There seems to be a lack of smaller, narrative driven games these days. In a medium where single player games lean towards sprawling, massive open world settings, it’s refreshing to find something really good on a smaller scale. A Plague Tale: Innocence is just that. It’s that home-cooked meal that mom used to make in a sea of processed food forced down your throat from massive companies. It’s a weird analogy I realize, but bear with me.
From the small Asobo Studio, A Plague Tale takes place in the early 14th century during the onset of a plague that has hit France. You take the role of Amicia, a young woman who is accompanied, at times, by her brother Hugo. After a horrible turn of events, the two are forced to escape the Inquisition and set forth on a mission to keep Hugo from succumbing to his illness. Along the way, you meet up with some new friends who help you along your journey. Each one is different and provides their own unique personality and ability. This was one of the best parts of the story. Through scripted conversations, you learn more about each of them. By the end of the game, I found myself caring about each one of them. They became as integral to the journey as your sling, Amicia’s weapon of choice.
As you progress, you unlock different projectiles for various tasks. Whether it’s igniting a brazier, or putting one out, there’s always a tool for the job. Speaking of tools, you come across various items that allow you to make different upgrades to your equipment. This becomes more important later in the game allowing you to carry more materials and subsequently craft and store as well. It’s very well balanced as I never felt like I had too few or too many items at once.
The game wears a lot of hats when it comes to the gameplay. It starts off having few other options than some rocks and thus relying heavily on stealth. Using some familiar mechanics such as tall grass and distractions, Amicia slowly grows more capable with every passing chapter. By the end of the game, you’re able to take on groups of enemies with your new found abilities and projectiles at your disposal. While I was hoping for a full on stealth game, and you absolutely can play nearly the entire game that way, I found it easier to just knock a soldier’s helmet off and finish him quickly. Regardless of how you play, you can actually see Amicia grow into the role.
I’d be doing a disservice if I didn’t talk about one of the biggest stars of the game, the rats. Oh, the rats. I’m not sure there’s been an enemy that was so terrifying and grotesque as it was beautiful. In this regard, the devs knocked it out of the park. Giant swarms of these little nibblers come at you from every angle imaginable. They create various puzzles and, while not exceedingly difficult, can catch you off guard as you traverse the games beautiful world. That first time you slip up and become a tiny snack for these vermin is truly one of the most jarring video game experiences I’ve ever encountered. It gets a little easier as you go along, but still gives you the creeps every time.
To keep a game that is so linear exciting and engaging, you have to be able to tell a great story, and the game delivers. Over and over again I felt engrossed in the narrative. I loved the small twists and turns the game took. I won’t get into specifics, but there were times I hated the fact that I had to work the next morning as I wanted to see what was coming next. While fairly short, it was powerful. And in the end, that’s all that matters.
I had high hopes for this game from the first time I saw the gameplay. It didn’t disappoint. Wonderful, deep characters, a potpourri of different gameplay styles and a story that will make you genuinely care about its characters, this game delivers on all fronts. I’ve seen it compared to other single player games such as Hellblade. Make no mistake, this isn’t Hellblade, it’s A Plague Tale. And in a sea of bloodthirsty rats, it stands proudly and strongly on it’s own.