Few modern games use proper historical settings. Even when they do it is usually a heavily-modified version of real-life events. A Plague Tale: Innocence is different in that respect. It is fully committed to its setting, nailing the atmosphere of 14th century France.
That isn’t to say that the game sticks with being 100% accurate. The developers take artistic liberties to make sure the story works. Moreover, stretching reality somewhat is necessary to make an enthralling horror experience.
In A Plague Tale: Innocence, players take on the role of Amicia de Rune. She is a young girl living in the French village of Aquitaine with her family. Thanks to her family being of noble descent and her father a knight, Amicia has lived an untroubled life.
However, things are not as perfect as they first appear. The Hundred Years’ War means that France is suffering from an English invasion. Not only that but the country is also under the wrath of the plague.
But the worst thing going on in Amicia’s life is a terrible family secret. Her brother Hugo is suffering from a mysterious disease, forcing his mother to keep him hidden away from the rest of the village. When the Inquisition eventually finds out about Hugo, they storm the village, killing many of those who they come across. Only Amicia and Hugo survive.
The rest of the story unfolds as you try to stay out of sight of practically everyone you come across. Villagers blame you for the town’s destruction, soldiers are deadly, and the Inquisition still wants your brother. Worse still, murderous, plague-infected rats lurk around every corner, taking on a supernatural power as they spread across France.
There is plenty to like about A Plague Tale: Innocence’s story. It instantly gets you invested in the lives of both Amicia and Hugo. The traumatic events at the start of the game, happening to such innocent youngsters, pack a strong emotional punch. Questions will swirl around your head right from the get-go. Over the 15 or so hours of the story, answers slowly begin to unfold. A Plague Tale: Innocence also manages to keep things tense throughout, so you never feel completely comfortable.
In terms of gameplay, A Plague Tale: Innocence has two main elements. It is a half-puzzle and half-stealth game, asking players to combine the two as they progress. There is no blasting through opponents and quickly moving through areas. After all, Amicia is little more than a child. She is no match for the soldiers, villagers, or Inquisition members. If they see you, they will instantly kill you. That means you spend most of your time moving quietly and deliberately, taking care of every movement.
The other major component is forging a path through the rat-infested areas. These supernatural vermin block the way, forcing you to manipulate light sources to clear them. As the rats hate the light, most of the game’s puzzles involve handling light sources into new positions. None of the puzzles are particularly difficult. However, they can require some experimentation with new chemicals and materials you acquire. Most players shouldn’t have too much difficulty solving them, though.
It is clear that the developers chose this type of gameplay to suit the story. Being so vulnerable increases the drama while also adding weight to your actions. The slow nature of much of the gameplay means that the action sequences also feel more intense. Attacking enemies is a rare occurrence, but when they do come along the adrenaline certainly starts pumping. The fact that you generally only have a few moments to take out an opponent ups the stakes even more. When you do have to take drastic action, it genuinely feels like an emergency.
Another outstanding part of A Plague Tale: Innocence is the game’s visuals. It takes on a somewhat washed-out style as if it is a water painting on canvas. All of the environments have superb amounts of detail, while each area feels and looks unique. Character animations can have some issues, especially during moments when mouths seem to lose sync with the audio. Outside of that, there are no real technical issues or other graphical problems.
The sound design is equally impressive. You can sense the care and attention put into every piece of audio in A Plague Tale: Innocence. The terrifying sound effects make the rats feel like even more of a threat, and the soundtrack is excellent. The various songs flow with the action on screen, heightening the tension and highlighting dangers. Furthermore, the voice acting is well done. These performances are delicate and of high quality.
Recommending A Plague Tale: Innocence is not difficult. It blends the stealth and puzzle genres marvelously, creating an interesting but tense experience. You’ll rarely feel comfortable playing the game. The terror of what you see in the beautiful medieval setting constantly assaults the player.
Death and darkness are everywhere and it is a horror game that scares you slowly but effectively. Where it shines is by simply concentrating on what it does well. The developers tell a compelling story that fits in with the gameplay.