tale: Innocence is a crafting mechanic. In your adventures you will encounter some raw materials which can be used to craft items to help you in your journey. While the game gives you quite a few resources along the main path through the levels, to find more resources you have to travel off the beaten path. The more you explore the more the game rewards you. In addition to finding resources you can find other hidden collectibles which are used for achievements. Once you have acquired resources you can use them in one of two ways. First you can use them for permanent upgrades. These either improve your sling or allow you to carry more resources. The other option is to use your resources for more advanced ammunition. These advanced ammunition make it easier to defeat enemies or give you other abilities that will help you in your journey. For the most part the crafting mechanics are pretty basic. It doesn’t revolutionize the genre, but it does a good job encouraging players to explore.
For the most part I really enjoyed A Plaque Tale: Innocence’s gameplay. The game does a good job switching between the combat/stealth and puzzle sections so you don’t feel like you are doing the same things over and over again. The gameplay is fun and engaging. While the gameplay isn’t exactly the same as The Last of Us, it does remind me of the game quite a bit. A Plague Tale: Innocence has a much larger emphasis on stealth though as you need to stay hidden to have a chance at survival. The overall feel of the gameplay reminded me quite a bit of The Last of Us though. People who enjoy these type of action stealth games should really enjoy A Plague Tale: Innocence.
I did have a couple issues with the gameplay though. First I wouldn’t say that the gameplay is highly original. Some of the mechanics involving the rats are somewhat original, but they are still pretty typical puzzles similar to other games in the genre. The game also relies on the mechanics I have outlined quite a bit. At this point I have played through around half of the game and the gameplay has remained fresh. I am a little worried though that the game may get a little repetitive if it keeps coming back to the same mechanics over and over again. This wouldn’t ruin the game if it does become a little repetitive, but it would hurt the game a little.
The biggest problem with the gameplay is that it is on the easier side. I already pointed out that the puzzles are quite easy where most of the challenge comes from just spotting what you need to do next. The crafting mechanics are pretty easy for the most part as well. At first the resources seem pretty rare where you will have to make hard decisions. As you progress through the game though you discover that the game offers you plenty of resources especially if you are willing to explore the world. I am through around half of the game and have already purchased most of the upgrades.
The easier difficulty affects the combat/stealth as well. If you are careless and get caught you are going to have troubles as you likely will die. If you take your time you aren’t in a lot of danger. You usually don’t have much trouble sneaking between safe spaces as the guards are usually looking the opposite way or there is a convenient distraction that you can use. If you want to go the combat route the gameplay can be even easier. You mostly just have to sneak to a hiding spot and wait for an opportunity to dispatch the enemy. Actually attacking the enemy is really easy as the game has an overly helpful lock on feature that locks you directly onto an enemy’s head so you just have to pull the trigger. As long as no one sees you kill the enemy you just have to lie low until the nearby enemies go back to their normal routes. The combat/stealth is still fun, but it is not highly challenging.
While I enjoyed the gameplay, I think the story/atmosphere is what really sold me on the game. I have played a lot of video games in the past and I honestly can’t recall ever playing a game that takes place during the Black Death. The game obviously takes a very loose interpretation of the real life events, but I thought it was interesting to explore a time period that rarely gets addressed in video games. The setting is really interesting as it is brings something unique to the game. This is complimented by the game’s fantastic art design. The characters and locales in particular look fantastic. It really feels like you are exploring 1300s France without having to worry about dying from the plague.
I think what really makes the story shine though are the characters. You can argue that the character’s French accents can be a little hit or miss, but the characters are interesting and engaging. This is the area where A Plague Tale: Innocence reminds me the most of The Last of Us. The stories aren’t quite the same as A Plague Tale: Innocence deals with a sibling relationship while The Last of Us is more about a surrogate father/daughter relationship. The story is not quite as good as The Last of Us, but it has the same type of feel to it. The game does a really good job capitalizing on the sibling relationship between Amicia and Hugo as you have to take care of him which includes dragging him along with you by the hand. The game also does a really good job playing off the children’s innocence being tested through a horrible situation. Without spoiling anything, the subtitle Innocence does play a big role in the story.
As I mentioned earlier I am currently through eight chapters of the game. Based on the achievements the game appears to have a total of sixteen chapters. I would say that I have played the game for around six to seven hours. If the second half of the game is as long as the first I would guess that it should take around 12-15 hours for most people to finish the game. If you just do the bare minimum it may take a couple hours less. If you go back to get every collectible you missed it may take a couple extra hours. As A Plague Tale: Innocence is only a single player game though there is a limit on the game’s replay value. As far as I can tell the game’s story is linear so there is no point in replaying the game until you want to experience the game again. I could see coming back to the game at a later date but once I have finished the game I don’t see coming back to it for some time.
I had pretty high expectations for A Plague Tale: Innocence and for the most part the game met my expectations. What makes A Plague Tale: Innocence really stand out is the story and atmosphere. The game deserves a lot of credit as it uses a theme rarely used in the industry, 1300s France. It uses this theme to create a compelling story with characters you really care about. While the story is the best part of A Plague Tale: Innocence, the gameplay is also quite good. The gameplay mostly consists of two mechanics. First there are the stealth/combat sections where you have to evade or kill the enemies standing in your way. There are also sections where you have to solve puzzles in order to make your way past killer rats. The gameplay is quite fun but it is not highly original and is a little on the easy side.
My recommendation for A Plague Tale: Innocence comes down to your feelings about the game’s theme and story driven action stealth games in general. If you are more of a multiplayer gamer of don’t really care about a game’s story, it probably won’t be for you. While not perfect, The Last of Us is a pretty good comparison for A Plague Tale: Innocence. It is not as good as The Last of Us, but if you enjoyed The Last of Us you should also enjoy A Plague Tale: Innocence as well. If you are looking for a story driven single player game with an engaging story and satisfying gameplay I think you will really enjoy your time with A Plague Tale: Innocence. Whether you purchase it right away or wait for a sale, I would highly recommend picking up A Plague Tale: Innocence.