I’ve just played through the first three chapters of Asobo Studio’s upcoming A Plague Tale: Innocence and I’ve been absolutely blown away.
A Plague Tale has been on my radar since it was first announced in 2017. It’s always looked intriguing, but I’ve been reticent to be too excited about it. Its developer, Asobo Studio, is more known for making Disney tie-in games than original IP, so exactly how A Plague Tale would turn out has always been something of a question mark. Not anymore. After spending around two hours with the opening sections of the game, A Plague Tale: Innocence has gone from being a great unknown to potential Game of the Year material.
It’s a bold statement to make based on a preview, but it’s a long time since I’ve sat down with a game, full release or otherwise, and been so quickly impressed by what I’ve seen. In terms of graphics, audio design, characterisation, gameplay, controls; everything about A Plague Tale seems impeccably polished.
The game puts you in the shoes of Amicia, a young woman growing up in medieval France. A Plague Tale wastes no time with long introductions and exposition before the narrative kicks off at full-speed. As soldiers storm her home village, Amicia is forced to flee with her younger brother Hugo, and though the pair are mostly strangers, they’re bound together by the solemn adventure that awaits them.
Almost instantly, A Plague Tale: Innocence‘s narrative drew me in. It raises questions and begs the player to find out more. It reveals that Hugo, no older than five or six, has been a sickly boy since birth, and has been raised in the solitude of his home. He’s barely ever met his sister. Why? The soldiers who arrived at their village seemed to be looking for Hugo in particular. He seems special in some way – but how? Within the first fifteen minutes of playing, A Plague Tale‘s narrative has its hooks in you, and won’t let go.
Amicia and Hugo are both instantly likeable. Well voiced and expertly animated, they feel real, and their bond – although fraught and unsure at times – is palpable. Often, the pair walk hand-in-hand, Amicia ensuring Hugo’s safety at all times. You can command Hugo to hide if you need to move on alone, but during the three chapters I played through, keeping Huge safe is the key task at hand. That means, at times, running away from danger, or moving stealthily from cover to cover without getting spotted.
Yes, I said it: stealth. I’ve been vocal in the past about my disdain for stealth in video games, but A Plague Tale: Innocence‘s implementations of the mechanics are flawless. They’re forgiving, too. You’re always given enough time to sneak from one area to the next, and it never feels trite or forced. Perhaps a group of guards are in conversation, looking the other way – that’s your cue to quickly move along. Sometimes, though, they’ll be directly in your path, so you’ll need to create a diversion. That means throwing a rock, or smashing a pot, a safe distance away, forcing them to investigate the source of the noise.
Moving in and out of cover was never an issue, either. One button makes the pair sneak, and when sneaking, they’ll automatically hide behind walls as you approach. Movements are smooth and meaningful; there’s no erroneous ducking in and out that I’ve experienced in many other games.
There’s a small amount of combat in the opening hours of the game that I played, and undoubtedly more will come later. Obviously, Amicia is young; she doesn’t go toe-to-toe with fisticuffs when she comes up against an enemy whom she must fight. Her main weapon is a slingshot which she can use to fire rocks with. With scope to upgrade the slingshot – and extra inventory slots for more throwable objects, presumably – combat is still somewhat stealth-based. The battle I faced involved dodging attacks, and aiming well-placed slingshot attacks in order to break a soldier’s armour, leaving his head open for a fatal attack.
A Plague Tale is rife with emotion – and it feels believable right from the get-go. There’s no hammy acting in sight, and dialogue always feels well-suited to the scene on screen. The first time Amicia kills a man with her slingshot, her shock and devastation is so apparent that you’ll almost feel it yourself. She gasps; horrified at what she has done – but she has no time to stop and process the scene because she needs to think of her little brother first and foremost.
The game’s rousing soundtrack helps maintain those emotions, too. Its OST is filled with beautifully recorded orchestral numbers, waning and rising in synchronisation with the tone of the game. It’s masterfully composed, and perfectly complements everything on screen.
I think what blew me away most about A Plague Tale: Innocence, though, is just how stunning it looks. I played through the opening sections of the game on an RTX 2070, with settings set to ‘Ultimate’, v-sync on and resolution at 1440p. The game maintained a solid 60 frames per second and rarely faltered, with movement remaining constantly fluid. Animations feel real, and the surroundings are some of the most sublime I’ve ever seen. This is true triple-A quality. From luscious green forests, with each individual leaf standing out in the sheen of the afternoon sun, to dark and muddy back alleys; this is a world that feels alive. A picturesque babbling brook gives way to a deserted town, where wooden doors are marked with white ‘X’s where sick people lay inside. The opening three chapters give a good glimpse of the different types of environments you can expect from A Plague Tale, and each one is as stunning and as beautifully realised as the last.
I can’t remember the last time a full game left such an instant impression on me, let alone a preview. If its first two hours are anything to go by, then A Plague Tale: Innocence is something incredibly special, and I think it’s going to take a lot of people by surprise when it releases later this spring. For me, it’s gone from a mild interest to an absolute must-play. I can’t wait to endure more of Amicia and Hugo’s journey with them, and I’ve no doubt it will be worth the wait.
A Plague Tale: Innocence is set to release on PC, PS4 and Xbox One on 14th May. Pre-order now on Amazon.