From the same studio that brought us WALL-E the Video Game, Disneyland Adventures, and Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties, we have another totally family-friendly game by the name A Plague Tale: Innocence. The game follows a young girl and her even younger brother on a journey to survive against all odds. It’s a story of family, hope, and rats — lots and lots of rats.
Story-driven game with an actually interesting story. In a world full of battle royales, live service models, and broken launches, it is an absolute pleasure to have something like A Plague Tale: Innocence release. This is a game without any of the gimmicks we usually see from big-budget games. There’s no roadmap for future additions, no micro-transactions, and no online component taking away from the core game. It is a “true” singleplayer experience and it really shows.
However, a game should not be judged based on what it isn’t, and that is exactly where A Plague Tale‘s story comes in. To be specific, this is a story-driven game where the story is actually really good. It takes a setting we don’t usually see in the medium, that being France during the Black Death, and lets us play through the eyes of a 15 year-old girl, giving us an innocent perspective on the whole event. This actually provides for a very cool contrast given the dark nature of the game’s themes, which is only furthered by the fact that the girl’s much younger brother tags along for the ride.
It’s not just the setting and main characters through, the story does so much more. It takes players on a journey through new, cool areas, introduces a variety of well-written characters with their own stories to tell, and manages to do all of this without stumbling along the way. It’s not perfect (more on that later), but it managed to keep me on the edge of my seat for its entire eight hour runtime.
Great aesthetic. A Plague Tale: Innocence is a very aesthetically pleasing game. Given that this is coming from a developer that usually doesn’t work on games like this, I was really surprised with just how visually stunning it is. Throughout the game, you’ll see excellent examples of volumetric lighting, textures sourced from high-res photos, and even animations that actually feel natural. What’s even more surprising is the fact that all of this was done on an engine developed by the studio itself, rather than the popular choices like Unreal or Unity. Digital Foundry has an excellent video on the topic, so I encourage you to check it out if you’re interested in the technicalities. I’ve linked it in the description below.
What the game does visually, however, it also does on the audio front. Take the voice acting for example. It not only manages to capture the fluctuating intensity of the story, but also helps in maintaining that contrast I mentioned earlier. The main character’s younger brother, Hugo, is an excellent example of this. His lines and voice really give the impression of being innocent and naive, even when surrounded by darkness. Voice acting like this really helps in serving up a more immersive story and Plague Tale pretty much nails it.
Aside from the voice acting, there’s also the great soundtrack. You have your simple, more mellow tunes, your ominous, ambient tracks, and even some more action-oriented pieces. However, what makes it even cooler is the fact that the vast majority of the music is done on string instruments, including the cello, guitar, viol, and even the Swedish nyckelharpa. It really goes to show the range of these instruments, providing for a very nice soundtrack that also helps to make the experience that much more engaging.
Top-notch optimization. What makes the game’s great aesthetic that much better is that it actually runs well with it. Given how busy the screen can be at times (especially with the masses of rats running around), one would imagine that the game would have at least some issues regarding optimization, but it simply doesn’t. I maxed out the game on my 1070 Ti and had little issue getting through all eight hours of it. Sure, I did have a couple lag spikes, but even then, the game really sets an example for what we should expect from modern PC games. It looks fantastic and runs well — that’s really all we need — and A Plague Tale does exactly that.
Seamless story-gameplay transitions. As this is a story-driven game, there are plenty of cutscenes and dialogue sequences scattered throughout. Normally, one would consider these an interruption to the actual gameplay, but here in Plague Tale, these transitions are seamless. I would be watching a cutscene for a couple minutes, then suddenly find myself in control of the character, despite there being seemingly no transition. It also works in the reverse, with gameplay also giving way to cutscenes. The game doesn’t do this for every cutscene, but it does so enough that it never really feels like the story is interrupting the flow of the gameplay or vice-versa.
On top of that, the game also provides plenty of HUD options to allow even further customization when it comes to immersion. You have the option of toggling specific elements or even outright disabling all of them, making the transition between cutscene and gameplay that much more seamless. It also serves as a difficulty option of sorts. By default, objects that you need to interact with are highlighted, but with the immersive HUD toggled, this no longer happens. As such, those that want to disable any sort of hand-holding have the option to do so, at least to an extent (as the gameplay is still pretty simple regardless).
Lackluster ending. While I may have praised the story overall, it unfortunately does falter in the last couple chapters. I’m going to avoid spoilers, but I will say that the lead up to that point is nice, but the pacing just ramps up way too quickly at the end, making for an ending that honestly just felt rushed. This seems to be a common trend in story-driven games like this, where it feels like the devs were burnt out and just wanted to wrap up the game. It’s unfortunate really, as this puts a stain on an otherwise great story.
Gameplay issues. Given that this is a heavily story-focused game, I expected the simple gameplay, but even then, it does still have some problems. For example, one such issue is the game’s constant reliance on introducing new ammo types in an attempt to shake things up. Throughout the course of the game, you’re introduced to a variety of new ammo types to take care of different scenarios. One allows you to remove helmets from soldiers, another allows you to put out lit fires, and there’s even one that allows you to temporarily attract rats to a specific area. These are all great in theory, but the game simply does not make use of most of them.
Most of the time, it felt like the game would introduce one of these and have you go through a level designed to make use of it, but after that, its use would be very limited. At that point, some new ammo type would be introduced to take its place. It really felt like the devs were trying to make the gameplay appear more complex than it actually is, when they really didn’t need to.
Aside from that, I also didn’t like how much of the game’s stealth sections felt like they were being recycled from level to level. Even if the scenery changed, some of these segments could really just be plopped down in any level and there would be hardly any difference compared to if it were put in another. Granted, this is a story-driven game with relatively simple gameplay, but even then, it’s pretty hard not to notice it.
Incredibly stupid AI. It’s pretty much tradition at this point for stealth games to have some incredibly dumb AI and Plague Tale is no exception. It hits all of the marks, including NPCs patrolling in stupid patterns, not noticing you when you’re right next to them, and even the classic “oh, it’s probably nothing” when looking at the now-dead body of one of their comrades. It doesn’t impact the story directly, but it does make me feel like I’m up against a bunch of idiots.
When it comes to story and aesthetic, A Plague Tale: Innocence pretty much nails it. Excellent graphics, great voice acting, a good soundtrack, and a story that’s both interesting and immersive. It does falter towards the end and does have some gameplay issues all throughout, but it was a great experience overall and one that I would easily recommend to those that are into story-driven games. It’s rare that we get such a nicely polished singleplayer experience like this and I hope to see more from the studio in the future.
You can buy A Plague Tale: Innocence on Steam here.
I was provided a review copy of the game in order to write this review. Read more about how I do my game reviews here.