By Ronald Gordon
You’ve heard about the horror that was the Black Death. But what if you could experience an alternate narrative of life during the plague?
A Plague Tale: Innocence is a stealth-based adventure game developed by Asobo Studio and published by Focus Home Interactive. Here, you play as a young girl named Amicia who has to protect her little brother Hugo from a group of strange, dangerous people The Inquisition. That’s not even your only threat: the world around you is being torn apart by the fearsome and incurable Black Death.
The story begins as Amicia’s home is invaded by The Inquisition. They’re looking for Hugo, who is very ill with an unknown disease, and will stop at nothing to get him. Amicia and Hugo escape and venture out into the world to find a cure for Hugo, and to solve the mystery of why The Inquisition is so bent on hunting him down.
A Plague Tale is based around covert and sly tactics, since Amicia and Hugo aren’t exactly built to fight against the armored soldiers of The Inquisition. Instead, you’ll have to find a way to sneak around the guards and use your environment to your advantage. Instead of physical combat, Amicia has learned to use her wit and her sling to fool the guards in various ways, such as throwing rocks at crates of armor to divert a guard’s attention, or throwing small pots far enough to make a guard chase after them and investigate.
I should mention that there are offensive tactics if you’re not a player who favors 100% stealth. Amicia is no amateur when it comes to her sling, and with the right amount of force she can hurl a rock hard enough to break metal chains or even kill a person with a single headshot. This isn’t always the best choice, though, since Amicia’s sling makes a loud whip-like sound that can reveal your position to the guards. There are also special alchemical brews that can cut the number of guards more easily, and more quietly, than murdering them. For instance, there’s a powder called Somnum that Amicia can smash into a guard’s face to knock him out. It can be used both in Stealth and as a last resort when caught, but it does take quite a few resources to craft. A more cost effective mixture called Ignifer is a projectile that can set fire to lanterns and people, and it has more uses against a problem greater than The Inquisition – the proliferation of rats.
Yes, you read that right. The threat that’s worse than an army that won’t stop chasing you is rats. An abundance of rats to be exact. Thousands, if not millions, of them: uncaring, bloody-thirsty, nearly unstoppable rats. In many of the levels where you’ll encounter the rats, you’ll also find the bloody skeletons of half-eaten corpses, those poor fools that fell victim to the unholy writhing mess of rodents you must evade. Dozens together can swirl like tornadoes or writhe like snakes.
This may seem like an unsolvable problem because of the sheer quantity of these little monsters, but they have a weakness – they’re afraid of light. Any source of light can keep them away from you, from torches that can carry fire for a short while before burning out, to a swinging lantern that can hold them back along a path. This is where the aforementioned Ignifer compound comes in handy. It can be used in conjunction with Amicia’s sling to set fire to objects that are outside of her reach.
I enjoyed A Plague Tale as it offered me some new ways to play stealth games while still keeping to the simple formula of trying to find a way to get from Point A to Point B without being spotted. Famous games of the same genre such as Konami’s Metal Gear Solid franchise or Square Enix’s Hitman series have you play as hardened old men who know what they’re doing. You can even add the Action genre to these games as you can go in with guns blazing and make it out fine with the proper strategy. However, A Plague Tale doesn’t give you the option of running in and recklessly killing anything that moves. That’s because Amicia is only just starting out when it comes to moving stealthily. This makes the game more challenging, as you have no options other than strategy and artful tactics to make it out alive.
You not only have to control Amicia, but also the various allies you meet along the way. Hugo travels with you almost everywhere, and since he’s a lot smaller than Amicia, he can crawl through holes or gaps in walls to open doors or retrieve items. This aspect of the game reminded me a bit of Starbreeze Studios’ “Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons,” in which you control a pair of siblings who help each other through the various levels and predicaments. It all makes the game more challenging because your allies can also cause you to get spotted by the guards or eaten by rats if you’re not careful. You’ll have to make sure that everyone stays safe at nearly every juncture.
A Plague Tale: Innocence surprised me by being a very nice blend of two genres I didn’t think could fit together. The stealth aspect of the game plays off of the adventure aspect, as you’ll have to explore most of each vast level while you’re sneaking around, if you want to find the easiest route. You can find places to hide and things to use to your advantage easily, so every level only takes a bit of time to figure out. The graphics of the game are on par with most AAA titles and many of the levels are well designed.
Those levels are enhanced by their color design: things you are supposed to aim for or make your way toward have white accents or visible streaks to point you in the right direction, while things to be avoided have less lively brownish colors. The music in the game is tense and foreboding because of the constant threat you face. It then becomes lighter when you’re in the clear, shifting in tone as necessary. I’d suggest this game to those who want a good challenging stealth game with an easy-to-follow story and a vast world to experience. Finally, Amicia is a compelling character who’s very nuanced and determined – as is Hugo. In the end, they’re both heroic, well, despite their innocence. Especially when it comes to those gruesome thousands of rats.
Freshman intern Ronald Gordon is creating the City Tech College chapter of the New York Videogame Critics Circle.