Ubisoft takes to the trenches in this stylish new adventure.
When someone mentions wartime gaming, it’s all too likely that your mind will immediately shift to the likes of Call of Duty, Battlefield and a few other big-budget shooters that news channels try to rag on at their first convenience. It’s far less likely that you’ll think of an adventure that is both heartwarming and heartbreaking in the way its themes are handled. Thankfully, gamers now have another artful feather to add to their ‘Journey-esque’ bow thanks to Valiant Hearts: The Great War, a game which recounts the personal toll of war and its callous nature towards human life.
Right away you’ll notice that Valiant Hearts is going for something different, its pleasant graphics and hand drawn characters running on the engine used for Rayman Legends. It’s buttery smooth, with no technical hiccups and no attempt made to represent the real world; it’s far more interesting that way too, as you get to explore a variety of key locales instrumental to either side in World War 1, all stylized in animated form. Music is easily the most effecting part of Valiant’s arsenal, at times playing in synch with the on-screen action to lighten the mood, before pulling back and lowering the tone for a more somber moment or gut-wrenching event.
You’ll swap between four main protagonists, each with their own personality and goal. Curiously, they all have more personality in their triumphant expressions and garbled dialogue than many singular heroes do in their respective Triple-A titles (Watch Dogs, I’m looking at you). Each character has a unique gameplay style that comes into its own at one stage or another, with Freddie as the powerhouse and Anna as the healer, plus the helpful dog who’s sure to become a fast favourite. Despite their separate goals, these characters often find themselves working together, pulling the adventure into a cohesive whole rather than a simple set of sub-stories.
It’s a testament to its storytelling techniques that you’ll hope to see each hero to safety, reuniting Karl with his wife and child and seeing Emile returned to his farm. Whether such happy endings occur, however, will have to be discovered in your own time. Each stage has a narrated introduction so you’ll never feel like the tale has been hampered by its restrained use of in-game dialogue. It’s a tale that promises to keep you engaged right through to the end credits, moving ahead at a snappy pace regardless of its puzzle elements.
This is partly due to a general lack of challenge (no bad thing in my opinion, having all but lost interest in Braid due to sheer, hair-pulling frustration). Some moments might still leave you stumped on occasion, which is where the hint system comes into play for those more inclined to see what happens next. It’s not all great stuff however, with frequent lever puzzles abound, some wheel rotation, plus a host of fetch quests that you’ll either love or loathe based on your opinion of the genre. Stealth segments can sometimes fall into trial-and-error, but it’s forgivable thanks to the game’s liberal use of checkpoints.
Each level offers up a number of items tucked away in corners, lockers and underground passes, adding some replayability for the collection nuts among you. It’s a great idea to spend time hunting for these to extend your initial playthrough as there’s scarce reason to return after the game’s five hour runtime. That said, the price is just right for its modest length and low replay value, launching at little over ten pounds in the UK and at the height of the summer dearth.
Valiant Hearts is much more than the sum of its parts. That’s a good thing too, seeing as a few of those parts don’t stand too well when taken on their own merit. What you’re getting is a profound story that seeks to stand aside from the usual ‘frag out’ shenanigans and present something far more thought provoking. In this case the game succeeds and unreservedly so, only let down at times by instant deaths and a reliance on lever puzzles. Valiant Hearts provides insight into the cost of war without ever self-indulging, and spins a yarn which is both imperfect and compelling.
Valiant Hearts: The Great War is now available on PS4, PS3, Xbox 360, Xbox One and PC.