A Plague Tale: Innocence Preview — Rats and Death, and Fire, Oh My!
Ahead of A Plague Tale: Innocence's launch in May, I had the opportunity to delve into the first few chapters to find out if this plague-infected narrative is as good as it looks.
French developer Asobo Studio and publisher Focus Home Interactive have certainly crafted something interesting and unique with A Plague Tale: Innocence. In this action-adventure, you follow the tragic journey of Amicia and Hugo De Rune through the plagued-filled and formidable landscapes of 14th century France. Having seen the trailers, which captured my attention so much so that I was given the chance to interview the director of the game Kevin Choteau, I now had the exciting opportunity to get a sneak peek into the world that intrigued me so much.
I would be lying if I wasn’t apprehensive at the prospect of getting a first look into some of the game’s chapters – I didn’t want to be disappointed due to the fact that I had fallen in love with what I’d seen so far. But without further ado, I fired up my PC and dove in with my fingers crossed.
As the opening scene broke, we are faced with Amicia and her father in a lush, beautifully animated forest. It felt like this was a normal day for Amicia – surrounded by the finer things in life without any worries or cares. As the father and daughter make their way around the breath-taking woodland, you can hear the birds singing – everything seems perfect, or more that’s what the game wants you to think. It offers you that snippet of a false state of security and normality before ripping it away and replacing it with gut-wrenching hopelessness.
A grim scene shortly follows which sees Amicia and her father back at their grand homestead where under even more tragic circumstances, she doesn’t stay for very long and needs to escape the grounds this time with her 5-year-old brother Hugo by her side. If having the Inquisition on your tail isn’t enough, Amicia now has to drag her sibling along too, who is almost helpless and suffering from a mysterious illness. In a bid to find a cure for whatever it is that’s afflicting Hugo, they flee on foot through traitorous terrain.
While you predominantly are in control of Amicia, you also take charge of both De Rune children. With Hugo living most of his life sheltered by his mother due to his illness, he has very little understanding of the world so he holds Amicia hand for security. He does come in very handy when there are small spaces that need crawled through and accessing areas that his sister can’t reach. Controlling both characters may sound quite taxing, but it works remarkably well. There are no staggering or awkward sequences so, all in all, the movement is fluid and well implemented as were the rest of the controls throughout. Running, jumping over barriers, equipping objects from your inventory, and then using Amicia’s slingshot all worked with ease with very little fumbling around.
Stealth is your friend in A Plague Tale: Innocence and is an important element to make use of since you have a young child with you. It’s not advisable to take on every enemy you see. Plus, making your way past hostiles without being seen is an enjoyable challenge in itself. There was one scene where Amicia and Hugo were crouch-walking through some high grass past some members of the Inquisition where the tops of their heads could be clearly seen, as well as the violent movement of the grass, but they weren’t spotted – either that particular enemy was completely blind or there was a glitch. Either way, I would have liked this specific stealth mechanic to be a little tighter in execution.
Even though the story is linear based, you do get the chance to explore a little, mostly to look for items that you can craft later. If you search around hard enough, you will also find some trinkets and objects of interest too. One of the most beautiful settings I experienced in this preview was when Amicia and Hugo came across an apparently isolated village that consisted of rotting food in stalls and empty streets. When the developers at Asobo Studios previously stated that they studied the art from the time period closely, they weren’t wrong. The architecture of the buildings, homes, and streets are exceptionally authentic.
You probably could lose a lot of time mindfully gazing at the structures and inspecting all the carefully chosen resources the devs used. That is, until the village you thought was abandoned actually isn’t and the villagers are holding up in their homes frightened and confused, looking for someone to blame for this awful plague that has darkened their world.
In their lack of understanding, they come after Amicia and Hugo where they find themselves running in fear down the narrow streets, trying to find anyone to help them. Finally, they meet an old woman who gives them shelter for a brief moment and this is where Amicia learns how to craft and upgrade her slingshot and oh boy, at this point does she need it.
You find yourself coming face to face in a boss fight where you put your slingshot to good use and find certain methods to get the most damage from it. As previously mentioned, you can pick up materials as you investigate your environment like leather and string to help strengthen your only weapon. You’ll also come across rocks that help to distract enemies so you can sneak past them without too much trouble, as long as you execute it right.
After a traumatic experience in the village, Amicia and Hugo travel further where they are finally faced with the dreaded rats. The developers weren’t joking when they said there are a lot of them. Personally speaking, rats don’t bother me as I’ve had them as pets in the past, but in the masses that they come for you, it would terrify even the most hardened soul.
Fire is their kryptonite, so keeping a flame around you at all times will be the only way to stay alive. This is where you will use the A Plague Tale: Innocence’s puzzle-solving elements. For instance, you can use distraction techniques by equipping your slingshot to make a hanging lump of ham fall to the ground, giving Amicia and Hugo a moment to run to the next area, but speed is key or you’re their next meal.
One of the things I enjoyed most in A Plague Tale: Innocence is how well it’s paced – there was never a dull moment. But in those short stages where Amicia and Hugo were getting their breaths back from either getting chased or out-running the rats, you had the chance to appreciate your surroundings and the hard work that went into making this game as accurate and beautiful as it could possibly be.
Asobo Studios has done an exceptional job at portraying raw emotional storytelling that doesn’t hold back. I’m eager to see if this pace can be maintained throughout the rest of the game and if it can, there’s a high possibility that A Plague Tale: Innocence could be one of the best story-driven titles that has been released in a long time.
A Plague: Tale Innocence will finally be releasing for PC, PS4, and Xbox One on May 14.