If there’s one type of game I’ve been feeling starved for, it’s a simple, relatively linear, story driven experience. Whilst these used to be standard fair for the industry around a decade ago, they’ve since fallen by the wayside in favour of more lucrative “live service” games or the grand, open world epics.
Thankfully as Asobo Studio’s A Plague Tale: Innocence demonstrates, the art of creating a contained and expertly crafted experience hasn’t been entirely lost on the industry.
Unwieldy as the name might be, A Plague Tale: Innocence does summarise the game’s core themes pretty neatly. The game is set in 14th century France as the height of the Black Death and the Hundred Year War with England and is in no small measure about innocence, or rather innocence lost. The story follows fifteen-year-old protagonist Amicia and her younger brother Hugo, two former nobles on the run from various forces that are hunting them such as the Inquisition and English soldiers.
Despite its lack of fanfare, I count A Plague Tale: Innocence among the best games of the year thus far.
One of the highlights of the game is the relationship between these two characters. Where The Walking Dead’s Lee and Clementine are cited as one of the best depictions of parenthood in gaming, I’d argue Amicia and Hugo are one of the medium’s finest examples of a sibling relationship. For all their frequent squabbling, it is made very apparent that both characters care deeply for one another. Indeed both are fantastically characterised in their own right. Amicia is particularly interesting.
Essentially Hugo’s guardian, one can’t help but feel she puts on a brave face for her younger sibling (and perhaps herself), trying to hide the fact that just like her brother, she is a scared kid in way over her head. Hugo conversely is more than just dead weight, and often proves useful in helping Amicia solving certain puzzles.
Mechanically speaking, A Plague Tale hinges largely on stealth. Levels are designed in a pretty linear fashion, directing you through a gauntlet of puzzles you have to overcome through manipulating the environment. Crafting plays a pretty big part of the game, as only certain items can be used on certain puzzles but the inventory system isn’t too complicated and the game is fairly liberal with the resources it provides you.
There is some combat wherein Amicia can use her sling to neutralise unarmoured enemies but this is mostly used as a last resort. The overall result is a remarkably tense experience that forces the player to pay close attention to their surroundings and any potential hazards therein.
Where The Walking Dead’s Lee and Clementine are cited as one of the best depictions of parenthood in gaming, I’d argue Amicia and Hugo are one of the medium’s finest examples of a sibling relationship
Speaking of hazards, the game’s most unsettling feature by far are its swarms of carnivorous rats. These things are relentless and are only hindered by their aversion to light, which is used to brilliant effect in a number of particularly intense fire-based puzzles.
They’re animated beautifully too, forming this hideous, writhing mass that carpet the ground and devour anything they can get their paws on. Plot wise, these swarms also add tension, acting as an unstoppable force of nature that everyone from the protagonists to their pursuers are terrified of.
Despite its lack of fanfare, I count A Plague Tale: Innocence among the best games of the year thus far. Like Hellblade before it, it demonstrates the value in mid-tier developers in picking up ideas that the Triple-AAA side of the industry would be reluctant to touch. Add to that its unique premise, compelling characters and riveting gameplay and I genuinely think we have something of a masterpiece on our hands.