By Matt Growcott
An historic Last of Us with rats instead of zombies. There ya go – everything you need to know about A Plague Tale: Innocence. Asobo have almost cracked the Naughty Dog code straight out of the gate with their first game in this style, and that’s incredible. ‘Almost’ is carrying a lot of weight in that sentence though. Intention doesn’t usually mean an awful lot in reviews – something is successful or it’s not – but here I think it’s easy to give the benefit of the doubt.
The setting and characters are interesting, the story usually gripping, the gameplay interesting… If you’re looking for something to scratch that Sony Exclusive itch without actually being a Sony exclusive, this is it right here. It helps that the new next-gen version of the game is absolutely gorgeous to boot.
And yet for all its incredible front, A Plague Tale doesn’t always stand up to scrutiny. The gameplay, while interesting, isn’t quite what it appears to be. The controls aren’t tight enough for the action, and the AI isn’t good enough for the stealth. This leaves you in a kind of janky middle ground, where exploiting weaknesses in the system can almost be as effective as doing what you’re supposed to.
But the problems do little to hamper what is an incredible third-person action experience.
Rats, rats and more rats
There are two parts to A Plague Tale: Innocence. The first is your standard third-person story segment – walk around relatively slowly, speak to people, maybe find a collectable or two. Things kind of seem open world, but then you go around a corner and find your character has inexplicably closed a door that can’t be reopened, and you realise you’re most definitely on rails.
The second part is your standard third-person action segment. Unlike the burly Joel of The Last of Us, here you play a teenage girl, and the gameplay changes accordingly. Stealth is the name of the game. For the most part, this means working out fairly simple puzzles. Avoid killer rats, put out fires so killer rats kill guards, progress.
The entire game is a series of journeys between A and B. Occasionally there’s a quick cutscene to break things up.
The game does a great job of keeping you invested for the most part, although there are segments that outlast their welcome. Each new location brings with it new skills in the shape of new alchemy mixes. New skills allow you to solve new kinds of puzzles. For example, maybe you can put guards to sleep or put out/light fires. There are often multiple ways of solving any given problem, although you’re still limited by your size. Getting spotted is a death sentence.
Now, I should stress, A Plague Tale isn’t going to convince anybody that doesn’t want to be convinced. If you hate this style of game, this is unlikely to convert you.
And that’s why I think it’s easy to give this game the benefit of the doubt. It’s maybe 90 per cent there.
But that 10 per cent can sometimes feel like an impassable gulf.
Press F To Pay Respects
People are happy to forego deep gameplay if it means a great story. And that’s not knocking these types of games, which live and die on their stories. Imagine if The Last of Us cutscenes played between 100 hours of Civilisation-style gameplay or something. The gameplay has to be challenging enough to give the player the illusion of struggle but simple enough that it never holds up the story.
And that’s a fine line to tread. For instance, pressing a button to trigger a cutscene where you pay your respects to a fallen comrade is hilariously meme-worthy. On the other end of the spectrum is the trip through the microwave in Metal Gear Solid 4. The combination of gameplay and drama creates something memorable.
That fine line means your game has to be tight, and too often A Plagues Tale: Innocence isn’t tight. There’s enough jank that maybe that guard you’re hiding from will inexplicably see you. The rock you’re slinging at someone’s head will suddenly miss for no good reason. The next-gen patch and near instant loading times are important here, because if you screw up you can try again in seconds. I dread to think what the Xbox One/PS4 version feels like.
As you unlock more skills, you’re expecting to take on bigger and bigger tasks. The game becomes more action-y in its final hour, and that’s when the flaws really start to shine through. It’s a shame that such a great game leaves a bad taste in the mouth, and all because they wanted some big bombastic final segment.
Problems can be worked through, and the game is by no means broken. It’s just a shame that something that does so much so right gets a few things fundamentally wrong.
Picture and Sound
A Plagues Tale: Innocence is one of the best looking games on console. There are times when it genuinely surprised me. With those basic control issues mentioned above, it almost has no right being as pretty as it is.
Attention to detail on character models is incredible, and lighting and textures are excellent too. Lighting plays an important part in the game, and on my OLED that interplay between bright and dark was as good as anything I’ve seen in a video game.
Medieval France has been truly brought to life here.It’s mouthwatering, bleak and beautiful, all in one brilliant mix.
I was nearly as impressed with the sound. The soundtrack is excellent, to the point where the more haunting tracks stuck in my head for days. At the very least, every song suits, and there are clever uses of music throughout.
I’ve seen some negative comments about the English voice work, and I just don’t understand them. The acting is fine, in the tradition of many films and television shows that use actual young people for their voice work. It’s natural, it’s understated.
I suspect it’s people used to grown women playing all these parts in other mediums, particularly anime, but that’s a shot in the dark to explain complaints that I just don’t understnad.
A Plague Tale: Innocence Review – Conclusion
This is a great game, and proof that Asobo are an incredibly talented studio. It would be easy to let them off the hook, to suggest that this is a great foundation for the recently announced sequel. That’s true, but it’s a poor excuse for small problems that should’ve been fixed for this otherwise wonderful next-gen release.
Intention doesn’t go a long way in reviews, but it’s easy to see what they were aiming for, and it’s easy to see how well what they achieved turned out. But there’s work to do. With tighter gameplay, a superb story and more varied design, the sequel could truly be one of the games of the generation.
But that doesn’t mean you’ll have a bad time with this original game. Quite the opposite in fact. It’s a rollercoaster worth riding – just watch out for the occasional bump in the track.