Platforms PlayStation 3 / Xbox 360 / Xbox One / PlayStation 4 / PC
Developer Ubisoft Montpellier Publisher Ubisoft
Genre Puzzle Adventure Platform Played PlayStation 4
Games often tackle the topic of war, though most focus on the over-the-top action blockbuster motif, rather than focusing on the harsh reality that war provides. Valiant Hearts: The Great War isn’t just one of the most emotionally enthralling titles this year, but it aims to not only showcase the hardship World War I soldiers experienced, but also to honour them as they deserve. Set between the years 1914 and 1918 along the outskirts of France and Germany, Valiant Hearts takes us on an emotional journey through five different characters, all struggling with their own personal dilemma created by war.
When Valiant Hearts begins, we are introduced to the beautiful and untouched rural area of France, but that setting is quickly thrown in our rear vision mirror, as we are thrust forward into the harsh realities our characters must face. Each character in Valiant Hearts has their own unique personality and motivations. For instance, Freddie has joined the war to seek revenge for the death of his beloved; Karl has been forced to leave his loved ones to help the war, while a Belgian nurse named Anna wants to save as many lives as possible. Each story intersects and is connected by Walt, the lovable dog who will not only help your characters throughout their tale, but also help complete various puzzles.
Surprisingly, our characters are almost entirely silent throughout the experience, aside from a few noises and mumbles. Their personalities are instead showcased through diary entries and small images that appear over characters heads. These images help deliver hints towards our objective, without ever over-explaining; and while the diary entries themselves are completely optional, they provide a greater understanding of the perils each character is dealing with and help humanise their personal motivation. Each character also has their own ability, which can range from cutting through barbed wire, digging through soft soiled sections of the map, and our nurse Anna has the ability to heal individuals. These instances are portrayed in rhythm mini-games that have the player hitting buttons at the right time to save their patient. Though these are certainly nothing new, they add a sense of urgency while trying to save a life.
Valiant Hearts does an excellent job at portraying the importance of a single human life, even though war has large statistics of those who unfortunately paid the ultimate price. Valiant Hearts doesn’t try to provide a narrative centered on ending the conflict. Instead, the focus here is on these small human stories; there is no emphasis on the countries that are at war, or the political reasoning behind these events. There is a moment during the campaign that showcases one of our playable characters helping a fellow soldier, though this individual is from the opposing side. This moment itself left a powerful emotional mark on my experience. Both individuals forgot about the grim world they were facing, shrugging off their allegiances, and instead teaming up to succeed at one goal – survival.
Throughout Valiant Hearts, players have the ability to view historical facts regarding each location they visit. These informational pieces can relate to the location at hand, the instances that took place, or simply explaining how and why this moment in history came to fruition. These interesting historical facts also accompany the abundance of collectables included in each level, which help explain why items were used by those in the war, or how they were created during their conditions. I found these informational notes very interesting, and they helped further explain events that occurred during the World War that had slipped my mind. Valiant Hearts isn’t merely an interactive experience; it is an honour for those who gave their lives during these bleak instances in history.
Valiant Hearts also keeps players from ever firing a bullet, aside from a few vehicular missions and scripted moments. This is an impressive feat to consider. War throughout the video games industry is usually showcased as one individual mowing down a plethora of enemy combatants. Valiant Hearts sticks to the reality of one person being unable to destroy an entire army, and, instead, being extremely vulnerable. Valiant Hearts also ventures into the realm of fantasy, which has players facing off against the caricature villain, Baron Von Dorf, a villain whom becomes the target of our heroes for a period of time. His inclusion felt like a weak link in Valiant Hearts’ poignant tale, providing weird boss battle instances and out of place attempts at a comedic depiction of the enemy.
Valiant Hearts is a 2D puzzler at heart. These instances are mostly logical, and have the players throwing dynamite sticks, turning wheels, directing switches, or switching uniforms to reach new areas. The puzzles will usually involve the player unable to reach a location; to get to this new locale, players must help an individual with their problem. From here, one main objective can connect you to completing 5 or 6 puzzles in a row, each time earning a new item that will help complete another puzzle and get closer to your end goal. These puzzles usually involve the help of Walt, who is able to interact with objects and get to those hard-to-reach places. The choice to keep these instances short and easy help progress your adventure quickly, and although they lack a particular difficulty spike, their connectivity provide a fun and satisfactory feeling upon completion.
Aside from puzzles, Valiant Hearts also contains a considerable amount of stealth sections. Our characters are portrayed as real life people; they are no John Rambo. In that respect, players must avoid enemy turret fire, not get spotted by armed individuals, and use their wits in order to escape pursuing enemies. The stand out of these stealth sections comes during an escape from a POW prison camp during the darkness of night. The event has the player using maneuverable cover items and even a flock of sheep in order to avoid the pursuing danger. Trying to hide behind bushes while the opposing force shot flare guns into the night sky, in hopes of breathing light on your location, was an intense and unforgettable moment; one that truly emphasised the fear these soldiers could deliver and the desperate times people faced during World War I.
Valiant Hearts looks visually stunning, due to the UbiArt Framework Engine that has provided so many amazing visual performances in the past. Most impressively though, Valiant Hearts seems to push the amount the diversity this engine can deliver. Instead of the water coloured look of Child of Light, Valiant Hearts has the striking colour and visual delivery of a graphic novel in motion. No matter where you look, there will always be an impressive amount of visual detail within each scene. Though Valiant Hearts is 2D, we are constantly showcased background layers of visuals that all partake at collaborating the expansive landscape, as well as the brutality of war. Though your character may be situated in the foreground, safe behind cover, the background layer won’t hold back from showing many other squad mates who didn’t have the luxury of cover, as they are struck down by enemy fire.
Focusing on the reality of war can be a grim topic, but even Valiant Hearts allows itself to break from the cruel world of war to provide some lighter moments. Fans of the musical levels from Rayman Legends will be excited to know there are unique experiences similar to these in Valiant Hearts. These moments have players fleeing from enemies in a vehicle, and while they must focus on avoiding the enemy, the entire sequence is being choreographed by instrumental musical accompaniments, such as the Cancan. There are only a handful of moments like this in Valiant Hearts, but they did provide a fun change of tone from the harsh realities of war Valiant Hearts portrays.
Valiant Hearts is an adventure I will treasure, not only for the lovable characters, but for its portrayal of war and the amount of heartache it creates. War within video games has been positioned as a way for players to become an action hero, taking down entire armies with an assortment of weaponry. Valiant Hearts steps out of the norm, taking the focus away from killing hundreds of enemies, and, instead, focusing on the human tales that war creates. These moments may never be heard, but these stories will always exist. Valiant Hearts honours those who have fallen due to the harsh realm of war, but it does that by providing a unique and beautiful tale.
+ Powerful emotional moments.
+ Beautifully detailed visuals.
+ Intense stealth sections.
– Weak, out of place villain.
The Score: 8.5