Two gameplay elements that I traditionally don’t like — and often moan at great length about — are escort quests and stealth segments. I don’t think I’m alone in that. So imagine that there’s a game that features a non-stop escort quest WITH nothing but stealth! That’d be the worst game ever, right?
Except, no, it’s not, at least when it’s A Plague Tale: Innocence. This one was picked up on my radar a couple months back due to the high volume of praise that it had been receiving, and after checking it out, I figured the story and setting were interesting enough to outweigh how the game itself plays. And that turned out to be largely true.
Set in slightly fantasized version of medieval France, A Plague Tale follows Amicia, a daughter of a well-to-do lord, who is thrust into a skittering flight from the Inquisition with her hardly-ever-seen little brother Hugo. Something’s both wrong and dangerous about Hugo that’s attracted the Inquisition, and they will stop at nothing to get to him.
To make matters worse, the Black Death has broken out, except in this version of history, it’s called the Bite, and it comes by swarms of man-eating rats that burst out of the ground everywhere and are only thrwarted by light and fire. So, Inquisition on one side, rats on another, and a scared teen and a little kid running through it all. That makes for a compelling framework.
While A Plague Tale isn’t going to make me love escort or stealth missions, at least it incorporated both with a minimum of frustration. Generally, Amicia is not able to deal with challenges head-on, so she has to use her sling (and its various types of ammo) and environment to trick guards, distract rats, and creep around threats. It’s possible to kill the soldiers, but it’s not that easy and not always advisable.
The game is a journey of a thousand smaller parts, with each part being an environmental puzzle or situation to overcome. How do I get through the barn to the rafters? How do I outrun the guards? How do I use lit mirrors to channel rats? The game gradually gives more and more tools to use, but always at a measured pace so that it’s not that overwhelming. What’s even better is that there are often more than one way to beat a section, so I always felt like I was rewarded for my own choices rather than figuring out the one path to success.
I was hoping for a stronger story, something in the line of an adventure game, but really A Plague Tale’s narrative mostly rests on what’s around you — snippets of conversations from guards, sights both disgusting and beautiful, muttered comments from Amicia, and the occasional dialogue between characters. I wasn’t really in love with the idea of lugging Hugo around for the whole game, especially since he tends to freak out if you leave him behind. It’s Babysitting: the Dark Ages in parts.
What really gripped me was how much detail is paid to the setting and this vision of a world coming apart from an apocalypse of sorts. We’re very used to modern day apocalypses in our media these days, but having one set in old timey France is fascinating. It’s not accurate for what really happened, of course, but I think that once we accept that a form of magic is operational in this game, we can go with almost anything else.
Good stuff. I play in little spurts here and there and am hoping to have it beaten within a week or two. I give this the Syp Seal of Approval.