Even for the mighty UbiArt engine and Ubisoft Montpellier The Great War is a tricky topic to tackle correctly. Despite the abundance of WW2 period games out there WW1 remains relatively untouched. The sheer horror and weight of events make it difficult as a topic for any game. Valiant Hearts goes with an all out puzzler approach. There’s the occasional action filled moment but even then the puzzles are kept central to the gameplay. The point of Valiant Hearts isn’t to see how many men you can kill and how much gore there can be in a war. Thankfully.
But just because you’re not going to slaughter men on mass doesn’t mean Valiant Hearts pulls its punches. The Great War had a horrific death toll and Ubisoft aren’t afraid to make it known. Valiant Hearts doesn’t patronize and it doesn’t hold back. It covers the brutality of the first gas attack using Chlorine Gas. It covers the work of a medic performing triage after an attack. It covers a civilian population under attack from bombs, with people searching for loved ones and dealing with the destruction of their homes.
There’s an appropriately solemn tone that never really lets up while you play Valiant Hearts. It’s a strange experience to be entertained at the same time as watching the horrors of The Great War but I think it’s a fantastic way for us to commemorate the events that took place.
Great War aside Valiant Hearts is a great puzzler. There’s a fare share of simple tasks that don’t tax the brain too much but they are constant and keep you thinking until the next real puzzle. Which are clever. You’re canine friend has no name but he can squeeze through gaps and retrieve items, among other things, that allow the puzzles to be really creative. They kept me thinking and regularly had me stumped for a little while before I moved on.
The only problem I had was checkpoints which are few and far between. More than once when I quit the game I found myself playing the entire level again when I loaded it back up. It seems like a simple fix to me to just add more checkpoints especially considering Valiant Hearts has a slower pace that doesn’t make checkpoints difficult.
To compliment this are collectables that are carefully placed in every level. Some hidden, some require simple optional puzzles some are basically unmissable. But once you find and collect one you can press triangle and read more about the item. The nuggets of information make for interesting reading so it’s well worth stopping occasionally to take a look. Some are personal letters from soldiers on the front and some are interesting items like lighters or tools that provide some historical fact.
Valiant Hearts is a treat on the eyes and ears too, as if any of us doubted it. UbiArt has delivered again and the beautiful ‘hand drawn’ style creates the perfect atmosphere for Valiant Hearts. But musically Valiant Hearts has a simple yet powerful soundtrack that had me moved more than once. Even the piano piece on the main menu is truly beautiful.
For me, the key concept that is a constant in Valiant Hearts is the issue of language barriers. Or more specifically the issue of nationality. Despite communication there’s no spoken language except the occasional mumble from the characters and a narrator on the loading screens. The most obvious example is your best friend in Valiant Hearts, your dog.
He starts out with his German handler, who’s a medic. But helps the French Emile when he’s in trouble early on. Emile and his dog then join with an American, Freddie and later even back with a German born French national Karl. On one occasion after Emile helps a German Soldier in need he will in return help Emile by letting him run from capture or death. Valiant Hearts does a good job of bringing to life the fact that all who fought in The Great War where ultimately still human, regardless of nationality. And your canine companion makes it all the more obvious as he doesn’t consider race or nationality when he helps people. He just helps those who need it. It’s also devastating when he gets in trouble and needs your help.
The Great War was certainly one of our darkest periods of history and it needs to be commemorated. And 100 years on it is all the more important that we make an effort to remember those who gave their lives for us. Valiant Hearts is so tastefully handled that I can think of no better way to remember those events. It’s a great puzzle game that makes you think infused with nuggets of history. More importantly Valiant Hearts packs a punch that doesn’t let us forget.