Thanks to PR for the code for this one!

Bleak Death Inspired History

The Black Death, a plague which ravaged much of the world during the 14th Century provides the backdrop for this historically inspired adventure game. It is a game which is both harrowing and extremely gripping at times.

I'm also going to try and not spoil anything for this review, because I went into this totally blind and it was an amazing journey from start to end.

I'll say that out of everything in the game, I found the writing and characterisation some of the strongest in a game of this type. To mention anything about the lives of the protagonists, the antagonists and the characters on the adventure would be a spoiler.

A Plague Tale: Innocence is best experienced with fresh eyes, as much as is possible due to launch trailers and the like.

I'll be talking somewhat about game features and mechanics, but not diving too deeply into this single player only title.

I'm also going to praise the auto-save system and the way it checkpoints - though I did have a couple of moments where I think there should have been a few more checkpoints, mainly to smooth out some of the parts of the game where the mechanics fray a little.

Amecia, Hugo and the Rats

You are cast in the noble shoes of Amecia De Rune, a young noble girl, who lives a carefree life away from the horror of the 'Bite' which ravages most of France during this time in history. Plague Tale is a third person game and you can immediately see that Asobo Studios has taken a lot of care to ensure that Amecia moves really well and her controls are fairly responsive.

It's also a puzzle game, where you'll be pitting your wits (later on) against human foes and rat swarms alike.

Amecia has her trusty sling and her little brother, a bunch of rocks and a passing knowledge of alchemy to serve her on this journey.

Now Hugo, her brother, might come across as millwheel around the kid's neck at first, but thanks to solid character-driven story writing and game mechanics which include him, he soon begins to grow on you. Bear in mind though, he's only 5, and he gets scared easily. You can lead him by the hand, help him over walls, and leave him safely in tall grass.

Stray too far though, he gets scared, and he'll give you away.

See, it's not just rats that you need to worry about, but the soldiers of the Inquisition who are looking for you both - for reasons which will be made clear as the story progresses and that's all I'm going to say on that story beat.

Amecia can distract them with thrown rocks against interactive locations in the world, throw pots to lure them away and sneak around.

It's a game about choices, picking your battles, and knowing that you don't have a regenerating health bar.

If you want to know how much damage Amecia can take before she dies?

One arrow, or one sword hit, you're dead.

Spend too long in a rat swarm, you're dead.

It's a hard game in that regard, but for the most part you're going to die a lot if you just rush in without thinking and forget to observe a situation before you act. Stealth is key here, and the stealth mechanics are good enough to let you get around without being spotted -- though the guards are quite observant and archers doubly so.

Pick your battles...

It might be tempting to throw a rock at that horrible soldier's head, break his skull, but what happens if he's got friends?

You're only a child, and so is your brother. Who can also be found and murdered by soldiers, so don't think an NPC here is safe. You'll get a message and an icon to show you an ally is under attack, and if you can't do anything, or you don't act quickly enough... they die and you'll be thrown back to a checkpoint.

It's quite refreshing to play a character who is basically surviving with her wits, a trusty sling, and the odds are stacked against her at every turn. It's different to say the demon hunter, tech-monster slayer, or monster slayer who has an arsenal of weapons and powers at their disposal.

It's a girl and her brother against the world, pretty much.

Hugo can also interact with certain objects in the world, and Amecia can give him orders via the d-pad. It's simple, effective and works like a charm in terms of the actual mechanics.

Makeshift Arsenal

As the game and story progresses, Amecia gains more and more tricks to deal with situations and problems. Her sling can be used to hurl rocks, but it's very loud and prone to drawing guards if you're not quick off the mark loosing that rock into their skull.

Fortunately, there's a simple crafting system, which sees Amecia picking up tools and materials to upgrade her arsenal. Upgrades are possible when you find a workbench and you've collected enough materials in the environments to achieve an upgrade. I'll let you find out upgrades for yourself, but they're all pretty useful and there's no filler here.

At the end of the game I was able to get all but a few of them, so you might need to prioritise what you upgrade.

The things you use to upgrade are also the very things you use to craft your ammo for the sling, which in true Garrett style from Thief can be used to put out torches or ignite them.

You'll see.

The Bite

One of the true stars of the show, rather like the horde mechanics from Day's Gone or World War Z, are the rats in this game. These glowing eyed terrors are able to swallow you in a morass of biting/gnawing teeth quite quickly and strip the flesh from your bones in the time it takes you to say: reload...

They don't like fire though, or light, so this is where some of the more interesting puzzles come into play - when you're not dealing with human looters or troublesome bandits. The rats will come for you if you're in the dark and they can see or smell you. They'll probe areas where there's little or no light and if you stray too far for even a few seconds.

You're dinner.

A Puzzle Tale

I really enjoyed the puzzles in this game, and whilst there wasn't an obvious solution at times. If I left things too long, Amecia or an NPC made a reference to something to give me a heads up.

I appreciate that style of game design, loved it in the Uncharted games.

Beautiful Vistas and Environmental Storytelling

A Plague Tale: Innocence is a dark game at times, the themes are mature, and the story is bleak and harrowing. The environments and aesthetics of this game marry perfectly to the story beats and there are moments where the game is starkly beautiful as well. It's a linear experience brought to life with stunning vistas and plague-ridden streets, where you're funnelled through the story areas and also left to find alternate paths and hidden locations in each environment.

In many ways it's a breath of fresh air from the open worlds we've become so used to.

Every single place you can go has a small story to tell if you look at the level design, again, it's a lovely trick of environmental storytelling.

At times, the game is truly a visual feast and truly spectacular looking.

A Cast of Many

There are a lot of characters in a Plague Tale, and the cut-scenes are well done, dropping you back into the game once they're over in a slick and smooth manner. The animation quality in the game is top notch, the movement, the combat animations and the way Amecia reacts as a character to her environment is extremely good, in fact it's some of the best story-driven animation I've seen.

There's a moment where I really felt for her, which comes a little way after the prologue, and when you get to it you'll possibly see what I mean.

It's a true moment where you see her character shine through, and who she is.

Orchestral Moments

Married to the superb story, visual design, excellent sound work and characterisation is a soundtrack which counterpoints everything perfectly. This music is aware of the situation, has been crafted to bring the story to life and works remarkably well.

The Voice of the Story

I'm impressed with the voice work, and characters of Amecia and her brother. I'm impressed with the level of voice work found in the game, and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to all the performances as I became swept along in the story. The voice work here is top notch and puts many AAA games to shame.

A Fantastic Dark Adventure

With solid controls, no crashes, no frame-drops and only a couple of frustrating moments where I didn't quite manage to whirl a stone or two in time during a particularly tough encounter (boss fight)... a Plague Tale: Innocence is a truly spectacular (if somewhat bleak) piece of entertainment. Checkpoint saves at regular intervals and different difficulties mean you can play the game and enjoy it based on your preference, especially if you want to see the story through to the end and not have to worry about it being overly hard or too frustrating - even at the bit where I was grumbling at the controller.

Load times are fairly short, so you're not left hanging after you make a few mistakes.

Whilst Amecia and her brother are the stars of the show, their dynamic is incredible, and the way they interact grows through the story. The rats are a suitable and terrifying counterpoint to the pair and they bring with them a sense of horror to the scenes they're involved with.

Combine the rats, the Inquisition, and other elements together and you're going to be tested in the way you think your way out of situations.

It's great stuff.