Platforms: Xbox One, PC, PlayStation 4
Release Date: May 14, 2019
Reviewed On: Xbox One X
Developer: Asobo Studio
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
We have seen games cover many different time periods of history, from Assassin’s Creed exploring the Renaissance to the literal mountain pile of World War II shooters we have seen over the years. However, the Inquisition and the Dark Ages of Europe remains a relatively untapped story. A Plague Tale: Innocence takes on the big task of bringing one of the darkest periods of history and to make it not only scary but intriguing as well. Did developers Asobo Studio manage to pull off this feat? Let’s talk about it.
The story follows Amicia, the young daughter of noble birth who through events beyond her control, ends up being responsible for her younger brother Hugo. Who prior to the events set before them, she had a very distant relationship with due to her brother’s illness. As the story begins to unravel, the stakes become higher and higher. Through the game, you meet a diverse cast of characters who all bring their own personalities into play and truly enhance both Hugo and Amicia as characters. The amount of character growth from the beginning of this tale until the end is absolutely astounding. There is a twist about 3/4 quarters of the way through the game, that made me have to put my controller down and take a minute. As a person who is not often fond of the restrictions of storytelling in shorter linear style games, it is very hard for me to think of many games that unpacked so much emotion and world building without sounding overly hyperbolic. The writing in this game is great and some of the best I have seen this year featuring one of the most sadistic villains in recent memory.
My biggest complaint with linear style games is often the gameplay can end up feeling repetitive very quickly, especially in the third-person perspective. Let’s face it: I can think of 20+ games from the last generation that were a simple cover, shoot, cutscene and repeat. However, Asobo Studios has obviously been paying attention to this as they came up with a very creative way to change up the gameplay dynamics. With every new character, you meet within the game, they will teach you a technique or offer their very unique set of skills to change how you tackle each situation. While the game is centered primarily around stealth, every character you meet will change how you can solve a certain puzzle or how to evade a group of enemies.
The crafting menu is very simplistic, and supplies are often plentiful in order to craft unique ammunition that you will need throughout the story. However, if you fully explore each and every level carefully you will find more rare crafting materials that can help you to craft better gear. This gear can make you more proficient with your sling, the number of each material you can carry, and even the effectiveness of your alchemy. While the crafting and upgrading had depth and meaning, at no point did it ever feel overwhelming or tedious.
My one minor complaint in terms of gameplay was that in some missions had one of the biggest sins in stealth-based games. Auto-fail sections. While due to certain story constraints that force these scenarios to happen, overall I have never been a fan of this mechanic. It is also noteworthy that sometimes the sling even with upgrades at times feels clunky, and a little rough to control. However due to the stealth-based nature of this game, if you plan your moves right open combat is rare, so you most likely won’t notice it. However, it is still worth noting.
Despite the constantly dark environments that you will find yourself sneaking through, the game has a surprising level of detail. Asobo Studio appears to have very adept knowledge of knowing when to absolutely take your breath away. Going from a very dark and bleak environment to then transition to a bright and open environment created moments within the game that absolutely took my breath away. I encountered no performance issues in terms of bugs, framerate drops, or texture pop-ins which made the immersion of the world seamless. Some of the set pieces within the game really show off the beauty and the horror of the world. When approaching a horde of rats seeing every individual rat that made up a group was stunning attention to detail.
Asobo deserves an award for the sound design in this game. If you have read any of my prior work you will know how much I enjoy a solidly designed auditory experience within a game. Plague Tale: Innocence has a dark and ambient soundtrack that can sneak up on you at some of the most emotional high points of the game. On top of this I have to talk about the rats, not only do they represent a constant threat visually, but the sheer sound can send shivers up your spine. You begin to dread feeling the earth rumble beneath your feet as they explode from the underground.
In tightly enclosed spaces it feels like you can hear every little footstep, squeak, and squeal. It truly adds to the horrifying environment that you are plunged into. It is also very important to note, that the voice acting performances by almost every character are so authentic at some points it truly felt like I was watching a historic docu-series. The level of audio immersion within this game is some of the best I have seen since Resident Evil 2 remake earlier this year.
A Plague Tale: Innocence takes a dark and horrifying era of history and brings it to life. With engrossing characters, unique gameplay dynamics and amazing sound design, if you are a fan of immersive single-player experiences this is an absolute must-play.