A Plague Tale: Innocence (Xbox One Review)
So see that thing Thanos did in Infinity War, it actually kinda happened back in the 14th century across Europe, but worse. It didn’t happen in an instant, in fact the deaths of what some estimate to be over half of Europe’s populace would slowly pile up as more grew sick by the day. Panic swept across the continent as civilisation crumbled around. A Plague Tale: Innocence is about that.
Well, A Plague Tale: Innocence isn’t entirely about that, but it’s the period in which its story is set. At the start of the outbreak you are introduced Amicia, a young rock slinging Knight’s daughter, and Hugo, Amicia’s sickly young brother. The night descends into madness as darkness envelops Amicia’s estate and some less than friendly locals besiege the family’s manor. Barely escaping with their lives, Amicia and Hugo set out to find a rumoured cure for Hugo as their parents make one last stand. It’s a story of responsibility and care during a period where there appeared to be none. The duo stumble upon what feels like the last remaining sane people in Europe as they continue in their journey, with some even joining them for the ride.
The story itself hits all the narrative beats you’d expect, in fact there are some minor parallels that can be drawn with Life is Strange 2, but that doesn’t diminish them one bit. It’s the delivery and pacing that make A Plague Tale: Innocence so enjoyable. It’s not too long, it’s not too short, and there are enough curveballs thrown at you to keep the story engaging without compromise.
Even the game’s mechanics, which mostly revolve around slinging rocks and lighting fires, keep you fixated on the moment to moment gameplay due to the staggered accrual of equipment that is accompanied by the new recipes you acquire. While the puzzles never really graduate to a point where they could be considered challenging, the structure and placement prevent them from becoming dull and repetitive. And that’s also mirrored in the upgrading and crafting systems which steadily grow as Amicia learns new tricks. It’s a gradual ascendance of power that presses you to explore all the chapters thoroughly to find the necessary crafting materials, finding collectibles as you go.
And collect you shall as exploration is seamlessly tied to progression without feeling like a grind. Each locale offers something different and the repetition of areas you can explore is almost non-existent. You’ll travel across moors, forage in forests, investigate booby-trapped castles, and scurry through underground tunnels. You’ll even get to experience some grandiose cathedrals that contain deep dark secrets. The sheer variety on display throughout the 17 chapters is impressive and the fact that every last one feels pertinent to the period makes it all the more enjoyable, even if you have to stumble across a few plague riddled corpses.
The only time A Plague Tale: Innocence really suffers in terms of graphical prowess is during rat swarms. As carriers of the plague, rats are everywhere in 14th century Europe and that’s reflected in game. Rats will clumsily flood out of whatever cracks in the wall they can find and awkwardly pile on top of one another. For a game that’s so well thought out when it comes to character design and the presentation of the world, it’s a tremendous let down to see these rats look so gaudy and unnatural. There is a stark contrast with nearly every other facet of A Plague Tale: Innocence – especially when the rats are a focal point of puzzle solving. I’d say that even trying to hold a torch to anything at this point would only end in disappointment, but that’s literally a core mechanic of the game.
Rats aren’t even the pinnacle of jank A Plague Tale: Innocence’s, it’s the voice acting. While I am not an expert on accents and inflictions of the time, the disparity in annunciation and general sound is so wide that anyone could point at it and say something is up. It even bleeds in to some of the more poignant moments of the story where delivery is key, but otherwise falls flat because the responses don’t feel natural. I did, however, eventually tune it out after a few chapters and it was never an issue again until the dialogue heavy finale.
Just like it did with Vampyr and The Council, Focus Home Interactive have picked up and published some another perfect example of loveable European Developer jank. A Plague Tale: Innocence could hardly be called elegant but what it does, it does well. The story has little to no modern comparison and thus makes it that bit more enticing in terms of period. It’s another game where you can look past the minor hitches and wonky animations of the rats and really enjoy it. Needless to say it’s a dark tale in a dark period, but, much like the promise of a cure for Hugo, there’s hope.