The Focus Home Entertainment What's Next was full of new things to try, and even there was an entire wall decked out with teaser-poster titles not even announced. And yet, despite the goodness of the merchandise, the undisputed star of the event was undoubtedly A Plague Tale: Innocence: the title realized by Asobo coming next fourteen May. The hands on followed each other one after the other, but in the small booth themed by the developers the crowd never drained, always attentive – like at the stadium – at each new session. And we can only agree, because experience has caught us to the point that when our turn came, they had to forcefully pull the pad out of their hands.
Now let's take a step back, since, despite the enthusiastic reactions of the public, there may still be someone around who doesn't know the focus of Focus. Well, A Plague Tale is an action-adventure in the third person with strongly narrative connotations combined with a solid puzzle-solving component; is developed by a small studio in Bordeaux, which after having worked for years on the videogame adaptations of the Pixar films, has completely changed the regime, realizing a title imbued with dramatic contents and extremely dark context. We have seen numerous presentations in the last year, but this time we have been able to play it in depth (and above all from the beginning), finally testing the real depth of the work. Now it's late, we talked too much: it's time to take you by the hand, exactly like Amicia with little Hugo, to take you to one of the darkest ages in human history …
Little Dark Age  It is 1349, the Kingdom of France is in the grip of the black plague and the aftermath of the war against England, but there is still a small area where the smell of death has not yet arrived. The game opens among the autumn forests of the province, with our protagonist Amicia (just fourteen) intent on a cheerful picnic with her father.
From the jargon to the gestures, everything suggests that we are dealing with a rich family, and in fact it is like this: they belong to an important family, and although from some jokes – perfectly settled – the tension of the war in the distance is intuited , the atmosphere remains calm and relaxed. The time of the smiles lasts long enough to introduce the characters, and in less than fifteen minutes the situation changes drastically. There is still no tangible trace of that ocean of rats that we all know: an apt choice, which increases the mystery and leaves time for the narrative to focus on the human threat and its irrational madness.
After a dramatic event, that with a bit of mystery only lets us foresee the extent of the catastrophe, Amicia is forced to return to the family estate: at that very moment the inquisition breaks in and spreads panic. The protagonist must therefore escape with her little brother and change her noble dress with the popular one, much more dirty but less conspicuous. And here is the first fundamental point of the plot: the two protagonists do not know each other despite the bond of blood that unites them, because they have been separated because of the illness (not specified) that hit Hugo at an early age.  It is a great excuse to increase their relationship in the course of the adventure, and it is no coincidence that the developers reveal to us that the heart of the narrative consists precisely in this. The dialogues, enthralling but always very dry and mature, often take the turn of the family drama, that of a sister who has to explain the great human tragedy to a child who, in reality, knows nothing about it. And that's how in their relationship we find a bit of Brothers A Tale of Two Sons, and even The Last of Us, and believe it: the comparison is very apt.
The two run away through the burned fields, and end up in a village torn by the plague. Here they are recognized and hunted like animals by the inquisition and by the plebs in full delirium of persecution. The tragic representation also passes through the strong contrast between the innocent innocence of the two children, inextricably linked to their social background, and the ruthless brutality of the mass, which does not think about it more than an instant before shouting " at the stake ". Yet there does not seem to be a specific judgment, nor an excess of morality, and this is what makes the development of the plot authentic: an element that we appreciated very much.
Later on the situations will change, so the enemies will no longer be only the villagers armed with pitchforks but heavily armored soldiers, and apparently even the element " magic ", which for now it seems well cushioned by the realism and harshness of the context. We learned with joy from our interviews with the authors that there will also be plenty of locations to visit: the chapters of the campaign will be seventeen, for a total duration that is around 12-15 hours but the settings will even be more, and if the technical quality remains on the levels we have tested, we will be amazed.
On the graphic front, in fact, A Plague Tale makes a magnificent figure, demonstrating a visual richness and an artistic direction decidedly above the average . Despite the realistic features, and a proprietary engine that performs well but without miracles, what appears on the screen is really impressive, sometimes superb. The level of detail, like that of the textures, is very high, not to mention the accuracy in the realization of the models (especially the architectural ones), which could teach many productions with much higher budgets.
Between the puzzle and lo stealth
A Plague Tale is configured as a linear advancement adventure, based on stealth and the use of dynamics related to the small co-protagonist, directly correlated to environmental puzzles. Hugo seems very cooperative (thankfully), so the practice of tutoring does not weigh at all on the player. However, it will be necessary to think about its preservation and its movements, and in some cases take it by the hand.
If one is discovered, one almost always dies, and also in a rather brutal manner, and the same is true if we are struck. There is no life bar and the hud is cut to the bone in the name of the cinematic look, except for some indicator that can help us understand the states and patterns of enemies. We are armed with slingshots, we can carry only a few rocks and small objects to throw as diversions, while for the rest we must open our eyes and observe the variables of each situation. On the difficulty obviously we cannot yet pronounce ourselves, nor do we want to venture comments on the complexity of the puzzles, because the first chapters are explicitly simple and structured as a tutorial. But we know that the bosses exist, and we defeated him right at the end of the second act: these are not particularly difficult battles, and according to the Asobo guys they are mostly structured as a puzzle-test on the mechanics learned up to that moment .
The rhythm of the adventure seems very good, and the stealth sections (which in their classicism certainly do not need explanations) alternate also different moments, such as agitated escapes, where to go wrong means to meet immediate death . These heart-pounding instances, managed with an excellent rhythm, obviously alternate between narrative cut-scenes and even more relaxed and exploratory situations (it is no coincidence that they will be present in every level), and this is where the dynamics of the crafting.
It will be possible to collect resources during the campaign, and once you reach a safe area we will almost always find a table to dedicate ourselves to assembling and upgrading equipment. In addition to the simple bullets, however, in A Plague Tale we will also have to deal with alchemical substances such as sulfur and alcohol, which according to the developers will allow us to create advanced tools that will help us escape the most critical situations . We are talking about a dozen elements in all, so we do not expect to find a system who knows how deep, but even in this case it is a pleasant addition to a formula that already seems to work quite well.
On the other hand part, we were assured that in each area a new dynamic will be inserted, which will force us to learn new techniques and ways to progress. Often all this will have to do with other co-protagonists, who will join Amicia and Hugo in helping them on their journey. We have already met some of them, and in addition to having a practical / tactical value – therefore called to interact on our behalf with the objects of the environment – they will also add a further narrative layer. The rest is to be discovered, but to date A Plague Tale seems to be an extremely solid title in terms of gameplay, and if the balance shown in the introduction will be maintained (perhaps adding a bit of difficulty), next month it will be fun.