I’ve been meaning to play Valiant Hearts since it came out – in fact, the amount of times I looked at it in the xbox store and decided not to buy is crazy. However, back on Black Friday Week, I saw 50% off and finally decided to bite the bullet and buy the game I’d wanted to get for a while. 2014 marks 100 years since the beginning of the First World War, and Ubisoft’s commemorative offering Valiant Hearts: The Great War gives players the chance to discover more about the history and conditions of the war while still providing engaging gameplay.
Valiant Hearts is a puzzle solving adventure that sees players taking control of 5 different characters to make their way through the battlefields and trenches of war torn Europe to rescue friends and loved ones in the face of enemies.
The journey begins with Karl, a man torn from his young family and forced out of France to then be drafted into the German army. We start the story as Emile, Karl’s father-in-law, who has been drafted into the French army, and after some brief training we’re up and running and it’s not long before we come across Karl who is taking orders from the evil Baron von Dorf, unable to escape. Our mission to rescue Karl from von Dorf’s clutches begins. Additional characters include American Freddie, whose wife was killed by an air raid ordered by Baron von Dorf so he joins the French army to exact revenge, and Anna, a Belgian nurse trying to rescue her father, kidnapped by Baron von Dorf to develop weapons. Finally there is my favourite, Walt the Doberman Pincher, the medic dog that is, at some point in the game, everyone’s companion to help them out of tough spots. The characters all have various different skills and tools that relate to their parts of the story to help each other progress and stay alive, Emile can dig down beneath the trenches amid the bombs, Freddie can use his brute strength to smash through objects and his wire cutters to get through the tangle of barbed wire found on the front line, Anna carries a bag of medical supplies with her and you can help her heal victims by pushing a pattern of buttons, and Walt can fit through tight spots that none of the other characters are small enough to crawl through; he’s got to be the most intelligent dog I’ve ever seen and he looks a real treat with a gas mask on!
The puzzle solving element of the game can at times be tricky, some of the actions are more obvious than others, but this just goes to show that the game is intended for a varied audience and hint’s can be dropped by carrier pigeon if you ever get really stuck. I found myself at one point thoroughly confused as to how I was going to retrieve a gas mask from a ledge when the rope and hook next to it simply went up and down, not side to side; turns out a simple punch before levering the rope up did the trick to make it swing.
Some of the puzzles can be somewhat frustrating especially when it requires you to angle an object just right to hit something and you could do the same angle twice but they have different outcomes. Equally so some of the solutions can be so obvious and simple yet you find yourself looking for a more difficult way to complete a task to end up kicking yourself for not thinking of it sooner. The puzzles mixed with the story and the action provided the perfect mix to get me hooked on the game and wanting to complete the level as soon as I could.
There are historical artifacts hidden all along the way and you can gain an achievement for collecting all of them from each level, these artifacts also provide some insight into the everyday lives of soldiers and citizens affected by the war.
With each character and scenery change we also unlock a new diary entry to give us more background information about themselves and their feelings on the current situation.
The way that Ubisoft Montpellier have incorporated the horrors of the war with the softer side of humanity, helping people from enemy sides for the sake of your sanity during war, makes the game all the more appealing and the soundtrack is completely fitting; a wonderful score underpins the whole game and truly emotes the feelings of both the characters and you as a player. The animations while simple are effective and it’s nice to play a game that is just as concerned with a plot and content as it is the graphics; the characters don’t have to look perfectly real to enhance the gameplay. When I came to the final scene of the game I found myself not wanting it to end and hoping there might be just a little more content to play after the credits.