Reviews - 01/06/2019

Review – A Plague Tale: Innocence

The French development company Asobo Studio, after having achieved fame with the realization of some titles under license and having contributed to the creation of games such as The Crew and ReCore, has finally published A Plague Tale: Innocence, a new adventure set in France between 1348 and 1349, when the plague and the Inquisition were literally decimating the population. Let’s analyze it together.

A Plague Tale: Innocence is an adventure that puts players in the shoes of Alicia de Rune and her little brother Hugo. Despite their family ties and noble origins, the two have practically never met because of a mysterious disease that forces little Hugo to remain permanently locked in his room to receive the care that his mother Beatrice, an expert alchemist, prepares daily. Things are destined to change rapidly, however, when the Black Plague, transmitted by unstoppable hordes of rodents, the Inquisition, led by the evil Lord Nicholas, and the shadows of the Hundred Years’ War fall mercilessly on the region of France where the de Rune family lives. Alicia, having learned first hand what infected rats are capable of and having saved her little brother from the massacre of her family by Lord Nicholas’ troops, is in fact forced to undertake a long and dangerous journey in the company of the young Hugo. A journey that, in about 10/12 hours necessary to complete the 17 chapters that make up the title, will allow the two protagonists not only to get to know each other better, but also to shed light on the past of the de Rune family, the origins of Hugo’s disease and how all these elements are related to the plague epidemic and the actions of the Inquisitors.

These are, net of possible spoilers, the narrative premises from which begins A Plague Tale: Innocence, stealth title in third person developed by the talented team of Asobo Studio in which the players control, except rare occasions, just the young Alicia. The eldest daughter of the de Rune, thanks to her skills with the slingshot, her intelligence and the basic techniques of elusion taught her by her parents before the arrival of the Inquisitors, is in fact the only one of the two survivors able to face the continuous difficulties that fate and developers, without too many compliments, place on their path, in a succession of abandoned campaigns manned by brutal soldiers, villages invaded by hordes of increasingly numerous rats, environmental puzzles to solve and seemingly impenetrable fortresses. But let’s go with order. Alicia and her little brother, as can be expected, are not fighters and cannot in any world hope to face openly the soldiers who are after them. The capture, except for very rare cases, is not in fact an option contemplated and being discovered, in most cases, will mean having to witness the death of one of the two protagonists. No wonder then that one of the main aims of A Plague Tale: Innocence is to be able to overcome the playing areas without being noticed.

From this point of view, the title of Asobo Studio faithfully follows the standards of the stealth genre, with a level design full of covers and elements to be used to hide its presence from the eyes of opponents, who traditionally follow patterns of movement more or less regular, reacting gradually more and more nervous in case of sighting of the protagonists.  Yes, because Alicia and Hugo, when they are together, almost always move in pairs. Alicia, as a good older sister, must in fact continuously help her little brother, lifting him when necessary, opening the doors to verify the absence of danger or moving the heaviest objects. The only occasions when the two brothers separate coincide with the sequences in which Alicia suggests to Hugo to wait for her safely while she is acting, when the two are divided by narrative needs and when Alicia asks her little brother to sneak into narrow passages or to interact with some objects, which can also be done by giving directions to other NPCs who will alternate at our side throughout the course of the adventure.  In all these cases, however, the player must always keep in mind that Hugo has no means to defend himself and that, given his very young age, could easily panic if he stayed only too long, attracting the attention of the guards.

However, the soldiers of the Inquisition, as already mentioned at the beginning, do not represent the only threat to the young de Rune. France is in fact facing an epidemic of plague and the simultaneous invasion by hordes of ferocious rats, who do not hesitate to attack and “plunder” everything that happens to them within range. Fortunately, rodents do not seem to particularly appreciate the light, which allows the two protagonists to exploit the many sources, fixed and mobile, present in the environment to continue or to direct the mice in a specific direction, so as to circumscribe the invasion or exploit it to their advantage by eliminating some soldier. Alicia’s capabilities clearly do not end here. The young woman can in fact throw stones and vessels to attract the attention of the guards, so as to drive away the closest enemies, but not only. Thanks to her skills with the slingshot, Alicia can create diversions by hitting distant targets and knock out the guards. The young woman, who apparently inherited her mother’s predisposition for alchemical limbs, can also prepare numerous compounds useful, for example, to turn on or off braziers and torches, to attract rodents in a specific direction or to force more armored opponents to take off their helmets, giving the young woman the opportunity to deal a death blow. To prepare the various compounds Alicia, must obviously consume resources, which can be collected during the exploration along with other materials, useful to enhance, initially only using special workbenches, the sling, the equipment of the protagonist and the characteristics of some of the alchemical compounds.

The whole adventure is technically supported by the proprietary graphics engine developed by Asobo Studio, which on the platform used for my test, Xbox One X, reaches without particular difficulty the 4K (upscaled) at 30fps, while on Xbox One and One S the maximum resolution is set to 1080p, always at 30fps. The latest effort of Asobo Studio also supports the HDR technology where available, and can boast of an original soundtrack composed by Olivier Deriviere, already known for having contributed in recent years to the realization of the OST of titles such as Remember Me and Vampyr. A Plague Tale: Innocence also benefits from the dubbing in 3 different languages (French, English and German) to which are added the subtitles and the complete localization of the parts written in Italian.

A Plague Tale: Innocence is a solid title with simple yet satisfying gameplay and a convincing and exciting narrative structure. A mix of genuine elements that captures the player, making him part of an adventure beautiful to face and hard to forget. Perhaps more could be done to make the I.A. less permissive and to provide the player with some extra stimulus after reaching the end credits for the first time, but despite these gaps the last effort of Asobo Studio is a jewel of undoubted beauty that all lovers of adventure and good stories should play.

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