Escort missions are almost universally reviled in the gaming community. They tend to bog down gameplay, limit player choice, and are easily failed. But what happens when the entire game is one long escort mission? A Plague Tale: Innocence is a beautiful game that makes an unpopular game format fun and exciting.
A Plague Tale takes place during the 14th century. England and France are at war and the Black Death is decimating the known world. You play as Amicia De Rune. After the Inquisition attacks the De Rune estate, Amicia must watch over her younger brother Hugo as the two try evade the pursuing Inquisition, suspicious villagers, and rats. Oh so many rats.
If the game sounds familiar, that is because it is. Think The Last of Us with hordes of rats in place of the zombies and you will get an idea of what to expect. A Plague Tale is more than just a knock off and it definitely is not just an extended escort mission. Sure, you play as a female guiding her younger brother and yes, the game takes place centuries ago. But it is more than just settings and characters that help this game stand out.
This is an absolutely beautiful game. Before the game even starts, you kind of know what to expect. The title screen is incredibly dark and you can hear the sound of thousands of rats. A torch comes by and the rats flee. This is going to be a very dark game in which light is your friend and sound is of utmost importance, with great audio cues in order to maximize their experience. When the game begins in a forest on a beautiful sunny day, it will throw players off. Of course, it soon becomes apparent that the light is just there to emphasize a better time in Amicia’s life.
Except that does not turn out to be the case. A Plague Tale does an excellent job of alternating between light and dark levels. The game never allows you to get familiar with either setting. This allows for a deeper appreciation for each. When the story takes you into a dark tunnel or has Amicia and her brother travel at night, there is a constant sense of dread. Each footstep can be the one that leads to your death. When you are in the light, there is a sense of comfort. There is no fear of the swarm of rats that show no fear in the dark.
Which is not to say that Amicia and Hugo are able to skip around town during the daylight. A Plague Tale has gamers dealing with three distinct enemies. The Inquisition who are out to kill Amicia and capture her brother, the villagers whose fear leads them to do awful things, and the rats who do not discriminate when they attack. Light may scare off the rats, but there are other dangers for the De Rune siblings to deal with. This gives the game a constant air of tension.
The game is certainly difficult but it is also very fair. There was never a moment when I thought I was not getting enough information from the game. This is important since this is as much a puzzle game as it is an adventure title. The game is never overly difficult and some may even find it too easy.
Helping matters is what a wonderful story the game tells. Amicia and Hugo are both excellently written characters. They are both strong and quickly engage the player. It can be difficult to write children in video games – especially those that play a major role. Many times they are written to be too sullen or too precocious which ends up making them a chore to spend time with. Amicia will draw players in right from the opening and it does not take long to see that Hugo is not a burden. This allows players to concentrate on the great story being told.
It is also beautiful to look at. Developer Asobo Studio went with the great idea of having a very limited HUD. There is no minimap to take up you screen. No ammunition count or icon to tell you whether you are crouching or standing upright. Instead the game itself takes up the entire screen. It is absolutely gorgeous and the games cutscenes look terrific.
A Plague Tale does have some flaws. This is a stealth game, so enemy AI is extremely important. The game never gets so dumb as to ruin the player’s immersion, but it is incredibly predictable. This is especially noticeable in boss fights. For all the game’s beauty there is also one annoying trait. The walking animation only goes in one direction. In other words, Amicia never turns around. Whether you move forward, backward, or side to side, Amicia always faces the same direction. It is an odd thing to overlook when everything else is so painstakingly gorgeous.
Asobo Studio’s A Plague Tale: Innocence may sound generic, but it is anything but. The gorgeous settings and music will make anyone who plays take notice. The gameplay is intuitive and easy to learn. The story is touching while the characters are well crafted and likable. This is a game that should not be overlooked and is well worth your time.
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