Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Asylum Reviews: A Plague Tale: Innocence [Xbox One].

Asobo Studio's A Plague Tale: Innocence is a morbid story of children having to deal with the horrifying after-effects of the plague, and the swarms of rats who caused it. Set in 14th century France you play as Amicia, daughter of Lord Robert de Rune. The game starts with the two of you walking through trees with your faithful dog, Lion, when he chases after a boar. Shortly after, you lose sight of him and upon tracking down the boar - which has now been almost completely devoured - you see your dog wounded. This is where you are first introduced to the rats as they suddenly drag Lion deep underground, but you have no idea the extent of their power just yet. From promo materials and trailers, we know that the duo we follow is not Amicia and her father, no, it is Amicia and her younger brother, Hugo.

You haven't spent much time with your brother throughout his life. He has been hidden away, under the watch of your mother Beatrice, due to illness. In light of the current circumstances, your father orders you to go speak with your mother, where we are introduced to Hugo. The relationship between brother and sister is distant, almost like strangers, but as expected for how they've been separated for almost their entire lives.

As the game progresses, the relationship between Amicia and Hugo grows. Initially, dragging him through plague-ridden villages when he wants to explore (as most five-year-olds would), Amicia is frustrated and sees him as nothing more than a brat that is going to get them both killed, but this changes as time goes by and she becomes almost motherly towards him. Being an only child, I missed the sibling bond/rivalry/all out war that is an ever changing theme in households, but having two kids of my own (reversed in age/gender order to the kids here), and seeing how they switch from being sworn enemies to best of friends and back again, the way Amicia and Hugo interact feels genuine.

For the most part you play as Amicia whilst holding Hugo's hand, walking with and guiding him along the way which can make some sections of the game feel quite slow in comparison to other free-er segments of running or not having Hugo by your side. There are puzzles that sometimes require actions to be given to Hugo, or other secondary characters, to mix things up a little bit and require a bit of fore-thought as to how your actions will affect things. Using a bunch of different ammunition types you'll learn new ways to defeat enemies. Supplies can be found throughout levels, but often increase in amount near to where enemies will be so you can be sure that a bunch of enemies will either be just around the corner, or will come out of a building in front of you if you find a bag of rocks and other supplies such as alcohol or sulphur conspicuously placed when you enter a new area.

Enemies in the game come in two main forms... the Inquisition, and the rats. A single blow from any of the Inquisition will kill Amicia, reverting you to the last checkpoint unless you have a Somnum, a type of ammo that can silently knock enemies out, but can also be used as a last ditch attempt at survival if an enemy is about to kill you.

Being smart about conserving ammo and not making more to keep you with a full stash at any given moment is something I wished I had known at first. As soon as I was coming across materials, I'd craft ammo to keep a full stock but this unfortunately impacted my ability to fully upgrade my Sling and my Equipment. Also, not having upgraded pockets meant that if materials were found on the ground, I was wasting potential supplies by always picking up instantly to craft. If I had only space for 1 more rock, a bag of 3 rocks would still be picked up, but with only 1 rock added to my inventory. I kicked myself for this a couple of times, after realising I was short by 1 item to upgrade something and cursing myself for all of the recently picked up items or recently (unnecessarily) crafted ammo.

The titular Innocence can be seen in Hugo, though its a wonder he has any left by the end of the game after all that he has seen and done. The game is memorable, with an interesting story and emotional moments throughout. Character deaths impacted me more than expected, with one particular death really feeling like a punch in the gut after feeling a bond with them.

Overall, I really enjoyed A Plague Tale: Innocence with only a few minor gripes: a couple of glitchy moments, that there's slow loading times for each chapter, and that death animations were quite samey, with most of my deaths having the same action of an Inquisition member knocking me down followed by a downward swing of their weapon before it cuts to black; or by the rats engulfing Amicia, bringing her down as she reaches her left arm up before collapsing fully into the rats. Granted, the rats are terrifying and completely swarm you the way cartoon piranhas shred around a hand as it is plunged into water. 

In the end, we decided to give A Plague Tale: Innocence the Collecting Asylum rating of 7/10. The higher price point (currently £44.99 on Xbox Store, although cheaper to buy physical in a few places) might turn a lot of people away, but I'd really recommend you to give it a go, even if you wait for it to drop in price a little.

Have you played it? What did you think of it?
Let us know in the comments below!

- V x

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