Review – A Plague Tale: Innocence
Chances are pretty good that if I pitched you an idea for a game set in Middle Ages France, just at the start of the outbreak of the Black Plague, you’d think of the typical square-jawed hero wrapped in armour and waving a sword around like a lunatic.
A Plague Tale: Innocence turns that idea on its head, putting gamers in the shoes of a teenage girl named Amicia who must shepherd her five-year-old brother Hugo to safety. Upping the difficulty? How about an outbreak of the plague, which local villagers attribute to those who are new to the area or who are known to be sick? Not enough? Add in a ridiculously out of control infestation of rats, with thousands pouring onto the screen at a time. Still not difficult enough? Add in the Inquisition – seeking out Hugo for their own reasons.
Nobody expects the
Spanish French Inquisition.
The game is heavy on stealth elements early on, with Amicia no match for any of the enemies the game throws at you. Instead of going hand to hand, she and Hugo must stick to the shadows and tall grass, distract guards with well-thrown rocks or pots, and time their movements carefully. Eventually she adds sling-based ranged combat abilities to the mix, allowing her to take down unshielded enemies, but the game never forgets the toll taking a life would have on a teenage girl. There are times she must take a life to save Hugo, but she doesn’t shake it off and throw out a wry quip afterwards.
In time, Amicia learns some alchemy to expand her repertoire, but the game is very smart about both how they’re introduced and taught to the player and how limited they are – especially the more powerful items. You never really feel comfortable enough to let your guard down, a small mistake can – and will – cost Amicia her life, but it also never really feels cheap. Your mistakes are recognizable and it’s not simply trial and error until you chance onto the solution to the puzzle you’re facing.
It’s hard to categorize A Plague Tale: Innocence – it’s heavy on stealth elements, but most encounters boil down to solving the puzzle of where to move, when to move, and what abilities to use. It’s not so much action-adventure as it is puzzle-adventure, with some light horror elements thrown in. Like most Albertans I don’t have much awareness of rats, but there’s no denying how creepy it is to have the floor carpeted by thousands of them – especially when the only thing stopping them from stripping the flesh from your bones is a rapidly-fading torch…
I really like the game, and a large part of that is the characters. Amicia’s struggle with the decisions she has to make turn her into one of the most realistically-written characters I’ve ever played, and using Hugo, whose illness has kept him secluded from the real world most of his life and made him insatiably curious about it, to fill the player in on the world around them is a stroke of genius. Even supporting cast characters are given some time to flesh them out in side conversations, which I didn’t expect.