June 24, 2014
War is hell, that’s what we’re told. But in games, that’s a big fat lie. Plumes of blood erupting from enemy skulls, bodies flying through the air, huge explosions - as weird as it sounds, that’s the good stuff. Video game wars aren’t hell, they’re heaven for the wannabe Rambo in all of us.
Valiant Hearts: The Great War takes a different view. In Ubisoft Montpellier’s stunning adventure game, war isn’t a playground within which to act out your fantasies, it’s a nightmare of mud, blood and loss. Reverent to the horrors of the first World War, yet also warm and charming, it’s an utterly astonishing game.
Following protagonists from both sides of the conflict, Valiant Hearts manages to convey the euphoria of soldiers heading out to protect their country, the grim realities of the trenches, the camaraderie of its soldiers and the futility of the whole sorry affair.
None of which makes Valiant Hearts sound like much fun, does it? But it is. This is a game designed to thrill, amuse, educate and distress in equal measure - goals that in less talented hands would clatter into each other. Yet Ubisoft Montpellier absolutely nails it.
At its core, Valiant Hearts is an adventure game. As such, you’ll spend much of your time exploring the self-contained levels looking for items and clues with which progress. You might need to find a code to unlock a door, perhaps, or a new uniform to sneak past a guard.
The best levels throw multiple goals at you at once, necessitating a pleasing flow of back and forth as you search for new items, uncover new areas and find new methods of interaction. Of these sections, a P.O.W. camp sequence stands out, cleverly transposing a bartering system into the conventions of the genre. Similar invention is shown throughout.
Ubisoft Montpellier never allows the flow of the game to stagnate. Adding variety to the puzzle sections with multiple protagonists and different abilities and goals, the game also offers a large volume of neatly executed stealth, driving, healing and shooting sequences, all of which contribute to an admirable pace.
Indeed, there’s very little about Valiant Hearts that isn’t admirable. From the educational facts you’ll uncover as you progress, to its largely non-violent approach and treatment of German, French, US, Canadian, Indian and English soldiers, Valiant Hearts’ maturity shines through.
There are very few good guys or bad guys in Valiant Hearts. As you play you’re just as likely to die at the hands of your superiors as you are under machine gun fire. Ubisoft Montpellier understands that regardless of the political forces behind them, soldiers on both sides were just normal people thrust into horrific circumstances.
And it’s these people that you’ll remember long after the credits roll. Emile, Freddie, Ana, Karl, Walt the Dog and the people that come in and out of their lives are fantastically characterful. Helped along by some brilliant narration and one of the best original scores in recent years, these largely dialogue free characters will work their way into your heart.
Valiant Hearts: The Great War offers an experience that would be hard to match if it was developed by a larger team, over a longer period, for more money. It’s a game with a perfectly realised vision that achieves just about all of its goals. Touching, funny, exciting and haunting, in its own understated way, Valiant Hearts is masterful. You have to play it.
Featuring a fantastically touching original score, along with warm and rich narration, Valiant Hearts’ audio is almost flawless.
Hand drawn in the UbiArt Framework, the game’s visuals are at turns charming, characterful, terrifying and thrilling.
Valiant Hearts is great fun; offering a pleasing degree of variety along with a whole bunch of inventive puzzles.
An 8-10 hour adventure sprinkled with collectibles and historic facts, Valiant Hearts does more than enough to justify the price tag.
An easy list with a smattering of creativity to make your progress a little more interesting, Valiant Hearts’ achievements do the job.
Brilliant. Ubisoft Montpellier has created one of this year’s most memorable games. A story of adventure and tragedy played out against the backdrop of World War I, Valiant Hearts: The Great War is a game everyone should play.