Incredible from start to finish.
A Plague Tale Innocence

Every once in a while there comes a new game release that defies all expectations. A Plague Tale: Innocence is one such game. Thanks to a delicate balance of satisfying gameplay and an engaging story, A Plague Tale will sink its hooks into you right from its opening chapters. Though there are a couple of small missteps along the way, the journey you share with siblings Amicia and Hugo is one you really don't want to miss.

There are many more review "buzz words" I could use to describe A Plague Tale, but I will spare you from that. Truthfully, A Plague Tale: Innocence is a game that is worthy of all the praise most reviews are probably about to throw at it. The story is unlike anything else out there. Where else will you get to experience a plot that manages to weave together evil, plague carrying rat swarms, plus the Inquisition, and super-natural abilities? Nowhere but here. If such a game exists already, I have yet to experience it for myself.

You play as Amicia, one of the De Rune children. She, along with her brother Hugo, are quickly and violently thrust into a world that finds them fighting for their own lives. Though they are brother and sister, the two have not interacted much over the years as Hugo has been battling an affliction he has had since birth. In a lot of ways, the player and Amicia are getting to know Hugo at the same time. You both may find that Hugo is a bit of an annoyance at first, especially if you believe that the game is nothing but one long escort mission. Let me just say right now that it is not.

A Plague Tale Innocence

Many chapters find Amicia setting out on her own. Other chapters find Amicia adventuring with another companion partner. Chapters that do feature Hugo as your primary companion should not be viewed at simply as an extended escort mission. Hugo often plays a very vital role in solving many of the game's puzzles that are more involved. When he travels with you, he is usually right there with Amicia holding her hand, making it feel less like there are two characters and more like they are just one character moving together. This makes navigation through the game a breeze, a necessity when you need to work through long stretches where huge hordes of vile rats want nothing more than to eat you alive.

The rats in A Plague Tale are a character all their own. Almost fluid like in their behavior, these little monsters are tenacious. The fact that they can be kept at bay by light is one of the key pillars of gameplay, and one that is flipped on its head nearer to the end of the game. The player, as Amicia, must figure out how to avoid being eaten alive by these little pests. This can be accomplished by darting to and from strategically placed light sources in each of the game's visually unique locations. If such a light does not already exist, Amicia has plenty of tools at her disposal to try to forge her own path to safety. Amicia's tools of choice include a versatile slingshot and a fair bit of alchemy. Over the course of the game, a wider array of offensive and defensive tools to use against the rat swarms. Some of these abilities include being able to light fires or extinguish them using alchemical concoctions. This effectively allows you to guide rat swarms where you want, including towards members of the Inquisition.

For those who choose to pay close attention to the rats, you may notice a few minor issues with them. They are not exactly the most detailed model in existence. They also sometimes behave a little awkwardly. Their movement can seem a bit "stiff" or even unnatural. It's something that can be easily noticed at times, but for the most part I did not particularly care about some of those issues. It seems like a decent tradeoff when you can have literally hundreds, if not thousands of these things on screen at any given time.

A Plague Tale Innocence

There are a number of gameplay elements that the pre-release trailers did not clearly show. First off, there is a fair bit of combat in this game. Even with that said, it is still not a game where you are out there "running and gunning." When you are equipped only with a slingshot, the game tends more towards the tactical stealth side. It may even remind you more of classics such as Dishonored or the Thief franchise. In most cases, you can choose if you want to be lethal or not. For those hoping for a full pacifist run, this does not seem to be possible as there are a number of forced instances where you must murder someone in order to progress. In many of the game's more general encounters, however, you do often have a choice in being lethal or non-lethal. Going lethal fits in very nicely with the narrative. I have no hang-ups about forcing lethal approaches when it fits in well with the story and character development. Thankfully, there are plenty of good reasons given to justify the lethal approach. There is a good deal of character development over the course of this game, not just for Amicia and her brother, but also for other notable allies.

Other allies? That's right! If you thought that the game was one long escort mission, you would be wrong. Though most of the pre-release information focuses on the siblings De Rune, you will encounter and fight alongside others that have been impacted in some capacity by either the Inquisition or the plague. These other characters all have unique abilities that nicely complement Amicia's own skills. These other characters can help Amicia open up locked doors, concoct new abilities through alchemy, or they can fight alongside you in certain situations. However, it must be said that these other characters are with you during specific levels. This means that you do not have to worry about "missing out" on any area by having the "wrong character" with you.

On its surface, the game is about a couple of siblings fighting for survival. Beneath that bare minimum fa├žade lies a massive labyrinth of engaging gameplay design and a story that pushes the boundaries of what you expect from a fantasy-focused title. Even though a lot of the marketing material for the game focuses on the escort style gameplay, there is much more at work here. As noted, you can engage in combat with Amicia's slingshot. One well-placed shot to the temple with a rock is all that is needed. Eventually, Amicia will have access to non-lethal equipment. However, crafting something that can knock out an enemy comes at a cost. The materials you scavenge over the course of the game can be used to create non-lethal shots or used to craft better gear and upgrades. It is a tradeoff that you will have to decide for yourself if it's worth doing.

Just be warned that you will not survive for long if the enemy is alerted to your presence. A tactical approach is nearly always necessary as disengaging from fully alerted Inquisition members usually spells doom. Amicia will die in just one hit. Again, you need to keep in mind that this is not an all-out action title. You will undoubtedly die a few times in your first play through and that is completely fine. This somewhat brutal approach to engagements is offset a bit by the game's lenient checkpoint system. Some encounters will feel a bit like trial and error. Feel free to experiment with different approaches, as there is not necessarily a single "right way" or "wrong way" to go about most encounters.

A Plague Tale Innocence

Visually, the game features an impressive number of varied environments. One level may have you working your way through a dark, moonlit town crawling with death, decay, the Inquisition, and rat swarms. Another level will feature bright sunlight, gorgeous vistas, and fields that have not yet been tainted by blight. The lighting is fantastic, which makes a whole lot of sense in a game where lighting fires and carrying torches is often a key gameplay element. Right out of the gate, A Plague Tale supports Nvidia Ansel, allowing you to take high-resolution screenshots. This is not a feature I normally make use of, but I happily made an exception with this title. Almost a good hour or so out of my roughly 12 hours of game time came from taking screenshots. Characters, especially their faces, are very well done. They feature a considerable amount of detail that allowed them to express a wealth of emotions during cutscenes.

Sadly, while the visuals for environments, characters, and animation are all superb, there are a few nit-picky issues. For one, the game makes heavy use of chromatic aberration (CA). Even though A Plague Tale features a generous number of tweaks and graphical options, the ability to fully disable some effects such as CA is not one of them. The game had an overall "soft" look throughout as a result of the use of CA and other post-processing effects. It may not bother some people, but this is certainly one of my bigger annoyances when it comes to modern video game visuals.

While I am on the topic of minor annoyances, I cannot say that I was a huge fan of the targeting system. This may be the biggest sore spot for those playing on PC with a mouse and keyboard. You can choose to have a very lenient auto-target in use, or you can have an auto-target that has a much tighter window for when it will kick in. You cannot fully disable this auto-target system as far as I'm currently aware. On one hand, I do wish there was an option to disable it completely. On the other hand, the game is challenging enough at times without having to worry too much about hitting incredibly small targets with a slingshot. I'm not ashamed to admit that even with the light auto-target system at work, I still completely missed a few of my shots.

A Plague Tale Innocence

There is one area that should delight fans of customization, and that is the fact that all elements of the HUD can be toggled on or off at any time in the options. Right as you start, the game asks if you want an "immersive" experience. This will disable things like enemy status indicators, companion status, reticles, objective locations, and more. So while there may not be anything more than the default difficulty, a greater challenge awaits those who choose to disable any and all HUD elements. Even with everything turned on, the HUD in A Plague Tale is very unobtrusive. Elements are only displayed when relevant to the player. That means that even with most of these elements on, you will still be nicely immersed in this world.

A Plague Tale is one of the better-paced games out there. Over the course of the story, Amicia will slowly build up her gear and abilities. The game does a great job at introducing you to new gameplay mechanics at a steady pace. It never feels too slow nor does it ever become too overwhelming. Of course, as with all well-paced games, A Plague Tale eventually includes areas that allow you to utilize any and all of your abilities as you see fit. It's always nice to have options and there are certainly a number of opportunities here to exercise that freedom in these levels. Will you distract a guard with a thrown rock, thus sparing his life and allowing you to sneak behind them to your destination? Alternatively, will you force them to remove their helmet with a fancy alchemical creation so that you can then take them out with a well-placed shot from your slingshot? That is just one minor example of the kind of choice you have here.

At the end of the day, A Plague Tale: Innocence proved to be an incredible experience. Asobo has put together a damn fine narrative experience. The engaging linear story combines nicely with gorgeous environments, solid gameplay mechanics, and enough player freedom to feel satisfying without being overbearing. I also need to give very high praise to the game's fantastic orchestral soundtrack. Without a hint of hyperbole here, I think A Plague Tale: Innocence is looking to be a great contender for one of the best games of 2019. It has certainly cemented its place as one of my all-time favorites and I am already looking forward to my next play through.


Score
5 out of 5 stars


Additional Information
A Plague Tale: Innocence (Developed by Asobo Studio, Published by Focus Home Interactive)
Starting at $44.99 (USD) for PC (Also available now on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One)
Game was reviewed on: i7-6700K at 4.5GHz, 32GB DDR4-2666, Nvidia GTX 1080 Ti, Windows 10 64-bit Version 1809

System Requirements
Minimum
CPU: Intel Core i3-2120 (3.3GHz) / AMD FX-4100 X4 (3.6GHz)
Memory: 8GB
GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 660 (2GB) / Radeon HD 7870
Storage: 50GB

Recommended
CPU: Intel Core i5-4690 (3.5GHz) / AMD FX-8300 (3.3GHz)
Memory: 16GB
GPU: Nvidia GeForce 970 / Radeon RX 480
Storage: 50GB

This game was provided to Total Gaming Network for review purposes.

Additional Screenshots
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