The swarm is here as A Plague Tale: Innocence is out there now for the masses to enjoy and see just what 5000 rats on screen can look like when they are tormenting an innocent brother and sister team. That may sound a bit grim, but that is the very basic description of this game from Asobo Studio here even though there is so much more going on with it all. I had a chance to actually sit down and play A Plague Tale to see what other interesting things were in the game along with its stealth gameplay and sling-fling mechanics. All something I have been excited to play for a while now. Let us dive in and see if my expectations were met in our latest review.
It is the 14th century and nothing could be better out in the world. We all know how thing went back… oh… wait… It was an insanely dark time for so many…? Indeed it was and it looks like dark times are just now coming to the De Rune family as the youngest, Hugo, is plagued with an ailment and swarms of rats are killing animals and humans en masse. Mix in the first part of the Hundred Years' War and things get gloomy fast. More so when the inquisition separates Amica and Hugo from their family and aims to hunt them down "for reasons." Will Amica be able to help Hugo and stay safe from the Black Death the rats are bringing? You will find out when you play A Plague Tale: Innocence.
At its core, A Plague Tale: Innocence is a stealth and puzzle game. This is why I found it a bit off-putting that there would also be a mess of collectibles mixed into it all. I will admit that some of them did lend to character development and the story, but it felt more like a distraction to everything else than it was a boon. In fact, the last third of A Plague Tale I found myself ignoring any need for exploring for these things as they felt like distractions. This could just be me, but it was something that seemed to take me away from the things I loved about the game. Not game breaking in the least, but it was something that drew me out of it all and felt a little unneeded.
The only other issue I ever found with A Plague Tale had to come in the way of the UI and it is not all too game breaking. As you progress in the game, you learn new alchemical ammunition recipes and will build into the puzzles, as you would expect. At some points in the game, you need to switch between them rapidly. While A Plague Tale does use a standard wheel system for this, time only slows down in the game and the icons used to explain each ammo type does not always obviously fit with what it does. There is a written description underneath, but in the heat of things, you do not have the time to read and can easily forget what is where on the wheel. Using the wrong ammo or item did lead to some deaths on my play, but it was more on the annoying side than anything was that made it unplayable.
First up, the team over at Asobo Studio captured not only a great and heart-filled story with A Plague Tale, they showed one of the best brother-sister dynamics I have experienced in video games through my career. Even the overall story, which uses some usual tropes, bled into this and quickly captured these two characters and what they were going through extremely well. I felt for these two and wanted to keep them alive not just to complete the game, but because of how everything was presented. Hats completely off for this as I had a feeling the story could have been in the backseat to the rest of A Plague Tale, but it was as front and center as the thousands of rats swarming and soldiers hunting us all down.
Speaking of, what we had been shown in the past in terms of puzzles and hazards for A Plague Tale looked to be about standard fair when it came to a game of "the floor is lava." I was completely blown away to find out that what we had been shown was only the more basic of designs and puzzles with some great encounters left for us to find out. I will not spoil any of them here, but do not go in expecting a basic game of hide and seek here. While those areas and gameplay elements are present in A Plague Tale things get even broader than just "do not be seen." This goes for the environments and the actual enemies in the game. It is a sight to behold in my opinion.
To go along with that, there is also a bit of a progression system in A Plague Tale where it comes to gear and abilities. The reason it pairs up with this is that it is presented in such a natural way in the game that it never feels like the usual video game trope of "we are in a new area, better use this new device I have had to handle the issues." The assisting cast of characters and the core ones always feel like they are adapting to new challenges and not just holding back for the sake of gameplay. While I know this is the case in the real world, each new upgrade or addition to the tools at hand are something we as players would devise just as the children would. Soldiers are using torches to scare away the rats? Create ammo that snuffs the flames. The enemies have a way to guide the rats to locations? Steal that formula and guide the rats back at them. It just never felt like it was a tired mechanic used and just a natural progression all the way until the end.
Last up on my praise for A Plague Tale: Innocence, is on the more technical side of things. There are many games out there that will use a sling or a slingshot as a normal firearm to make things easy. While I never ran into an issue with needing to know the exact arc of the throw, there was definite use of timing that was needed. I missed shots because I was aiming as if I had a firearm and would completely miss. I also was able to dodge a few projectiles thrown my direction in the game due to this. It is a little touch, but it adds to the overall fun of the game, which could have just gone down the basic path. Even with the aim assist A Plague Tale did have, you could still complete screw up because an enemy ran down some stairs or turned at a point you did not expect. Just one little extra bit of challenge that is completely appreciated here.
If you are a fan of stealth or puzzle games in the least bit, A Plague Tale: Innocence will be something you will want to play. Even if you are not a fan of those games, the story and character development in the game will have you so involved and drawn in that you will ignore your own dislikes. Hells, even the small annoying parts I had during my playthrough faded away as I wanted to just see how the story progressed and what happened to the characters. Mixed in with some solid puzzle design and other mechanics, you should add A Plague Tale to your list of games. Not only is it engaging in the story, but it is also crafted well in terms of gameplay. A combination that is hard to perfect but Asobo Studio did it well here.
I give A Plague Tale: Innocence 12 Orphan Gifts on the Orphan Gift scale.
A Plague Tale: Innocence — Launch Trailer
A Plague Tale: Innocence was developed by Asobo Studio and published by Focus Home Interactive for the PS4, Xbox One, and PC on May 14th, 2019. A PS4 copy of the game was provided by the publisher for reviewing purposes.