Review: Valiant Hearts – The Great War
Title: Valiant Hearts: The Great War
Platform: PS3/PS4/Xbox One/Xbox 360/ Windows (Reviewed on PC & Xbox One)
Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier
Release date: Out Now
TL;DR: A deeply moving story set on the morbid backfrop of WW1
Family Friendly?: Click here to skip the detail and see if this game is right for your family!
In the thousands of games that we have to play this generation, war and conflict are a common and recurring theme. But rarely do we see one that touches on the intimate emotions and stories of the few, turning away from the violence and looking deeper at relationships of the soldiers and citizens and their own personal war they’re fighting.
The game opens immediately with the start of the First World War. The assassination of Franz Ferdinand and the German declaration of war on Russia, with established alliances forcing France into conflict. It’s on the German/Frankish borders where most of our story takes place.
With the mobilisation, German citizens living in France are asked to leave the country, Karl, one of our protagonists, is one of them. It’s the separation of this young man from his family that begins the story of the crossed destinies of our heroes.
Karl, the German living in France, is forced to join the German army and fight against those whom he would have once called neighbours. His wife and newborn baby are waiting at their farm with her father Emile.
Emile, father in law to Karl, is drafted into the French forces and pushed to the front lines to do battle against the German army, determined to find his son-in-law fighting with the German forces.
Freddie, an American living in Paris, is fuelled by revenge and carries himself with determination and conviction. Mobilisation and fate bring him to meet Emile.
Anna, a Belgian working as a field medic to help the war effort, but forced to leave when she learned that her father, a respected engineer, has been forced to serve the German army after the occupation of Ypres.
Walt, A Doberman Pincher. Raised in German kennels and trained as a dog medic. Separated from his owner at the start of the war but soon encountering our characters and will play a key role in all of the lives of the four Valiant Hearts.
As you can probably assume, the game is extremely story heavy, so going into further detail than the characters back-story could be massive spoiler territory. What I can tell you is that this emotional tale will shock you in ways that you wont expect. The way that the characters interact, how they evolve through the story, and even their interactions with the world and the war-torn individuals around them.
Most of the story is told through narration and through the games visuals
Most of the story is told through narration and through the games visuals. There is very little in the way of dialogue with each character, communicating in mumbles and pictograph filled speech bubbles, but the art style and sound design have done a fantastic job in being able to convey emotion and feelings without the use of actual spoken word. The game will deliver the key story elements, and mixed with what you can see and hear, you can piece the rest together yourselves, which really catches your emotions off guard, as you are able to project some of your own feelings onto what’s happening on the screen.
Most of the game involves exploring and solving puzzles, mostly simple, but each carries a different mechanic which makes them all satisfying to complete. You will often require the help of Walt, your canine companion to complete them, either through distracting guards or fetching tools.
Whilst it is a game set within a war, the focus isn’t on violence. Whilst you’ll bash an enemy soldier with a shovel now and then, the focus is very much upon story and problem solving.
The only times that I felt that there was some real fighting, were during the “boss battles”, and these were strange because they are such a contrast for the rest of the game. A “battle” may even be the wrong word to use, as really it’s just a larger puzzle, but you accomplish it by damaging your enemy and not getting flattened yourself.
One of the most striking things about the game is the art style, instead of opting for a gritty realism, Valiant Hearts looks more like a graphic novel , even some of the scenes are presented with dynamic panels as if it were a comic book.
The environments and characters that Ubisoft Montpellier have created for Valiant Hearts are detailed and beautiful, but grim and shocking at the same time.
Whilst the game plays in a two and a half dimensional game world, a lot of detail and attention has gone into creating the war-torn front lines of France and Germany.
One moment you will be walking through sun flower fields, only for the next chapter to be set in muddy trenches, forcing you to take cover behind the bodies of your fallen comrades for cover.
Even with the simple graphic style, it is still heart wrenching to see your fellow soldiers fall, citizens choke from gas attacks, and see children crying.
Valiant Hearts never tries to conceal the horrors of war. Whilst it may be somewhat more digestible in the format it is presented, it never loses the impact, and there are genuine moments in the game where I felt lost for words or felt a tear well up in my eye.
It’s not all doom and gloom, there are moments of morale boosting joy, but I shan’t spoil those for you, although the successes will always bring a smile to your face as each one feel like a little victory, and something to be proud of in the grand scheme of your journey.
Throughout the game you will find collectables, all of which will be something that you could possibly find in that era. Weapons, photographs, tools, all with information on what they are and how soldiers in the trenches would use them.
The game is packed with facts, and whilst its optional to sit and read them, they lend a lot of immersion into the game world.
At the start of a level the game gave me the option to read about the Indian soldiers that fought in World War 1, which meant when I came across a regiment of them in the game itself, the otherwise inconsequential moment of the game garnered a larger response from me as the game had allowed me to find out more about them earlier.
These sections are optional, but it’s great to see Valiant Hearts exploring the history of the First World War, as well as the stories of the characters within it.
Valiant Hearts is a hauntingly beautiful game, not just because of the visuals, the story or the sound, but it’s a rare treat to actually find a game that evokes such emotion.
If you’re looking for a dramatic adventure, lovable characters, and enough emotion to bring a chap like me to tears (there was only one tear, but still), then you should really look into Valiant Hearts. But I’d suggest clearing an afternoon, as this is something you’ll really want to sink into.
- Brilliant, moving story.
- Beautiful art style.
- Great soundtrack.
- Cute dog.
- Contrasting “boss battles” tarnish the atmosphere.
- Some puzzles more tedious than challenging.
Valiant Hearts carries a rating of PEGI 12, but there are some very sensitive issues that game touches on. Death, suffering, separation. It gained quite the emotional response from me, a 23 year old man, so may be somewhat deep for younger players.
Xbox review code provided courtesy of Xbox UK