Valiant Hearts: The Great War
Valiant Hearts: The Great War is not your average war game – you won’t be taking on whole armies alone or mercilessly gunning down ‘evil’ soldiers with blood and gore spraying everywhere. Valiant Hearts makes it clear from the start that there is no good or evil - this is a World War One game that looks at the personal impact of war, and instead of things being black or white, they can be very grey instead.
Our story begins with Karl, a German citizen living in France with his young wife Marie, their newborn son, and father-in-law Emile. War breaks out and Karl is ripped from his family and deported to Germany where he’s conscripted into the German army. Emile on the other hand is pulled into the French forces and Marie’s left on her own to care for her infant son as an invading force bears down upon them.
This is what Valiant Hearts does time and time again, looking at how war affects individual people and how it touches them in different ways. For example, Freddie’s another one of our protagonists and he’s seeking revenge on a German baron who killed the person he held dearest. Anna on the other hand is a veterinarian using her talents on the front line whilst trying to track down her father, a scientist who’s been kidnapped along with his research.
You’ll sometimes wonder whether your heart strings are being artificially pulled but it becomes apparent that whilst moments of tenderness and hope can occur in the worst circumstances possible, these people are wrapped up in a deadly conflict that’s hell bent on causing destruction and despair. Interestingly, there’s a certain amount of humour and warmth in the game, after all, if this title was completely true to form you’d be vividly experiencing a conflict where around 10 million military personnel and 7 million civilians died – that’d be a hard game for anyone to play.
For the most part, Valiant Hearts is a 2D side-scrolling puzzler – you’ll find yourself pushing blocks, throwing items, pulling levers etc. The puzzles are merely a vehicle to advance the plot though and once you’ve got the gist of them you shouldn’t have any problems in the game. Die-hard puzzle fans beware, the puzzles aren’t particularly innovative but in the scheme of things, that’s fine. What Valiant Hearts does incredibly well is having the ability to make you feel something whilst presenting a meticulously-crafted story.
It’s quite amazing how much emotion Ubisoft Montpellier have managed to impart into their characters through their fantastic animation, especially seeing as hair or hats pretty much cover all of their eyes. The game’s visuals are also beautiful – drawn in a comic book style, the levels teem with life as scenes have layer upon layer of detail imparted. The visuals used in Valiant Hearts not only aptly depict the mud, smoke and waste of life but also offer some quite beautiful moments, for example, when Anna is trying to leave Paris for the front lines.
You’ll have a narrator guiding you through the story inbetween missions, but in-game, the characters talk in a language reminiscent of The Sims, all gibberish but with enough intonation that emotions are well inferred. The game’s soundtrack is also rather wonderful, with some well-known compositions making an appearance.
As we previously mentioned, narrative is at the core of Valiant Hearts and a big part of this is providing players with a real understanding of what it was like in World War One. As you move into new areas, you’ll unlock information about the wider picture of what you’re trying to achieve and what the troops had to endure. Character diaries flesh out events further and if you scout around each level you’ll also find collectable items that provide another layer of depth and understanding. If we were to nit-pick, this could have been dealt with better; having extra information is great but the frequent notifications does take you out of the experience.
Valiant Hearts: The Great War is a wonderful achievement – for a game that covers one of the deadliest wars in human history this is a game that’s more about human kindness and interaction rather than the act of killing. It's a game that will really make you feel something, but not in a saccharine sweet kind of way. By the time the credits roll you’ll have a connection with the characters and feel like you have a better understanding about how this terrible war changed the world and, more importantly, people’s lives.