A Plague Tale: Innocence provides an interesting new take on an underappreciated formula.
The stealth genre has never enjoyed the same level of innovation as it’s more popular counterparts. So when a new title breaks the mould and offers something new, there’s a real chance to carve out a niche audience.
Unfortunately, A Plague Tale: Innocence is a just competent gameplay experience that never really hits its’ mark. Despite an engaging and impressively written narrative.
Asobo Studio and Disney
It was a curious choice for Asobo Studio to opt into such a macabre project.
The French developer is best known for their family-friendly titles, specifically Disney video game tie-ins.
The company has produced games for Ratatouille, WALL-E, Up, and Toy Story 3 – as well as Kinect Rush: A Disney-Pixar Adventure and Disneyland Adventures.
Outside of their deals with Disney, Asobo Studio also worked on racing games Fuel and The Crew and another movie tie-in with Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties.
Special Forces: Nemesis and ReCore remain as the only “mature” titles to come out of the studio. And it’s the latter of those two that best represents the issues within A Plague Tale: Innocence
ReCore was an Xbox One exclusive released by the studio in 2016. It attempted to blend tactical shooter combat with intricate platforming sections in one of the more ambitious action-platformers.
The gunplay was fairly simplistic, but also provided a fair amount of depth, including different ammo effectiveness for varying enemy types. The game also featured a variety of robot companions throughout, who were often required to be tactically switched for certain sections.
The vast array of combinations meant combat was both refreshing and challenging, encompassed in some solid mechanics. So you would imagine, being primarily an open world action game would make platforming sections frustrating and borderline unplayable.
As is the tradition for 3D action games trying to incorporate platforming mechanics. But the controls were surprisingly precise and responsive. ReCore looked like an excellent title at launch but like so many Xbox One exclusives it proved to be a disappointment.
A lot of great ideas and an interesting blend of mechanics were lost in a mediocre game. That relied too heavily on backtracking and mundane exploration sections. Derailing narrative momentum and making the game more of a slog than a thrill ride.
And the reason we mention it is that it’s a similar story with A Plague Tale: Innocence.
A Plague Tale: Innocence
To be fair, A Plague Tale: Innocence has reviewed very well with fans, but it’s a game that lingers with potential. Perhaps even a game of the year contender. It’s got the emotional hook and well-written narrative of many similar darlings like Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice.
Set during a reimagined black death, A Plague Tale: Innocence follows the story of a pair of young siblings trying to survive. Enemies can kill you with one hit so stealth is essential to gameplay.
The world is also populated by a swarm of plague rats that provide much of the basis to level design. The only thing that repels the creatures is light which plots your course through the level.
The rats can also be used to your advantage by turning them towards enemies, creating moral quandaries. Such as one moment in particular where a defenceless soldier pleads for mercy. Feeding him to the rats is the only way to clear your own path, forcing you to get tough to survive.
Trying to avoid hordes of rats and patrolling soldiers is a tense experience. Or it should be. But it never really provides a challenge. Solutions to puzzles are fairly easy and guards are fairly predictable making them easy to lure to their death.
It’s a dark, tense setting but there’s not a lot of menace in it. All combat is effectively another puzzle sequence. Except for the jarring boss battles which force the player unprepared into close-quarters combat.
What We Could Have Won
Maybe we’re being too critical but we wanted more. With some more inventive level design, particularly in boss battles, A Plague Tale: Innocence could have been a uniquely excellent experience.
Something akin to the fantastic Tomb Raider reboots or even Captain Toad Treasure Tracker. That level of complex puzzle-solving and strategic route planning through open-ended or non-linear areas.
But with the foreboding presence of death and thousands of vicious, hungry rats clawing all around us. More ways to approach levels and more trial and error sections with gruesome consequences.
We wanted to feel like every step and heartbeat was crucial to our survival as we hid amongst the silence. In the end A Plague Tale: Innocence pretty much throws the door down and invites us in. Through a zoo of would-be threats, safely enclosed behind simple solutions.