Valiant Hearts: The Great War for PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC and iOS
There’s a reason the First World War is rarely done in games; it’s very difficult to extract anything fun from one of the most nightmarish conflicts in history. From a purely gameplay standpoint, the prominence of trench warfare would make an FPS a difficult proposition. Valiant Hearts opts for a different path, presenting us a moving and emotional tale of bravery and sacrifice as an adventure game.
Valiant Hearts takes place from 1914 to 1917, a year before the end of the war. It follows a group of characters from both the German and Allied sides whose stories intertwine and separate throughout the course of the game. Karl is a young German man living in France with his wife and young son who is deported at the start of the war. He is drafted by and sent to the Front. Emile is Karl’s father in law, and the main protagonist of the game, who plays a large number of roles from chef to sapper to prisoner of war. Freddie is an American man who joined the French army after his wife was killed by German bombs. His sole purpose is to take down the German General Von Dorf, who was responsible for the raid that killed his wife. Finally we have Anna, a Belgian nurse who seeks to rescue her father who was captured by Von Dorf.
Valiant Hearts conveys very well the utter horror of war in the best way I’ve seen since Spec Ops: The Line. The story is told largely without dialogue, but with a narrator orating to us the plot. The cartoonish art style conveys the emotions of the characters vividly, with a plot that is genuinely emotionally engaging. There are also scraps of information to be found which detail real events of the war, often crossing over with what’s happening in the game. The biggest issue with Valiant Hearts is its tone; despite attempting to humanise both sides of the conflict, Von Dorf is a ridiculous villain and some moments are laughably over the top. I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with moments of levity in even the saddest of stories, but Valiant Hearts doesn’t always get it right.
This is an adventure game by and large and a fairly simple one at that. Everything takes place on a 2D plain, with the main gameplay being the solving of simple environmental puzzles. There’s no inventory stuff, with the solution to each puzzle always to be found in the area that you’re in. Some puzzles involve throwing objects and many involve your canine sidekick, who can be ordered to squeeze through gaps and pull switches and the like. There are also some more action-y moments, some which work well such as frantic dashes through No Man’s Land and some which are a bit silly, such as a boss fight against a tank. There’s not much to be said for the gameplay here, it’s simple but clever enough and a good vehicle for what the game wants to say about World War One.
The art style is gorgeous, with characters human enough to convey the horror of the conflict but cartoonish enough to be accessible. The music is also quite lovely, but Valiant Hearts is also capable of conjuring a really hideous soundscape on the battlefield as we hear the crashing of explosives above the moaning of the injured. Once again, the UbiArt engine may struggle with substance, but it can more than make up for it in style.
Valiant Hearts taken purely as a gameplay experience is a rather bland experience, but Ubisoft do deserve credit for attempting to tell the stories of those who bled and died in the First World War. The story telling is uneven, but when it works is really works. I like that Ubisoft are also putting out smaller games alongside their blockbusters and will continue to follow the UbiArt games with interest.