Valiant Hearts: The Great War, from Ubisoft Montpellier, is a side scrolling puzzle adventure game. The game takes place during the Great War (World War I) and follows the interlinking stories of Emile, Freddie, Karl, Anna and the dog medic doberman pinscher, Walt.
What sets this game apart from most other puzzle adventure games is undoubtedly the interlinked stories of all the characters. It begins at the start of the war and focuses initially on the German-born residents of France being ejected from the country when war is declared. Karl is forced to leave his French father-in-law Emile and Karl’s French wife and newborn son behind. Emile and Karl are drafted by their respective country’s armies. From there, you take both Emile and Karl through the start of the war and along the way you meet Freddie, Anna and Walt, the other playable characters in Valiant Hearts. Walt generally ties all four human characters together, and for a character that basically just barks, Walt is so full of life that you can’t help but love him.
Valiant Hearts’ story focuses on the key points and military actions that happened throughout the war. Along the way you pick up objects related to that period of history and read about them and why they are significant pieces of memorabilia. The game also gives you diary entries from all human characters and general diary entries about the Great War. You’ll learn what started it, why various towns were key to the war, what weapons were invented and used along with the effects of those weapons. The game thrusts you right into the thick of battle at times and it can be very confronting to witness and experience the hardship of the human characters you play. Anna is a medic and nurse and dealing with injuries is a hard thing for medics to do in the heat of the moment, this is reflected in the quick-time actions you have to perform. Although they are just pushing a set combination of buttons at the right time, they are fast and lead to frantic button mashing which lends to that sense of urgency about the situation. Valiant Hearts also introduces you to the horrors of chemical warfare when Germans used chlorine gas for the first time on a large-scale for the express purpose of killing the enemy.
The gameplay is mostly puzzle-solving adventure with the occasional quick-time event or action sequence. These action and quick-time events are sparsely done so that you don’t feel that they intrude on the story and adventure of Valiant Hearts. The characters themselves will occasionally speak in French, German and English but for the most part the verbal acknowledgements are a sort of non-committal noise, with the exception of Walt who barks and whines along with your interactions while using him or commanding him as one of the human characters. The sound design is pretty decent, with battlefield levels full of explosions and gunfire that really make it hard to concentrate on what you’re doing, which is as it should be in that kind of environment. The music is used to great effect and features pieces of the period and before in a great way, such as the Can-Can during a taxi chase sequence.
The whole look and feel of this game is achieved through some fantastic artwork that closely resembles the kind you might find in comic books or graphic novels where the artist has been given free rein to do whatever art style they want. The UbiArt Framework from Ubisoft Montpellier is a great way for the Ubisoft game designers to really focus on creating these wonderful art styles. We saw this earlier in the year with Child Of Light, and they have done it again here with Valiant Hearts. I think the UbiArt Framework really frees up the game designer and lets them focus on art and storytelling so that we get a game that is satisfying to play.
With such a powerfully emotional story you can expect nothing short of something surprising at the end and Valiant Hearts delivers just that, a tear-jerker. The game does so well telling its story – and at the same time it delivers a really good history lesson, without that boring university history lecture, that you come away feeling awed that such a game can ever be made and released by a AAA game company.
Without a doubt, Valiant Hearts: The Great War sits as my number one play for this year so far. It’s available on PC, Xbox, PS3 and PS4 and you should definitely buy it and play it. For those wishing to play it on mobile devices, well iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch users won’t have to wait too long. You can get it here: Valiant Hearts Shop.