Despite its mediocre puzzles, Valiant Hearts makes cunning use of its unique art style and source material to make for a satisfying experience.
by Brian Belko
Do not let the happy and almost comical animation style fool you. Valiant Hearts: The Great War tells an emotional story about the gut-wrenching reality of war.
Taking place from 1914-1917, Valiant Hearts was inspired by actual letters written during World War I. The game puts players into the shoes of several playable characters, including Karl and Emile. Karl, deported from France after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was separated from his wife and young son. He is drafted into the German Army and thrust into war. Meanwhile, his wife’s father Emile, is drafted into the French Army.
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From the Beautiful French Countryside to the Dark, Cold Trenches
Following the loss of his unit in battle, Emile is captured as a prisoner of war and forced to labor as a cook for the Germans. Emile’s captor is the ruthless Baron Von Dorf who happens to be Karl’s commanding officer. Karl recognizes Emile, but is forced to flee with Von Dorf, who is known to use chemical weapons against his enemies, when their camp is attacked by the Allies.
These events launch players into an emotional trip through the various settings of World War I, including the beautiful French countryside and the dark, cold trenches that have become synonymous with the battles of WWI.
Style Trumps Gameplay
The 2D, action-puzzle game was developed by Ubisoft Montpellier. Released on June 25, 2014, the game employs a unique art style: while attempting to display the drudgery and grayness of war, the disproportioned character models and often too-bright color palette sometimes come up short. This is not to knock on the title, the things that it tries to accomplish. The story is still touching and really does leave an impact on most players.
However, the uninspired and unoriginal puzzles do drag the gameplay down at times. Luckily, the story more than makes up for these shortcomings. After the initial events in the plot, players must then attempt to help each of the characters meet more complex goals, from capturing Von Dorf to reuniting Karl with his wife and son. The game doesn’t come up short in storyline.
A Playable History
One of the more intriguing aspects of Valiant Hearts is the way the game seems to serve as a playable history textbook. Despite the cheery animation style, Valiant Hearts doesn’t pull any punches on the realities of trench warfare. Objects can be found throughout the game and serve as reminders of the Great War’s brutal conditions. These moments stick with the player long after the controller is set aside.
With the oversaturation of first-person shooter games in the war game market, Valiant Hearts: The Great War is a welcomed departure. Although not perfect, it does make an attempt to explore new gameplay styles and tell a heartfelt story. The path to the end is not without its potholes and rough patches, but then again, neither was World War I.