Get ready to take a hit right in the feels with A Plague Tale: Innocence. A story that follows two orphaned siblings trying to survive one of the most brutal eras of Europe: The Black Death. Go back in time to the 1300s when a bunch of rats decided to kill off 1/3rd of Europe in an infestation that makes it clear that a couple of rats are far more effective than nukes.
But that isn’t all the danger you face. A misguided cult known as the Inquisition is hunting you down at every turn. The atmosphere is deserted, save for the ever-present froth of rats. All the humans you get to meet are mostly trying to kill you, and you only have a handful of friends. So, who would be going in headfirst into this brutal world to fight all this? Perhaps a highly trained ex-special forces veteran who eats dictators for breakfast? Nope, it’s a 15-year-old girl, and she has a very sickly five-year-old little brother in tow. Excellent!
I feel like I should start off by talking about the story because for one thing, this is a story-driven game, and for another, the story is the best part of the game. Now I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, but I absolutely love a game with a good story. Maybe I’m forgetting something, but I don’t remember playing as a child anytime recently. That’s what’s so unique about this story. It doesn’t go off from an adult’s point of view, but rather a view of what a child would see and feel.
The studio responsible for the creation of A Plague Tale: Innocence, Asobo Studios, confessed in a behind-the-scenes featurette that they had to go through every script multiple times since they, as adults, had a hard time thinking from a child’s point of view. However, once they presented the finalized scripts to the voice actors who were actual children, they made tiny suggestions that allow the writers to see the situation in a whole new light.
I’ll admit it, when I heard that the story would revolve around a big sister and little brother going on an “adventure”, I immediately thought about the 39 clues book series which also featured a big sister and little brother going on an “adventure”. I expected the little boy to be punkish, continuously argue with his sister, and try to be as much a pain in the ass as possible while also being surprisingly intelligent and resourceful. I most certainly didn’t expect the little boy to be simply adorable! He knows exactly which buttons to push to make us go all mushy inside, and his nativity adds to making us feel sorry for the boy. The little interactions and conversations between the two siblings are just precious and add a little color to a dying world covered with rotting corpses and the stench of death.
Talking About Colors…
The graphics in this game are simply stunning. It’s certainly beyond what I expected out of an indie game developer. Since the developers themselves are French, they had the freedom to walk around and research the winding streets of France to capture a very close estimate to what France would have looked like 700 years ago. The pinkish hue of the setting sun and the beautiful rolling French countryside was all inspired by art created from renowned painters of the 16th century.
Every level and chapter has a completely different and refreshing theme, and critics argue that putting such a beautiful gameplay environment and not allowing players to explore it freely is one of the drawbacks of the game.
While most of the game has been done with patience and expertise, the gameplay itself is a point that lacks certain... finesse. In A Plague Tale: Innocence, the stealth is average, and your enemies aren’t the brightest lights in the Christmas tree. Sure, there aren’t instances where you stand right in front of your enemy without them noticing, but there are places where you wished the stealth was ever so slightly better. Since you are a teenager and your weapon of choice is a highly customizable slingshot, combat is limited.
While you can kill enemies with your slingshot, it’s very hard to go one-on-one with fully grown men in armor. It’s more down to strategically taking down your enemies by using your environment and, of course, the rats. With all the rats and people trying to kill you, you might think that this would have a dark souls level of hardness, but it’s surprisingly easy considering the situation you find yourself in. There are plenty of resources and plenty of places to customize your weapon. You don’t really have to think too far into the future, and you don’t have to worry about keeping your resources in check. While you must fight the bosses one-on-one, they usually move very slowly and automatic nerf themselves to the point where you can take them out easily. These are all points that the gameplay could improve in.
That being said, the mechanics in A Plague Tale: Innocence are something else. To begin with, Asobo Studios created their own game engine for this game, and I think their biggest achievement considering game mechanics is the rats.
Generally, there are about 5000 rats on screen at any given time, and each of these rats is intelligent, with their own AI that follows its own unique pattern while also having a hive mind driving them together as a single body.
Speaking of animations, they’re pretty damn good too, considering that the studio didn’t use motion capture or any other over-the-top animation mechanics that triple-A game devs have the luxury of using. Once again, unexpectedly good for an indie game developer, but not surprising since indie developers seem to be the next big thing in the world of video gaming. Especially with all the massive development companies screwing over big time.
The sounds for the game are very fitting and the constant chittering of the hungry rats makes your skin crawl. Admittedly, while the chittering grows old after a while, the voice acting does not. I’ve heard some excellent voice acting in videogames, with Camilla Luddington’s impression of Lara Croft holding the #1 spot on my list. However, this is the first time I’ve heard children do voice acting so fluidly it made me wonder what the hell I was doing when I was their age. You have the freedom to choose between French or English, but it doesn’t matter because both versions are equally great. In my opinion, its exceptional work overall.
While this game may have some points to improve considering gameplay, that is the only point that has any issues whatsoever. Every other aspect of the game from the beautiful graphics to the detailed cutscenes to the rat mechanics have been thoroughly done with love. This is a great launching point for Asobo Studios’ and goes to show how forty people with dedication can outdo mega corporations releasing crappy games with microtransactions only interested in your money. This is a game anyone should definitely play due to its uniqueness and beauty. Can’t wait for a part II!