Asobo Studio tried to make a budget analogue of The Last of Us, and it did a lot. But not all.
The French company Asobo was founded in 2002, but you, most likely, have never heard of it. Over the past few years, the developers didn’t do anything – they made games under Pixar licenses, they worked on racing arcades like Fuel and The Crew (as support), then they helped Microsoft.
But A Plague Tale: Innocence is a completely different story. This is a short but spectacular storyline game, thanks to which Asobo may well turn out to be a new Dontnod or even some better ones – if the players, of course, give the studio a chance.
Amizia and Hugo
The action of A Plague Tale: Innocence begins in 1349. 15-year-old Amitionia hunts with her father in a colorful autumn forest and does not suspect that after a few hours the Inquisition will break into her house, her parents will be killed, the innocent adolescence will end, and the bright colors will disappear from her life for a long time.
After leaving the threshold of his home with five-year-old brother Hugo, who suffers from an unknown disease, the girl enters the dark world of medieval France, where her parents’ titles do not mean anything, people die from the plague so quickly that their bodies do not have time to bury, and the invasion of rats no longer similar to a natural disaster.
The developers of A Plague Tale do not hide the fact that their game is far from historical authenticity. This is a “fairy tale”, but the fairy tale is not a child at all: the game is full of gloomy details, from which an adult will also tremble. Sometimes the protagonists have to literally roam the mountains of corpses or sacrifice people and animals, just to secure a safe passage from one point to another.
However, the decisions of all the dilemmas remain on the conscience of the characters themselves. In A Plague Tale there is no system of morality or an extensive history. This is a completely linear 12-hour adventure, in which the desire to make “The Last Of Us French” (well, or substitute any other game of a similar genre to your taste) is clearly read.
Stealth and puzzles
According to the trailers, it may seem that Innocence is a “walking simulator”, but in fact it is a full-fledged third-person stealth action game that contains all the popular features of the genre.
The game consists of 17 short chapters, during which the main characters have two main problems – rats and soldiers of the Inquisition. Of course, there are also quite ingeniously implemented bosses, but this is rare.
When thousands of rodents appear on the screen, which studio programmers are deservedly proud of, the time comes for puzzles. Rats in the game are afraid of bright light, and a considerable part of the gameplay is built on this. At first, you simply create islands of security with torches, quickly burning away brushwood and incendiary projectiles, but over time the game becomes more and more complex, and the developers become more and more inventive.
In the end, it comes to giant mechanisms in the spirit of Tomb Raider, where you have to adjust the work of the giant light mechanism, simultaneously fighting off the hordes of rats gathering in small “whirlwinds” (yes, there are supernatural elements in the game).
With people more and more predictable. At first, guards can be quickly killed by throwing stones at their heads with a sling, but over time the task becomes more complicated. In the later stages, soldiers of the Inquisition appear in different types of armor and with different types of illumination (be it a torch, a lantern and a burning stick), so everyone has to look for an individual approach – someone can be killed only with a combination of several shells, and generally only afraid of rats.
If you need to eliminate more than one opponent, you need to think almost like a turn-based strategy. Amiatic runs too slowly, and it takes a long time to reload and aim the sling, so you have to start shooting at enemies from afar – there is a higher chance that they will not have time to run.
Fortunately, the main character has alchemy and crafting to solve such problems. In the course of the passage, Amitia collects useful resources at the levels and makes various types of shells: with the help of some, for example, you can make the soldier take off her helmet and open her head, and with the help of others, distract the rats. In addition, on special machines (and later – and without them), Amice can pump her equipment, although this is rather a tribute to fashion than a really important part of the game.
What A Plague Tale categorically loses to competitors in the gameplay genre, so it is in the openness of locations. In Asobo, there is almost no room for maneuver and improvisation. In fact, the stealth levels here are also puzzles in which you are looking for the only right combination, and given the abundance of gameplay possibilities, this is a bit distressing. If you make a mistake, you can immediately load the previous save — in order not to watch the annoyingly long killing animation.
To the credit of the developers in the last third of the game, they begin to mix the two main components of Innocence coolly: the further the plot develops, the more effective Amitius learns to pit their enemies among themselves. Watching the huge knights, having lost the torch, literally drowning in thousands of rats is a pleasure.
As for Hugo, this is not a full-fledged AI partner. Most often, he either tightly “sticks” to Amice, or executes some of her hard instructions outside the battlefield — other characters are able to do this, but in this respect the game can hardly surprise with something.
Walking with rats
I didn’t just call A Plague Tale “French The Last of Us”. The parallels in this case are obvious – the two main characters of different ages, the most hostile world, the elements of survival and crafting, a completely linear narration and cute minor characters who meet along the way.
However, if The Last of Us takes exactly the plot, scriptwriting skills, then in A Plague Tale the main emphasis is placed on the appearance and atmosphere. The game Asobo Studio most of the time is similar to the paintings of medieval artists, and the gloomy beauty of some locations is truly breathtaking. The game looks and sounds incredible, despite the fact that even on the PS4 Pro image seems a bit “soapy.”
But the plot is not the strongest side of the game. He is not bad, no, and he copes with his main task, but the relationship between the main characters by the standards of the genre seem to be unfinished. The connection between Amice and Hugo is not as strong as between Joel and Ellie, and certainly not as strong as between Kratos and Atreus.
Yes, it’s not quite fair to compare this small game with the Sony releases, but the developers from Asobo clearly labeled this category, and they lacked not only the budget for expensive animation, but also the experience to do everything right. Often, the main character behaves illogically, plot twists are sluggish and easy to predict, and you can’t even really hate the main villain for the final.
With all its flaws, A Plague Tale still flies in one breath for 2-3 evenings. From the abundance of open world games and the service model, such a high-quality and compact adventure is perceived as something fresh and even unusual – the hand does not rise to turn off the console, because you want to know what awaits the main character around the corner to the very last titles.
As for the plot, then you start to treat it more simply because of the word “fairy tale” in the title. This term makes it easy to remove the main claims from the game – both to the schematic narration, which leaves much to the imagination, and to the banality of the struggle between good and evil, to which everything ultimately boils down.
For fans of plot games, the main disadvantage of A Plague Tale can be a rather high price at the start. But perhaps because of the constant transfer of rubles to gameplay hours, the industry is now where it is, and the small French studio that decided to do a non-sequel, non-service and not a game with a well-known franchise deserves more than others. Maybe.