Valiant Hearts: The Great War Review
Microsoft Xbox OneAlso available on Sony PlayStation 4
Hot off the back of the hugely enjoyable Child of Light, not to mention the adored and acclaimed Rayman titles, comes another outing for the (fairly) new UbiArt engine. Ubisoft seem to be on a bit of a roll here, pumping out fantastic, smaller scale, almost indie like releases utilising this new fantastic engine. Valiant Hearts confidently steps into the world amid the traditional summer gaming drought and boy we should be grateful it did.
Valiant Hearts: The Great War sees you controlling three men, a young lady and a dog. Each character has their own backstory, set of course amidst the backdrop of World War I. Karl is a young German born man living in France, sent home and forced to fight for a nation he no longer calls home. Emile is forced to take up arms for the French - Freddie is a rather large American motivated to decimate the enemy purely for vengeance and finally there’s Anna, a beautiful Belgian medic who flitters through battlefields assisting wherever she can. The trusty dog joins the frey at certain sections, aiding you by performing some fetch quests (obviously) and distracting dumb German enemies while you creep up on them and smack them over the head.
The world at war is beautifully realised using a combination of cartoonish, yet sometimes visceral art design in conjunction with the use of the previously mentioned brilliant UbiArt engine. The story sees our band of heroes battling (through puzzles) across a number of key, historically accurate moments that occurred throughout the war, which rumbled on for many years (across the majority of WWI, so over four years). For those who don’t have a great deal of historical knowledge on World War I the game does serve as a small history lesson - the events shown are accurate and the characters are written into them, within their own set puzzle-based scenarios.
Stating the game is a looker doesn’t really do it justice as the art style is used to such good effect that it actually performs a lot of the storytelling and without a doubt is the thing that will provoke an emotional response from the player. Seeing the heartache, the sadness, the chaos, the destruction and the futility of war, all brought to life through the fabulous artistic direction really is what sells Valiant Hearts. Sure there are the odd garbled words from each character in their native tongue and the bookended, overbearing narration but these do so little in comparison to the visuals one could argue if they are needed at all. The lack of dialogue from the characters does work really well and much like Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons from last year the game is emotive, using subtlety and regularly sucks you in emotionally. It’s amazing how movies or games with long exposition and heavy handed attempts at pulling on your heart strings pale in comparison to something so stripped back, so simple.
Increasing the historical accuracy somewhat is the inclusion of specific collectibles and multiple accurate background story elements within each chapter. A quick press of a button and should you wish you have the ability to read all about a certain event, personnel or battle; all further increasing the players knowledge of the great war.
The gameplay itself is relatively straightforward, Valiant Hearts is a puzzle game with some extremely light action and a handful of chase scenes (rhythm gaming almost). Puzzles are often as simple as figuring out what an NPC needs to be able to escape the area they find themselves in - put out a fire, move a seemingly immovable object and so on. Each core section is made up of a plethora of fairly simple puzzles to solve, often interlinked and only when fully solved can your character move onto the next area. There are moments when several areas and multiple characters interlink with multiple puzzles which must be solved to continue, but even then there isn’t a great deal to tax the mind, there is just more ground to cover. Experienced gamers will likely think there is just enough of a challenge to keep them interested but for any experienced gamer who appreciates games as a “thing”, they won’t be sticking around for the gameplay, the overall experience will keep them in tow. For the less experienced out there, there is a three step clue system, releasing clues for any given core puzzle (not all of them) them over set periods of time. This neat little system will most certainly come in handy for some of the more complicated puzzles but it need not be relied upon throughout.
Valiant Hearts: The Great War is a graphically superb puzzler, tackling historical events that are not perhaps known to everyone and doing it in a lighthearted, yet respectful manner. Gameplay wise it’s not going to challenge but the story, the characters and the emotional response that the combined product will evoke in players is easily enough to justify the asking price.