French developer Asobo Studio has been around for roughly a decade, and their pedigree has been made up of mostly licensed titles or collaborative projects for various publishers. When I heard they were developing a totally new IP focused on a favorite historical period of mine – the middle ages – I was pretty excited. The new game, A Plague Tale: Innocence, seeks to tell a story focused on a tiny part of Europe, on a single family, during the Hundred Years’ War and the Bubonic plague. What’s more, the game has a twist on the deadly plague, throwing players into a grisly and dark story, in a world that is equally dark and depressing. Does their first big original IP stand up? Read on to find out!
A Plague Tale: Innocence
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Developer: Asobo Studio
Platform: Windows PC (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: May 14th, 2019
The visuals in A Plague Tale: Innocence are quite fantastic for a budding studio like Asobo. Environments, textures, character designs, animations, everything really shines and makes you feel like you’ve peered into a window to medieval France. The game has a really nice balance of natural environments and the more twisted things you’ll see, both in war and the supernatural.
I’d say the game is comparable to big budget titles in terms of visual style and overall direction, everything feels just right. The various environments are generally planned very well visually and mechanically, something I’ll get into more later. I’ve played the game on both Windows PC and PlayStation 4, and performance overall is rock solid. I saw a few texture pops on PC, but that’s it.
Without spoiling too much, the more twisted and supernatural events really feel like something else and yet they fit appropriately into the source and its themes. The ferocity of the plague itself is really captured well in a visual sense, and can provide an edge-of-your-seat type feeling on a consistent basis once things get crazy.
The main gameplay mechanics you’ll see in A Plague Tale: Innocence are largely exploration, puzzle solving, and simply just attempting to survive. The game doesn’t feel like other adventure games where you’re set against an insurmountable force and are powerless in a cheap way – if that makes sense. The plague itself is more of a force of nature, and when it comes you run.
Once the story gets going, you’re thrust into a progressively worse situation as you go from area to area, surviving each scenario as they happen. The game keeps figuring out ways to make you find your way through both humans and plagued rats. I’d say the amount of experimentation options given feels just about right, and you never get overwhelmed.
The puzzles, while consistent, kind of feel a bit underwhelming. I can understand the game being made for a wider audience and hence – many players will be checking this game out purely for the story and characters, but I digress. The puzzles do their purpose but I was largely breezing through them. This could be from the great level design – I never really felt like I got lost or stuck.
There are bits where you have to sneak around humans that are – you guessed it, trying to find and capture you. I’d say the stealth and detection mechanics feel on par with most games that have these mechanics – they work but can be cheesed a bit. It never stops feeling satisfying to sling a rock into a guard’s head, though. Some enemies force you to go around, or think cleverly.
Overall the progression in the game feels just right though. You’re never stuck watching cutscene after cutscene, nor are you thrown into an extremely large region with numerous areas to clear and cut through. This simply adds to the character development, and the need I began having to see the story through till the end. There is a bit of crafting and upgrades – it’s not much, but it’s there.
The story in A Plague Tale: Innocence follows the siblings Amicia and Hugo de Rune, as they quietly and carefully try to survive and escape both human and supernatural predators. Without divulging any spoilers, the game wastes no time in ripping your heart out and stomping on it early on, and things simply get more depressing as things go on.
The game is set in the first phase of the Hundred Years’ War and in the black death-infested countryside of France. From the get-go, you’re probably not expecting rainbows and happy moments, and you shouldn’t. Where A Plague Tale really shines are the little moments when Amicia and Hugo bond, survive, and fight on together. Some moments legit got me sad or inspired.
Character development, as this is mostly a narrative-driven game, is good enough to feel like you’re rooting for the siblings de Rune. No matter what the universe throws at them, you’ll keep hoping they limp along for another day, escape to another area, and maybe survive. That’s all there really is, so the game probably won’t change your mind if you never liked these games.
The musical score in A Plague Tale: Innocence is something to behold, even on its own. Composer Olivier Deriviere, known for his work on Alone in the Dark, Remember Me, and more, knocked this one out of the park. The music has a hearty variety of acoustics, ethereal segments, and of course – sounds of pure dread that highlight the really creepy or anxiety-inducing moments.
There are moments in the game where the orchestral score fades in, highlighting those little moments Amicia and Hugo share in between the horrors they face. The music, combined with the voice actors and their chemistry, really create some heartwarming moments that pull at your heart strings. Those moments with the rats are like the polar opposite – pure anxiety and dread.
The voice acting in A Plague Tale is a nice English-language take on medieval France. I always have a bone to pick with media set in an older time period where everyone speaks English, but that isn’t a negative for this game. The actors really do their job in the various circumstances – from those rare happy moments to the constant whispers, the shocked yelling, and more.
I may have had minor gripes with the game, but they are mostly minor and overall my experience with A Plague Tale has been a thoroughly enjoyable one. The game has a lot of good things going on for it between its story, visuals, character development, and more. I kind of wish there was a bit more, but simply because I really enjoyed this story.
A Plague Tale: Innocence is a wonderful new IP from an up-and-coming studio like Asobo. The game takes a rarely adapted period from our history and builds it into a wholly unique experience, with a character-driven adventure that will have you wanting to see how it all ends. I really can’t recommend the game enough if you are looking for something fresh and new.
A Plague Tale: Innocence was reviewed on Windows PC and PlayStation 4 using a review copy provided by Focus Home Interactive. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.