|A Plague Tale: Innocence|
|Publisher||Focus Home Interactive|
|release date||May 2019|
|Genre||Adventure game, action|
While the giants of the gaming industry are churning out game-services with different variations of online and paid in-game elements, the French company Focus Home Interactive is gathering talented developers who know how to surprise with interesting projects. Over the past couple of years, the publisher has released Call of Cthulhu, The Council, Vampyr, Styx: Shards of Darkness, and many other projects. Not all of them came out bright and successful, but each had a certain identity and originality within its genre. The game A Plague Tale: Innocence from Asobo Studio looked intriguing and promising even at the stage of preliminary trailers, but the result exceeded expectations. Instead of a good genre adventure, we got one of the best games of 2019, which draws you in from the first minutes and does not let go until the very end.
A Plague Tale takes place in medieval France in 1348. Somewhere there is a protracted war, but the life of the noble de Rune family still seems calm and quiet. Young Amicia, along with her father, walks through the forest, enjoying the beauties of the local nature and simultaneously honing the skills of throwing stones with a sling. A pleasant stroll with jokes and hunting sets a light tone for the story and creates a light-hearted feeling.
Everything changes with an unexpected event — the missing dog is found dead. And back home, Amicia will soon face even greater danger. We barely have time to take a look around our native estate and talk with our mother, when an armed detachment of the Inquisition, led by a formidable knight clad in armor, bursts into the courtyard.
A quiet life turns into tragedy and the loss of loved ones. Amicia narrowly escapes the massacre by saving her younger brother Hugo. They manage to slip out of the estate and make one last dash to the river to get away from the persecution. Behind him is a ruined house, ahead of him is complete uncertainty and hope for occasional help. The sister and brother begin to search for a familiar doctor, and this path will be fraught with even greater upheavals and terrible trials.
The children who had little contact before the tragedy became the closest people. Amicia takes care of her brother, but sometimes gives vent to anger. And little Hugo, suffering from a strange illness, is sometimes naughty and shows character. But in a dangerous situation, they can only rely on each other. Small children’s disputes are accompanied by small mise-en-scenes, where the brother rejoices in communicating with animals or gives his sister a found flower. These are living children with living characters, so the story shown gives rise to an emotional response and evokes empathy.
But A Plague Tale is not a simple drama. As the story progresses, the game becomes more and more gloomy and even grotesque in some of its manifestations. The feeling of medieval authenticity is replaced by mystical motives. A personal tragedy is superimposed on a large-scale threat from a rat invasion, where mystical secrets and old curses act as a link in all ongoing events.
It is rats that are the main threat, against which the rest of the dangers fade. Their activity is manifested even at the initial stages, but only after a while a full-fledged invasion begins. Swarms of rodents devour fields littered with the dead bodies of soldiers, they break through passages to farms and cities, spill into the streets and fill the dungeons. The swarming mass looks menacing and creepy. This is an insatiable element that is ready to devour any living creature that unwittingly fell into a living quagmire of toothy predators. And the further the story develops, the more important this rat element, which acquires mystical features, becomes more important.
The gameplay requires stealthy actions from the heroes. Amicia takes cover behind boxes and large objects, holding her timid brother. If they are moving together, one must not forget about Hugo so that he does not start to panic. Therefore, we wait for a moment and quietly move from cover to cover or through thick grass, avoiding prying eyes.
If you need to distract a guard, you can throw a pebble at a chest of armor, throw a pot aside, or perform some other deception maneuver to take the enemy out of the desired area. In some places you need to move objects to climb obstacles. The brother, on instructions, can climb through small holes to open the door from the other side.
Fire plays a key role in the confrontation with rats, since these creatures are only afraid of light. Scaring away hordes of rodents with a torch, you have to make your way through their swarming masses. Any burning stick will help in survival, but it quickly goes out. Therefore, you need to kindle large braziers and fires, using torches and throwing fire projectiles.
Many episodes are built on the systematic overcoming of the rat zones through phased interaction with fire sources. Sometimes it turns into puzzles where you need to move mechanisms and give orders to your partner in time. Many other situations also require joint action when you step by step solve a problem with a friend.
As for the companions, different heroes will join us in the course of the adventure. And each such character has certain skills that can be used in the game. For example, the son of a blacksmith can knock out soldiers, which is beyond the strength of the fragile Amicia. But for this you need to get close to the victim from the back and send a partner to her.
The heroine can stand up for herself with the help of a sling. Throwing stones is very effective if hit on the head. Initially, the game does not encourage such actions, but already the final levels are saturated with so many enemies that a direct conflict cannot be avoided.
In addition to ordinary stones, you can throw fiery projectiles. Then it will be possible to build small bombs and potions to put enemies to sleep. All skills are unlocked in stages, and to create the necessary arsenal items, you need resources that you collect in locations. There is also a pumping system that allows you to improve your sling skills, the capacity of your bag for equipment and ingredients, etc.
There are few pumping directions, but they all play an important role, which makes you be more careful when examining levels. Sometimes you can take a chance and go to a dangerous place for the sake of loot flickering in an ajar chest. On the other hand, it is not a required element. The lack of improvements can be compensated by being careful when using projectiles and being careful when fighting groups of enemies.
Rats can also turn into weapons. If you lure a guard into a dark place and put out his torch, he will quickly go to feed the swarming mass. The manipulation of light and rats are key elements of the game mechanics throughout the game.
Sometimes Amicia has to fight armored bulls. Such bosses cannot be defeated with simple pebbles, you must first bring down the armor. And some can only be defeated with the help of a horde of rats.
Local stealth and action suffer from petty conventions. The game does not allow you to go beyond the proposed corridor of possibilities, forcing you to strictly adapt to the actions of enemies. And if there is a safe passage, then only at one fork, and any attempt to pass in a different way will lead to collapse. Computer dummies have a weak intellect and are sometimes indifferent to the fact that their partners are being gnawed by rats. At some points, problems may arise due to a blurry differentiation between light and dark areas. I also had difficulties with the penultimate boss, when the final stage of the attack of the rats did not start, but after the reboot the fight was resolved quite quickly. In the final battle, it is difficult to navigate because of the huge mass of swarming animals.
Graphics and sound are top notch. The picture is detailed. The importance of lighting is emphasized by the good visualization of lighting effects. And the local landscapes are frankly pleasing to the eye.
The developers overdid it a little with the effect of chromatic aberration, which adds lens distortion at the edges. It is better to lower this parameter to a minimum. At the same time, you can slightly reduce the level of smoothing. These operations will improve image clarity, but will not affect overall performance.
Great musical accompaniment perfectly complements the gloomy atmosphere. Anxious cello and hysterical violin are organically combined with what is happening on the screen.
The game has serious system requirements, so we conducted a comparative test of a group of graphics cards from AMD and NVIDIA. Our standard test configuration for video cards is used (description here).
As a test scene, a walk through the forest at the beginning of the first chapter was chosen. Such forest locations with rich lighting are the most difficult and resource-intensive. A series of repetitions was performed for more accurate results.
Let’s compare budget models in 1920×1080 resolution at high and maximum quality settings. The final graphs use results from the recent Radeon RX 5700 XT review and Video Card Games 4.
The GeForce GTX 1060 struggles with Ultra quality at 1920×1080, and the Radeon RX 580 scores even lower. Here you need a video adapter no weaker than the GeForce GTX 1070.
With the settings down to high, the GeForce GTX 1060 easily hits 60 fps in a heavy test scene. The younger GeForce GTX 1060 with 3 GB is minimally inferior to this option, which is slightly faster than the Radeon RX 580. For Full HD with high and maximum settings, the game needs 2 GB of video memory.
Now let’s look at the performance at high resolutions, where older models are involved.
For 2560×1440, the Radeon RX 5700 XT and GeForce RTX 2070 are sufficient. Radeon VII and GeForce GTX 1080 Ti consistently deliver over 60 fps.
With Ultra settings in 4K, only the GeForce RTX 2080 Ti can adequately cope. For other video adapters, you will have to lower the settings to a high level.
A Plague Tale: Innocence is a great original game full of French expression, tragedy and mystical motives. The story of runaway children evokes deep emotional empathy, and the plot throws up surprises until the very end. The gameplay offers a combination of stealth with action elements, which, perhaps, looks rustic and suffers from game conventions in places, but you absolutely don’t want to scold the game for such trifles. This is a vivid memorable story with a unique atmosphere. One of the best games of 2019 that will be remembered for a long time.