Breaking News

Review: A Plague Tale is a bleak, tense nightmare that falls into a big trap

Some of the strongest stories in recent memory are about relationships in extraordinary circumstances, specifically relationships between an older person and a child. God of War, The Last of Us, Logan, and more all prove that these are stories that resonate. A Plague Tale follows this formula and finds the heights of those stories but also the lowest of lows of them.
A grim tale of death, survival, and family held up by one of the best female protagonists in gaming.
A Plague Tale: Innocence follows a young teenage girl, Amicia, and her little brother, Hugo, who she barely knows as he has been ill for years and kept locked away until he could be cured. The two are forced to unite together and flee their home when the Inquisition raids their land in an effort to find and kill the boy, believing there’s something dangerous about him.

Dodging both soldiers and unnerving swarms of plague rats, the two must go on a journey in an effort to survive and cure Hugo of his crippling disease. The story of A Plague Tale is definitely the strong point of the game, providing a very dark and grim tale of death, survival, and family.
It has no problem showcasing really gory deaths out the gate, it wants you to know no punches will be pulled. Thanks to its insistence on leaning into the grit, this makes the moments of levity all the more beautiful and charming, they resonate more. If everything was happy-go-lucky or perhaps they didn’t hammer in the horror, these moments that show the heart of A Plague Tale wouldn’t be nearly as special and would likely weaken the characters.

Amicia is also one of the best female characters that you can find in a game. The game builds her up to break her down right away, all so she can build herself up to be even stronger all over again. She’s incredibly smart, crafty, and shows an immense amount of responsibility and maturity despite her youth.
She’s still a kid at heart and there are moments where her innocence shines through for standout sequences that remind you she’s not some hardened adult. They find a way to make her a very believable character, one that’s not overpowered, one that finds the balance of kid and guardian, and one that stands high among other great female protagonists in gaming.

Challenging, tense, and engaging stealth gameplay
Perhaps one of the smartest choices made when making this game was to not allow you to have much combat because you play as a kid. You can defend yourself, you can run, but it’s more often than not going to result in death. This isn’t a stealth-action game where you get a sword, dagger, or a bow and clean house, this is a hardcore survival game where you’re wildly vulnerable and don’t get to pick many fights.
A Plague Tale strives off making you weak but also wants you to approach a lot of combat scenarios as puzzles. You’re equipped with some throwables that do a variety of things like lure rats, burn people’s heads to get them to take helmets off, and you have a slingshot that chucks rocks and whatnot.

You can just go in and fling rocks at people and hope for the best but usually, you’re analyzing your surroundings and seeing the different variables you can play with to move forward. It’s incredibly satisfying to devise a plan and execute it (or wing it and see what the hell happens).
Should you fail, you’ll be treated to a spear in the head or some other violent instadeath if someone gets too close to you. Sometimes this can be an issue as there were several levels that had poor level design where there weren’t enough places for me to hide or navigate without being seen.
I’d end up walking into someone by mistake because they’d turn the corner into me and there was no way for me to know they were coming. Lots of stealth games like to allow you to mark targets so you can track them, that way you don’t get a cheap surprise enemy walking through the same door as you. If there was a chance you could stealth kill the enemy before they can hurt you or alert everyone else, it wouldn’t be much of an issue but it typically results in an instant fatality on your end.

If you’re lucky and are carrying a certain item, it can incapacitate items but it’s a resource heavy object to craft so you probably won’t have it in the majority of those situations.

A Plague Tale: Innocence
An annoying and frustrating child companion that is a sharp contrast to recent gaming companions.

The biggest issue in the game is one that many gamers usually fear. Before God of War and The Last of Us came out, there was a concern that the little kid you’re protecting would be annoying and they’d rely too heavily on you. As we’ve seen now, that was not the case and both characters were very competent.
A Plague Tale? Ehhh, not so much. Hugo is annoying and a frustrating burden throughout large portions of the game. He’s a kid so he doesn’t quite understand what’s going on so he’s constantly asking questions, begging for things, and so on. It gets old, very fast. This could work in a shorter story but this is a probably 10 – 12-hour game, roughly.
There are chapters where he’s not present and those are some of the more enjoyable chapters as you can roam freely without having him chained to your hip. He can’t do a whole lot for you besides open doors, crawl under small spaces, and some other things that become more useful towards the end of the game.

He also slows you down when you’re holding his hand so if there’s a large group of enemies in front of you and you want to take them out, you’ll want to have him stay in one spot. The problem is that if you wander too far (and it’s not very far), he panics and starts to make noise that lures enemies to him.
It’s incredibly aggravating and perhaps that is the point. That having this child is a huge responsibility and can be a lot of trouble but that’s also not particularly fun. The game should prioritize enjoyability over carrying its themes into gameplay because if it’s not something I want to play, chances are I won’t respect/appreciate these themes as much.

A Plague Tale: Innocence
He’s an incredibly frustrating companion and while he has his moments, sometimes Hugo was causing me headaches rather than making me care for him. These are the kinds of things that detract from the drama of his story, if he annoys me, I’m not going to feel as strongly about making sure he gets the care he needs (as awful as that sounds). The connection between Hugo and the player just won’t be as strong.

The Verdict
Despite a troublesome companion that can sometimes bog this stealth title down, A Plague Tale: Innocence is still a very interesting, unique, and haunting tale. It’s one that will likely get overlooked due to not being an AAA game but it’s one that is worth giving the time of day when it’s hitting the right notes.

No comments