A Plague Tale: Innocence was given great reviews when it was first released in 2019, developed by Asobo Studio. Now that it’s released for the Nintendo Switch, PS5, and Xbox Series X/S, we have a whole new set of gamers who should give this tale a try.
This dark yet heartfelt story of two orphans who are trying to survive what is practically the Black Plague is one that shouldn’t be missed if you’re into horror, stealth, or story-based games. Nintendo’s cloud version is something of a hit and miss on some aspects that will make players decide if this is worth buying or passing up.
Amicia and Hugo are brother and sister who have rarely interacted with each other growing up. They are forced to escape their royal lifestyle while being pursued by the Inquisition, an army set to capture Hugo because of a plague ravaging the European setting. With the Inquisition nipping at their heels, both siblings explore destroyed towns, dark crypts, and abandoned castles to find the secrets of this mysterious plague.
A Plague Tale’s story keeps you guessing and wanting more during its chapter-like level design, feeding you tidbits of information about what is truly going on. Amicia, the eldest, is tough and courageous when she needs to be while Hugo the much younger brother allows players to experience the chaos and horror through the innocent eyes of a child. Each death by the hands of Amicia means something to her, as she openly comments on the actions taken to survive and what it’s worth. The choice of whether someone should die so that you can live weighs heavy on the protagonists and is explored very well.
The core gameplay is stealth and puzzle-based. Although there are some great high-tension chase sequences, players will not see any running, gunning, or high-octane action. It’s the slow burn and character development that is front and center. I was dreading the game mechanics that every player hates, say it with me…escort missions. The fact that you must keep your brother safe throughout the story worried me, but it was not what I thought it would be. You hold his hand, literally, through most of the story and felt no need to select the option to have him wait anywhere unless it was needed for the story. A.I. from other characters that join you tend to hide very well and since your brother is always at your side, this was less of an escort game and more of a true stealth game with a tag-along.
Aside from stealthily avoiding the Inquisition, you spend most of your time avoiding rats…lots and lots of rats. These enemies aren’t exactly smart or menacing but rather more of a barrier to the next area. They are what makes A Plague Tale more of a puzzle game rather than horror. Once you have faced them two hundred more times throughout your gameplay, the horror aspect dwindles quickly. I honestly think the only thing I find impressive about the rats is how many can be on the screen at once. I’m not sure if they are all individually rendered (I doubt it, especially with the cloud version) but watching them all scatter about and chase you is notable.
After a while, the threat of them dies down and I found myself wanting to just get through a room quickly to progress the story. Yes, they do introduce other tools slowly as you progress to keep gameplay fresh, but many aren’t necessary or that game-changing. Usually, it’s just items that help distract or repel the rats, or to expose enemy weak points, which the game offers up the materials needed for crafting right then and there to progress, kind of diluting the nature of the puzzle-solving aspect when the game tells you what you need at that moment. It’s not difficult to progress thanks to that, and rather if you find yourself dying a lot, checkpoints are generous, and trial and error will get you by quickly.
Now on to the biggest deciding factor to whether you should play decide to play A Plagues Tale on the Nintendo Switch, Cloud Gaming. Initially, most will notice a graphical downgrade in some respects. The lighting is thankfully amazing and plays an important part in the in-game mechanics. Textures on the environment and even some character models on the other hand can be a bit off-putting, especially when you compare it with next-gen console versions. Sometimes those textures or models don’t load quickly enough to keep up with the cinematics or gameplay. There have been a few times that I’ve run into a barrier or object that hasn’t loaded in, ruining a tense event like avoiding a soldier or getting ready to slingshot their lantern to get them killed.
I’m grateful for those generous checkpoint saves because one aspect I find hard to ignore is that there is no quick resume option that is offered on any other current-gen console such as the Switch. If you put your console to sleep, it will log you off the game. To resume, you must log back into the cloud and resume from the last saved checkpoint. If you make it a habit to stop your playthrough once the game saves, you won’t notice much of an issue unless you have a slow connection. Sometimes it can take quite a few minutes to log in, then wait for more to load your game.
My biggest concern is a stable, constant internet connection. I play a lot of online games and ensure that I have a decent high bandwidth service to play MMOs, online shooters, and stream content. Since the base Switch and Switch Lite don’t allow hardwiring of internet service, you have no choice but to use Wi-Fi. This had caused a slew of playthrough issues. There had been times when cloud connection was “congested”, particularly at certain points of the game which caused me to die…a lot. Once congestion occurs, my wireless game controller went haywire and could not control my character to save my life.
All I could do was either close out my game and restart or wait until it clears up, which is not guaranteed to happen quickly. Even if congestion clears and I am back in the game, there can sometimes be a noticeable lag that affects your timing and stealth, which is important to progress. For example, I had trouble aiming when throwing objects because I could not adjust to the lag properly. After all these connection issues occurred more often, I became impatient and wanting to play less, ruining my experience.
A Plague Tale: Innocence is a great game for those who enjoy stealth, horror, and story. This 8+hour game is highly recommended when the connection wants to work properly. I enjoyed it all, and yet would not recommend this game for the Switch. If you want to play it, try using a physical copy or a system that can handle a LAN connection, such as the new Switch OLED. I understand Nintendo wants more games in players’ hands in any way possible, but it should not be at the expense of the game experience. Cloud gaming still has a long way to go and even with a great internet connection, it can still be unreliable. Try this game with the utmost consideration to not only my experience but anyone else who has tried cloud gaming.
This review was written based on a digital review copy of A Plague Tale: Innocence for the Nintendo Switch provided by Asobo Studio and Focus Home Interactive.