In an industry dominated by games that aim for bigger and more open experiences, it can be easy to forget how satisfying and fun a more guided experience can be. I admittedly gravitate more towards open world games because of the freedom and potential for storytelling that they offer so I am usually quite surprised when I find myself getting sucked into a linear game. Such is the case with 'A Plague Tale: Innocence,' a new game from Asobo Studio and Focus Home Interactive. This preview covers my time with the first four chapters of the game but you can expect more in depth thoughts on our upcoming podcast (May 14, 2019 - Episode 601) after the review embargo has lifted.
A Plague Tale is set in France during the middle ages and tells the story of two young siblings on the run from the Inquisition amidst a war-torn countryside that is crawling with millions of plague-infected (supernatural?) rats. Players will primarily control Amicia, the older sister who inherits the responsibility of caring for her ill younger brother, Hugo when they are forced from their home. Admittedly, entire games being built around an escort mechanic are off-putting to say the least but I am impressed by how natural the whole thing feels. Hugo is responsive and rarely feels like a burden; even in stealth, which has counted for a large portion of my time thus far. While the stealth feels far from original in terms of it’s execution, the game has pulled me along nonetheless thanks to an intriguing set of narrative mysteries, beautiful environments, and some great character work. Even if the gameplay eventually falls apart, I can see these elements keeping me invested to the very end.
Mechanically speaking, the main attraction here is the army of rats that threaten to pick your bones clean at every turn. The swarms are an effective threat that double as a continuous puzzle that must be solved in order to progress. They swarm in darkness and scatter in the light and while I am still unsure if this mechanic is enough to carry an entire game, I have enjoyed all of the encounters thus far. I’m hoping these puzzles continue to grow in complexity because early on, it is easy to see the potential. Every chapter thus far feels like a unique set piece that steadily builds on the foundation laid in the previous chapters. It would be a shame if this concept never evolves or expands into something more ambitious.
Towards the end of Chapter 4, the game introduces Alchemy as a new mechanic which adds new abilities to Amicia's upgradeable slingshot. It hints at the possibilities to come and has me excited to see where this journey ultimately goes. For a game that I felt had more potential in it’s story than it’s mechanics, I am pleasantly surprised by what it offers thus far. The game is not combat heavy but it seems to encourage passivism by hinting at an underlying morality system that can negatively impact the younger brother (and I assume the ending) but that is yet to be seen. With that said, there has already been one unavoidable boss encounter that gave me the chance to go on the offensive with the slingshot. It felt thematically and mechanically appropriate and hinted at the potential for using this weapon in some unexpected ways.
With 2019 already shaping up to be another memorable year for gaming, A Plague Tale feels like one of the first with a lot of potential to deliver the goods while also being criminally overlooked. The narrative seeds that have been planted are intriguing and the game is already starting to show layers of depth that I really wasn’t expecting. Only time will tell if that momentum is maintained over the course of the entire game but the foundation that is established early is certainly promising.
This preview is written based on an early review code for PS4 that was provided by Evolve PR. The full game releases on Tuesday, May 14, 2019 on PC, PS4, and Xbox One.
Tune in tonight on 4pp.tv for a 2-hour stream of the game and join us tomorrow for the podcast where Nick and Nolan will both be giving their in-depth opinions on the game.