Valiant Hearts is a charming, and at times touching, side scrolling puzzle game set against the backdrop of the First World War. Depending on how you feel when you first read that sentence I must stress – this is not your typical violent war game. Instead, Ubisoft Montpellier chooses to focus more on the stories behind the violence to create what is a character driven game, with heroes coming from both sides of the conflict.
Reduced down to its’ base ingredients, Valiant Hearts is a simple side scrolling game, but to leave it described as such does it an injustice. Players are able to take control of four main characters, who move left and right through each of the games levels solving puzzles ranging from throwing dynamite at a certain angle to blow up obstructions blocking the way forward, to fetch quests littered throughout the games four chapters. These side scrolling sections are interspersed with some mildly entertaining but simple driving sections that involve moving left and right to avoid oncoming objects with warnings telling you where an object will appear off screen.
Aside from one or two puzzles that involve a bit of thinking or clever timing, the game is not too difficult, but that is not what this game is setting out to do. Valiant Hearts wants to pull on those heart strings, and tell a story about friendship and loss during what is one of the darker times in recent history. To this end, you can’t help but get the feeling the game is trying to edge you ever on, moving forward and progressing with the story that is the games main selling point. As such dying isn’t really an issue (excluding a few timed or chase sequences) and should any puzzles have you well and truly stumped, there are hints available should the game consider you stuck without the need of having to revert to the internet for tips.
The game itself has four main protagonists who each take their share of the limelight, whether it be Emile, the French farmer drafted into the French army, or Karl, his German son-in-law who is deported from France in the games’ opening scenes. Later we are introduced to Freddie, an American volunteer fighting as part of the French army in his personal quest against the games primary antagonist, Baron Von Dorf, and the battlefield nurse Anna, who zips around the battlefield in her jeep in what become some of the games “light relief” levels. Each character has their own motivations and story that inevitably leads them to cross paths with one another, but essentially the four characters play in much the same way during their individual sequences. Holding equal footing with the four main characters, special mention must go to the dog that accompanies the characters for pretty much the entire journey, and, through some simple animation and voice over techniques, is guaranteed to elicit an emotional response, particularly towards the games closing chapters.
Valiant Heart’s puzzles aren’t ground breaking or exceptionally difficult, but as mentioned earlier it is the story that the game is built around. In this regard Ubisoft have been exceptionally clever as they have been able to tell a story that focuses on the human aspect of war from both sides, however this is sometimes in stark contrast to the animated art style that they decided upon. Don’t get me wrong the animations are beautiful and help to create the illusion of playing an interactive cartoon as opposed to a videogame, opening the game up to a slightly wider audience than had they settled on a more photorealistic approach, but at certain points you can’t help but feel that some of the more heavy hitting scenes lose some of their emotional impact as a result. The games villain in Baron Von Dorf plays out as an over the top caricature, with the real villain being the actual war and the moral dilemmas it places the characters in, each one designed to highlight the horrors of war and reinforce that emotional attachment to the characters that the game designer wants you to feel. The game hits more than it misses in this respect, but it is a bit of a double edged sword, as Valiant Hearts is essentially an adult story dressed up as a children’s cartoon.
Replayability comes in the form of various collectable items hidden throughout each level. There are a range of different items to find stretching from typical collectible fare such as dog tags to the slightly more unusual items such as a nurses training manual. Each one of these items comes with further information that shows the depth of research that the development team put into the making of this game. If you aren’t interested this information is easily ignored, but should you choose to hunt down and then read the facts that are unlocked they further help to paint a picture about what life was like fighting in the trenches over 100 years ago, and the amount of information here is impressive for what is a digital only title. These collectables are of course attached to various trophies and achievements, and once the game is completed they are easily picked up on a second play through.
Overall Valiant Hearts is a game that is all about the story. If you like your war games loud and violent then this isn’t the one for you. If you fancy something a little different, or a slight change of pace to the usual run and gun, then Valiant Hearts might just be the game you were looking for. Some interesting characters, a quirky art style and a wealth of factual information about the First World War make this game one of the stand out download titles of recent months.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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