- Developer: Asobo Studio
- Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
- Genre: Adventure, Action, Cinematic
- Released: 6th July 2021
When rats invade the cloud…
Game of Bones
A Plague Tale: Innocence tells the story of a teenage girl, Amicia, and her illness-stricken little brother, Hugo, as they attempt to survive and make sense of the world after a series of unfortunate evens robs them of their home and family. Set in the medieval ages, and definitely inspired by the period of the black death, A Plague Tale: Innocence attempts to draw the player in with strong character-driven narratives as well as a detailed backdrop for events to take place in.
The game’s story (if you can’t already tell) is no walk through a blooming garden path. Every event Amicia is thrown into is ultimately bleak and dour. Small lighthearted sections are scattered throughout the story’s timeline, which only serves to further highlight the heavy and depressing atmosphere present everywhere in the game. An Acedamy Award winning formulae indeed, as evidenced by the amount of awards falling into this game’s lap during its prime.
Charted Uncharted Territory
The game is a third person (mainly stealth) action adventure game, with a heavy focus on narrative linearity. One series that more or less popularized this particular genre would be the Playstation’s Uncharted series. If you’ve played anything from that series, you’ve more or less got an idea of how this third-person action adventure game will feel like. Less guns though.
As briefly mentioned, there is a heavy emphasis on stealth. Amicia isn’t the most durable of characters, she being an ordinary teenage kid. Should you happen to run afoul of your enemies, it really is just a matter of seconds before you get handed in your life’s pink slip. Fortunately as you make your way through the game, you unlock methods of distraction to aid you; as well as the ability to craft a slingshot with various ammo to help you take down the occasional organic obstacle. Ammo is however truly in short supply meaning that avoidance would be your primary tactic. If you’re not a fan of stealth gameplay, this should be noted.
Another major portion of the game would be that for a lot of the time, you’re also on an escort mission where you have to lead your brother around to safety and all. What helps mitigate a lot of frustration would be that you’re able to take your brother by the hand. This would allow you get to effectively gain control of the escorted AI reducing potential slip-ups should it be left to its own devices. Still, I found the best parts of the game to be when you’re exploring on your own without a little burden… sorry, little brother to nanny along from one checkpoint to another.
“No no no, that didn’t happen…”
One cannot leave discussion of narrative heavy action games without addressing the ludonarrative dissonance painted all over. The heavy focus on story and narrative means that playing these games is more akin to reading a book, or watching a movie as the developers have a fixed story they wish to tell. However the very nature of video games means that oftentimes the player’s decisions influence the way a story is told, and sometimes this clashes with how it was originally meant to be. In some genres, this clash between two narrative positions is less pronounced, but in this game, it’s not so.
One example would be that deaths in the game feel odd and weird. Consider the fact that you’re playing a main character in the story. Should you fall afoul of the game’s mechanics and succumb to a ‘game over’, there is no effort done to explain this discrepency. Instead, you’re zipped back to one of the game’s (fortunately relatively frequent) checkpoints to try again.
This, coupled with some of the game’s more hectic sections where the you are forced you to run away from danger at high speeds while navigating through maze-like corridors blind, makes quite a number of deaths feel out of place. Turn down the wrong path, or run past a vital detour in your panic? When Amicia re-spawns after all that kerfuffle, it all feels like you’re viewing an alternate dimension down a different pants leg in the Trousers of Time. It leaves an unsettling feeling when the one Amicia you play continues over the invisible corpses of her past versions.
This really is a personal gripe I have against this genre I realize; however there have been prior attempts to address this issue. One very notable example being the Prince’s lapse of memory over each death in Prince of Persia: Sands of Time as he narrates his journey. It’s such a simple, yet elegant solution that I’m quite surprised it hasn’t been more widely adopted. Instead you get a ‘You Ded‘ screen before the character you play spawns once more to try for you to try and not die again. Pet peeve perhaps, but it really leaves an odd aftertaste as I play through the game.
Moving on to a more relatable aspect of this particular genre, the characters you play have preset personalities. The amount of enjoyment you get from these games really boils down to whether you like the characters that you play with. In the case of Uncharted 1-3, Nathan Drake really did not appeal to me and it made playing those games feel like a slog just to get to the end. In this game, it’s not as bad, but I couldn’t mesh with Amicia well. I felt quite detached playing though the game and as a result the story didn’t really click with me. Perhaps if I was watching this as a movie? But as a game, I just wasn’t feeling its story hit home as much as it probably should have.
The Switch version of this title is (to me) unfortunately a cloud-only version. This means that what you’re actually buying is an indefinite license to stream the game onto the Switch for as long as the servers hosting the game remains alive. And at USD$35.99, that’s quite the price to effectively ‘rent’ the game. Not as bad as say Control or Hitman cloud versions (full ‘Triple AAA’ price), but still way above anything reasonable for this kind of purchase.
Debates on ownership of digital/cloud titles aside, there is also the other issue of performance. The worst enemy you will face in this version of the game isn’t the rushing blind through unfair sequenced chases. Nor is it your AI companion accidentally wandering into enemies’ path, if you plan right anyway. It’s the following:
I wouldn’t exactly say that the internet speeds over this side of the world is poor, but then again it’s not great as can be seen in this small gallery:
Yeah. I made it over halfway through the game before I gave up hoping and just accepted that cloud gaming truly isn’t the future. Unless you love staring at warning screens plastered through your play-through, then by all means. This is why that recent Kingdom Hearts news for the Switch kills me to the core.
Also, despite using the cloud to stream games, they stream poorer versions of the game for Switch? If you’re going to muddy the visuals and have it be this compromised online, I’d rather wait several years and drop money on an offline port instead. Fortunately the audio seems to have made it relatively unscathed through, showing good use of foley for the game’s various sound effects. Music is rather sparse and atmospheric, making it unmemorable.
Lighter than air
All in all, if you’re looking for a bleak and more or less miserable story to keep you warm as you sneak around enemies to safely make it from checkpoint to checkpoint, while marveling at set pieces and scripted chases, then this game would be up your alley. For the average person, I would weigh the various aspects against each other. It’ll come down to how you feel about cloud gaming for this particular version. And to that, I can easily recommend you hunt for something else to play. If you’re looking for a game to give you dread, I heard that there was one particular title starring a particularly famous bounty hunter that might just do the trick.
0.5/5 – If you don’t have your heads in the clouds, maybe this might be a 2, or even 3. I really cannot recommend cloud versions however, especially if the infrastructure isn’t ready for a large player-base and logistics that doesn’t span more than a handful of established countries.
Available now $35.99
(purchase option is within the application itself)
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*a review copy has been generously provided for this review