Publisher Focus Home Interactive has a catalogue of quality mid-budget titles, such as Greedfall, The Surge series and Asobo Studio’s A Plague Tale: Innocence. Released in 2019 to critical and commercial success, the grim stealth adventure game makes its way to PS5 and Xbox Series with a next-gen update, and also to the Switch via the cloud. As well as running at 4K 60fps and having super-fast load times, the PS5 version makes full use of the DualSense to add to the already horrifying experience.
Set in 1348, players assume the role of Amecia de Rune, the daughter of a French nobleman who must protect her ill younger brother Hugo after their home and family are ravaged by English troops. On the run, they not only have to evade the French Inquisition but also the Black Plague – embodied here as a swarm of terrifying flesh-eating rats.
I must mention that I didn’t play A Plague Tale: Innocence when it first released, so I was blown away at how gorgeous the game is. It’s hugely impressive that a relatively small studio have produced a great technical showcase, with stunning lighting showing off the colourful French countryside and richly-detailed environments looking incredible at 4K resolution. The character’s facial and body animations look spectacular, and even more so thanks to the higher frame rate, with each main character looking and moving in distinct ways.
My first playthrough made me think how on earth anyone played A Plague Tale: Innocence without the DualSense controller. The haptic vibrations simulate each step you take – be it on stone, wood, or on a corpse – but also simulates the oncoming sea of deadly rats. Being able to individually feel each rodent scurry about in their swarms always made for a delightfully horrible experience. Holding down R2 makes Amecia sprint, and the trigger throbs to mimic her quickening heartbeat, adding to the tension as you flee oncoming soldiers or rats.
There are more uses of the haptic feedback and adaptive triggers that really add to the immersion, but the use of 3D Audio was a little disappointing. The quieter areas were more impactful as I could pinpoint exactly where soldiers were, but unfortunately the cacophony of high-pitch screeches from the rats isn’t as tactile. The sound design itself is effectively terrifying, but it sounded more stereo and not as 3D as the rest of the game’s soundscape.
The DualSense features compliment the brilliant writing and performances, and there’s no better example than during the numerous chase sequences. The controller increasingly vibrates as the pursuers close in on you, the trigger throbs more violently as you run, and Amecia desperately calls out how she doesn’t want to die. It makes for some genuinely distressing moments.
With or without the next-gen upgrade, it’s worth playing (or replaying) A Plague Tale: Innocence for the story and characters alone. The first half of the game in particular is outstanding, before the more grand and supernatural plot twists play out in the latter half. Effective gameplay and dialogue clearly communicates just how young and desperate the children are. Amecia is a fifteen year old that is suddenly burdened with impossible tasks in a hostile world, and more often than not her tough exterior slips to reveal the pure panic and dread bubbling underneath.
Huge credit has to go to the performances as well as the writing. Charlotte McBurney perfectly balances Amecia’s range of reactions and emotions: at times she is a desperately fearful child, other times a teen forced to put on a brave face for her younger brother. Hugo could of very easily become an annoying companion but thankfully Logan Hannan does an incredible job of making Hugo an adorable child you’ll do anything for. There is a pure innocence to his voice, and wonder too as he experiences the outside world for the first time.
Thankfully the game balances out the harrowing set pieces with generally heart-warming moments. Although lost and alone at the beginning, Amecia and Hugo meet a handful of characters along their journey and gain some trusty companions. These characters are also children and teens who have lost a parental figure, or never had one to begin with. Each character has their own distinct personality and together they have some great chemistry that injects some much needed optimism in such a dark world.
A Plague Tale: Innocence is a great game on any platform, but playing on a PS5 is absolutely the best way to experience it. This is undoubtedly the best use of the DualSense controller so far outside of a first-party exclusive, adding to the core gameplay experience and heightening the survival horror aspects of the game. Gorgeous, harrowing and captivating, this is a title every PS5 owner should own.
A Plague Tale: Innocence is available now on PC, PS5, PS4, Xbox Series, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch. PS5 owners with a PS Plus subscription can download A Plague Tale: Innocence for free until August 2.