A title we’ve been eagerly anticipating for a while now, A Plague Tale: Innocence is out now on PC, Playstation 4 and Xbox One. Published by Focus Home Interactive, it shines a light on a period in European history that we don’t see explored very often – and does so as one of the most atmospheric games of 2019 so far.
A Plague Tale was developed by Asobo Studio, whose previous works include a ton of family-friendly titles as well as supporting roles for other studios. This one’s a little different, as A Plague Tale is a dark and mature tale, and Asobo handled the entire development process in-house. Turns out they’re pretty decent at that.
Every since I first laid eyes on A Plague Tale, I’ve been getting “The Last of Us” vibes from it – which of course is a compliment but also raised my expectations to levels that are hard to meet. My reasons for referencing the PS exclusive classic are easy to spot though – a tale in a bleak environment, two people bonding over the course of an adventure, an important role for the innocent nature of children and danger lurking because not everyone can be trusted. Great storytelling elements that are being put to good use here by Asobo – while holding on to an identity of its own rather than feeling like a copycat.
In the world of A Plague Tale, the bubonic plague is an important narrative element. Not just the disease itself, but the fact that it creates widespread paranoia as well. You’ll come across corpses, people bound to die very soon, and moral dilemmas where you put another in harm’s way just to save yourself. You can see where the subtitle “Innocence” plays into this.
Both of the main protagonists in the game are children – formerly privileged but now scrambling to survive. They’re a few years apart in age, and the narrative makes great use of this by tackling themes like maturity and, again, innocence. Dialogues are engaging and tense, and the choices you have to make feel impactful – partly because you feel like you’re responsible for the world view these children grow up with.
This narrative approach also has an effect on gameplay, which is largely stealth-focused and features little in the way of action. Your two children (you play as both) are very vulnerable, so you don’t want to show yourself. The stealth sections works both narratively speaking and in terms of gameplay, but it’s nowhere near as good as it is in games where stealth (and not the narrative) is the core concept – titles like Splinter Cell come to mind.
There is a fair amount of realism in A Plague Tale, especially when it comes to how important resources can be and how creative you have to get with them. Things are a little less realistic when it comes to the inevitable rats – who act as something out of the Brendan Fraser’s The Mummy movies or Indiana Jones. Thousands will swarm around you, with only a light source keeping them at bay. Possibly not the most realistic touch, but it makes for some thrilling moments.
A great and almost cinematic narrative experience, the story in A Plague Tale is told with the kind of great audiovisual flair that we rarely see outside of major AAA and first-party console titles. The gameplay isn’t as polished or memorable as it could have been (cue The Last of Us reference), but it’s certainly a tale worth embarking on.