A Plague Tale: Innocence was a standout offering at last year's E3. We would know, we talked to the developers at Asobo Studio at the show. We left so impressed that it won one of our 'Best of E3' awards. With A Plague Tale: Innocence now only a few months away, I was able to get hands-on with an updated build. So, get your terrifying plague doctor masks on and let's get stuck right in.
A Plague Tale: Innocence takes place in medieval France, during a period of great turmoil and danger. The start of the hundred-year war, the inquisition and the plague culminated in dark times. Fear gripped the entire country, and death was all too common. You play as Amicia De Rune, a teenager belonging to one of France's noble houses. She must escort her sickly brother Hugo to safety through the plague-ridden streets of their country, avoiding rats, the inquisition and even xenophobic citizens.
A Plague Tale: Innocence is already shaping up to be an emotionally intense experience. There is a great amount of focus on the personal feeling of each of the characters. Throughout both cutscenes and gameplay, the camera focuses on important expressions and character moments. Visually it goes beyond cinematic to really get to the characters inner emotions. The linear levels allow for a tighter focus on character and narrative. This has resulted in specific events rather than a player-driven narrative. In many ways the lack of choice makes the game feel more intentionally designed.
Gameplay is from a third-person perspective, blending together stealth, combat and puzzle elements. If you had to call it something, it probably falls into the unhelpfully vague ranges of the action-adventure genre. Your time in these early moments divides between running away from threats, creeping around to avoid being caught and using light and boxes to solve various puzzles. There are a few points where you have to stand and fight your enemies, but the focus is more on the flight than the fight.
A Plague Tale: Innocence really presents the player with a sense of vulnerability. Playing as quite young characters means that you're quite overwhelmed in most situations. On top of that, you have to protect your younger brother, often holding his hand as you run through danger. While this might conjure up nightmares about the dreaded "escort mission", it actually ends up working quite well. Plague Tale is built around the pair working together, and honestly, most of the difficulty seems to come from danger to your main character rather than your companion.
That's not to say that my time with A Plague Tale: Innocence was completely without annoyance. I occasionally died because the character's foot strayed vaguely into some rats. It didn't happen all that frequently and it was mostly during hunting for extra items. Crafting feels more like a limited, yet realistic way of leveling up the main character than an experience point system. Instead of magically gaining more powerful legs or tougher skin you use items you find to get harder armor or more efficient weapons. The crafting system also fits with the realistic approach taken by the narrative.
The swarms of rats are by far the most dangerous obstacle that you come up against.There are also going to be a decent amount of collectibles if the preview build is anything to go by. There are several different collections of items you can find scattered around the levels. These different items present their own chunks of flavor text. These collectibles provide information about life at the time in general, as well as some personal histories of the various characters. It's a nice touch that adds some incentive to explore the levels and peak into every nook and cranny.
Sadly my time with A Plague Tale: Innocence was over far too quickly. The first 3 chapters, including the prologue, ran me about an hour and a half and managed to show off a decent amount of mechanical variety. The combination of stealth, puzzles and fleeing gameplay gelled together very well, and the very occasional combat keeps Plague Tale from repeating itself. The gameplay elements are all tied together by a very compelling narrative and I for one cannot wait to see where it goes on release day.TechRaptor previewed A Plague Tale: Innocence on PC via Steam using a copy provided by the developer. The game will launch on May 14th.