Focus Home Interactive has been on a roll as of late. Titles like Vampyr, Call of Cthulhu and The Surge have all been games that think outside the box of the norm and completely do their own thing. Well, their latest offering, A Plague Tale: Innocence displays more of that school of thought and gives us a game unlike anything I have seen before.
You play as Amicia during the time of the history altering, and turbulent events of The Hundered Years’ War. Following a blood soaked visit from the Inquisition, Amicia is left to fend for her ailing brother, Hugo. Not an easy task when you factor in the hordes of rats, the Black Death and blood thirsty soldiers.
Now I just want you all to know that its going to take everything I have in me to not mention Monty Python when mentioning the Inquisition but, I press on.
The beautifully rendered game is gorgeous even at its most dower, and trust me this game has some bleak moments. Seeing thousands of rats festering is a graphical achievement. The game looks great rather it’s during broad day light while strolling through the forest or at midnight while walking across the rotting bodies of thousands of fallen soldiers. The lighting effects work on a new level and really push the graphical prowess of the Xbox One X’s capabilities.
The whole thing takes place in the real world, but verges on the magic of story books. The addition of alchemy, plague and the fanciful goings on in the world feel like they are perfectly riding the rail of reality and fantasy. This lends to the feeling of being read a bed time story. Not that anything here would put you to sleep.
Make sure you are holding on to your heartstrings cause this game takes you places. In the tradition of Game of Thrones type world, deaths and shocks, A Plague Tale: Innocence, doesn’t pull any punches and doesn’t care if your feelings get annihilated.
The brunt of the game is heavily built around stealth elements requiring Amicia and Hugo to sneak about avoiding guards. In some cases, when absolutely necessary, Amicia is capable of stealthily killing and/or putting enemies to sleep. However, in no way is Amicia a pushover either. Armed with a sling, she can be downright deadly. But only when necessary. The game does a great job putting actual empathetic guilt behind killing. Factors like Amicia never having killed before and her child brother, Hugo watching her action lends to that emotion quite a bit.
One of the coolest parts of the game comes from the alchemy at play in the world. Along the journey, Amicia becomes skilled in crafting items using select recipes. This gives you an edge with sleeping powders, acid, fire and more. Each comes with their respective cool sorcery and helps in the battle against rats and man. Certain combos of Alchemy can be tied together to satisfying results. For example, enemies wearing helmets can be dealt with using acid to melt a helmet, followed by a rock to the temple to seal the deal.
Outside of the stealth elements, A Plague Tale also brings in several bits of puzzle based gameplay. These consist of working in conjunction with Hugo, or other allies, in order to get past a certain area. The ability to give small commands to Hugo is vital in accomplishing these parts of the game. They also add a nice change up from the game stealth tactic structure. The stealth and puzzle portions of the game are never quite enough in the long run though. With a world filled with as much dread, it very rarely is reflected in the challenges that you are given. A bit more difficulty would have worked in favor of the world that was established.
Now let’s talk Rats. The bread and butter of this game. Well far more disgusting than bread and butter but still. Rats are the games center. These peksy dudes are the harbingers of the Black Death. Acting very much like the aliens from Pitch Black, the hordes of rats stay out of the light. This adds the terrifying mechanic of using a torch in order to keep them away… but these torches have a tendency to go out. Without light the rat horde swoops in to eat you alive. It’s a terrible way to go, and one that you can use to your advantage when steering the rats towards enemy soldiers. This can be done by using your sling to shoot out enemy lanterns. Once the lights go out the rats get their lunch and luckily it wasn’t you. The rats are a creepy constant, and one that puts this game into its own satisfying category.
The character driven narrative comes warts and all and I couldn’t help but be reminded of a WWII film called Come and See. Much like this the nightmarish aspects of war and mass death feels disconnected from reality in some way. It’s a harsh world padded in storybook sensibilities.
A Plague Tale: Innocence, is entirely mesmerizing. Its storybook sensibilities are dripping with allegory, substance and great gameplay. It carefully sets up a very human game, with an endearing protagonist. It’s a lean game that doesn’t have any unnecessary filler. From start to finish I was enthralled and completely on board with Amicia and Hugo on their journey and hope that the Focus Home Interactive revisits this world in some capacity in the very near future.
A Plague Tale: Innocence is out now on PC, PS4 and Xbox One.
A code was provided for review on Xbox One.