Reviewed on PC
It’s apparent that A Plague Tale: Innocence took inspirations from the award-winning 2013 game The Last of Us, developed by Naughty Dog. Both feature protagonists having to escort a younger, more “vulnerable” character, both feature a place setting plagued with a deadly disease and both feature a slower pace of gameplay emphasising on stealth.
However, A Plague Tale comes with a twist: instead of featuring a modern setting, it is set in 13th century France with the bubonic plague as the backdrop.
That isn’t the only difference A Plague Tale has from The Last of Us, however. Fans of The Last of Us will find out that A Plague Tale does a lot of things differently to set itself apart from the critically acclaimed 2013 game.
Developed by French game developer Asobo Studio and published by Focus Home Interactive, A Plague Tale: Innocence was released in May for PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4. Players will play as Amicia De Rune, a teenage girl of nobility tasked to protect her younger brother Hugo, who is suffering from a mysterious sickness. Along with the fact that the Catholic Inquisition was after Hugo, and that France was plagued with the deadly bubonic plague-like rat disease, Amicia was forced to make hard decisions for her and Hugo to survive.
Going into gameplay, this is where A Plague Tale presents another difference to The Last of Us. Whereas in The Last of Us stealth is preferable but open combat is viable, in A Plague Tale open combat is rarely an option. Players must navigate their way through levels carefully as detection will most likely end in Amicia’s demise, with enemy soldiers killing Amicia in one hit all the time.
It’s not all sneaking, however, as players can distract enemy soldiers using their surroundings, e.g. throwing a stone to a stack of metal helmets. These small but useful mechanics add another layer into A Plague Tale‘s stealth gameplay, as the game rewards cunning players that take their time and utilise their surroundings rather than blindly charging through the stage.
In spite of the game’s instant-death punishment, Amicia was not completely defenseless. She was armed with a slingshot, which can be loaded with various types of ammunition that can be crafted. With the slingshot, Amicia can kill enemies instantly with a well-placed headshot, albeit with long load time, making it not ideal for open combat.
The slingshot itself can be upgraded along with Amicia’s other gear such as pouches and clothing in a simple crafting system similar to, yet again, The Last of Us. This encourages exploration of the game levels, and the system succeeds in rewarding players that take risks as upgrades feel useful and play a part in making Amicia’s journey less gruelling.
Another game mechanic that readily sets A Plague Tale apart from The Last of Us is the rat horde, ready to devour anything that comes within their vicinity. To keep the rats from gorging her alive, Amicia must ward them off with sources of light, such as torches, or divert their attention from herself, such as dropping a piece of meat for them to eat. This makes the rat horde serve as puzzle mechanics in-game, where players must utilize a variety of ammunitions (shot from the aforementioned slingshot) to clear a path through the game’s terrifying rat swarm.
The mechanic also opens the game up to some disturbingly creative scenarios, such as breaking an enemy guard’s lantern to allow the rats to devour him. Overall, the rat swarm mechanic is a brilliant addition to the game that serves as one of the game’s highlights.
A Plague Tale is not a perfect game, however. There are cases of screen flickering in cutscenes, and even storytelling-wise the game has issues, such as awkward cutscenes courtesy of stiff animation work.
However, those woes don’t prevent A Plague Tale from becoming a great game, and a must-play for The Last of Us fans wanting a similar game that does more than just emulate the 2013 masterpiece.
Final verdict: 8/10.