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A Plague Tale: Innocence Review

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From Asobo Studio, the developers that brought you numerous Pixar tie-in games and the remaster of Disneyland Adventures, comes the Last of Us inspired stealth horror game A Plague Tale: Innocence! I had a lot of thoughts so I figured I should collect them all into a review of sorts.

PLOT:

It's the 14th century and young Amicia de Rune must flee from the Inquisition to protect her sick brother Hugo, whose mysterious illness has prevented her from forming any sort of bond with him and also made him a target of a faction of the Church, as the world is beset by hordes of rats bringing the Plague to France. Throughout their journey to cure him, they will also encounter fellow children made orphans by the Plague and Inquisition and have their innocence tested.

I give big praise to A Plague Tale for the fantastic way Amicia and Hugo's relationship and personal journeys developed. Over the course of the game, the two went from near strangers to close-knit family that will challenge the world to protect each other. It's common for children in games to do things that annoy the player, and make no mistake, Hugo can get on your nerves, but it's generally because he's acting the way a kid his age would, which is something a lot of games attempt, but more often than not will fail at doing while still leaving you to deal with a grating child. Hugo literally needs to have his hand held throughout nearly every chapter, but he never felt like he was dragging you down, because the gameplay was built around you having him close by. Speaking of...

GAMEPLAY:

The majority of the game will be spent either stealthing passed soldiers searching for Hugo or solving puzzles to move the armies of rats that block your path. Most of these soldiers are heavily armed and protected, so any sort of confrontation will almost immediately result in a game over. More often then not, when stealth is either too tricky for you or not an option at all, the best way to progress is to use your trusty sling to fire off rocks or other objects created through alchemy to affect the environment to your advantage. For example, a knight with armor may also be protected from the rats by a lantern their holding. By dosing the light, you can draw the rats to him, and you've not only eliminated an enemy, you've also distracted the rats and can cross easily. A dodge mechanic is introduced during the first of very few boss battles, but it is functionally useless after this encounter. However, the large swath of tools can lead to issues when needing to fire a variety of different kinds on the fly. It's not uncommon for you to need to switch between tools multiple times in quick succession to pull off a kill, and the weapon wheel can oftentimes be tricky to navigate in the moment.

One of the big things I give A Plague Tale credit for is the way you need to balance stealth and combat. Resources to produce alchemical tools are limited and must be gathered and produced as you make your way through chapters. Some require more resources than others and a few items are also needed when making upgrades on your sling or equipment. Speaking of upgrades, its rare to see a game that offers them and all of them being valuable. Not a single upgrade option is worthless or without merit or immediate necessity.

As for the rats, if you ever played "The Floor is Made of Lava" as a kid that's basically what they are. So much as touching them will result in an instant game over and you'll need to use torches and other environmental objects that produce light to safely cross through literal rivers of them. They are horrifying and they surround you on all sides during the majority of the nighttime chapters.

MISC. GRIEVANCES:

While A Plague Tale tries to replicate the feel of The Last of Us, it does not have the money, engine, or level of experience that Naughty Dog and other AAA developers do. This can mostly bog down pivotal emotional moments due to the characters not emoting well. There's a lot of jank. Occasional graphical issues aside, the walking animation was tough to get used to in the beginning (I was afraid I was gonna drop the entire game during the opening chapter when you take a walk around Amicia's home), and did occasionally become an issue again at certain points. Like I said, switching tools on the fly was sometimes an issue, especially during a major boss fight that required me to put out multiple lights, put out an enemy's light, and, before they can light it again, guide a group of rats that spawn in one location to him, all while maintaining stealth. I seriously thought I was going to drop the game then.

Fortunately, it's very generous with autosave and I didn't need to start from the beginning any time I died. And that's one of the smaller positives I can give the game. Pretty much every sequence has an auto save at the end, so you can experiment with what works and what doesn't if you die frequently trying to get passed a tricky section. I found myself on more than one occasion dying frequently and slowly working out a winning strategy, eventually banging through each step one after the other after memorizing them from experiment and repetition, leading me to victory. 

OVERALL FEELINGS:

What more can be said? It was a great game with some minor, if bothersome, technical foibles. I'd recommend it to any fan of The Last of Us (me) or Plague history (also me haha). You're taken on a satisfying yet open-ended journey with an amazing cast of characters, fun gameplay, and rats. Lots of rats.

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