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'Valiant Hearts: The Great War' is an emotional war story and a must-play

Valiant Hearts: The Great War
Valiant Hearts: The Great War
Ubisoft

Valiant Hearts: The Great War - Xbox One,

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It is not often that we see a war game which focuses on the narrative, the bond between individuals and the impact war has on the people in war-torn areas. Ubisoft Montpellier’s Valiant Hearts: The Great War trades in the use of guns and opts instead to use storytelling to convey a powerful and memorable experience. Set during World War I, Valiant Hearts takes the player through a multiyear journey and places them directly in the trenches as you encounter the horrors of war and witness the devastation of chemical warfare firsthand.

Valiant Hearts: The Great War
Photo courtesy of Ubisoft, used with permission.

Valiant Hearts is a 2D side-scrolling puzzle game which tells its story from the point-of-view of four different characters. First there is Karl, a German living in France who must return to his motherland when he is summoned to fight for his country, forcing him to leave his wife and newborn son behind. His father-in-law, Emile, is soon drafted by the French army. While serving in the French army, Emile meets an American, Freddie, who enlists in the French army to take vengeance for his wife who was an early victim of the war.

Rounding out this unique cast of characters is Anna, a young woman training in Belgium to become a veterinarian who finds herself thrown into the turmoil of the war when her scientist father is kidnapped by German officer, Baron von Dorf, who is using Anna’s father’s research to develop powerful weapons of war for the German army. Anna quickly befriends Emile and Freddie during her travels to Germany to save her father. Emile also makes friends with a rescue dog, who becomes an important companion to solve puzzles, but also links of all the human characters together.

The use of these four characters extends beyond the score of strictly storytelling purpose as each brings their own unique skill to the puzzle solving aspect of the title. Emile is normally equipped with a shovel, suitable for digging trenches and underground tunnels. Meanwhile, Freddie uses bolt cutters to cut through razor wire that hinders his and the French squads’ forward progress on the battlefront. Anna explores cities and solves puzzles, but her main use in the game is healing injured folks via a QTE mini-game.

Last, but certainly not least, there is a dog. The dog has the most abilities and is put to great use by each human character to solve puzzles and find collectibles. The heroic pup gives players warning by barking at danger, or dig when a collectible or item of interested is located. Many of the game’s puzzles involving the dog will have the player giving the dog a command to travel through a tiny tunnel to access an area that the human character cannot go. Players will use the dog to bring back items of interest to solve puzzles, distract guards, push levers, and a range of other options.

Principally, the puzzles of Valiant Hearts: The Great War are straightforward, lack complexity, and are based around the skills of each character. Although the puzzles may be simplistic in nature, they offer a welcome sense of variation by incorporating stealth and action-based ideas to mix things up. Similarly, some of Anna’s missions involve driving a taxi and dodging enemy fire or various road hindrances, often to the sound of great classical music. Generally speaking, the puzzles presented by the game will have players find an object that grants them access past a blockade. To gain passage the player may need to find dynamite to toss into the fire to blowout a wall, or a bottle of wine to distract a guard.

While some may view the minimalistic gameplay approach off-putting, it works in the game’s benefit. By placing less focus on creating complex puzzles, Valiant Hearts: The Great War is better able to emphasize its storyline, atmosphere, and characters. Exploring depressing settings tarnished by the horrors of war will send a chill down the spine of the player. Players will navigate through the ruins of a city, hearing the cries of the wounded and trapped, and encountering the atrocities of war as you witness the rubble remains of a town torn apart from bombing raids or chemical attacks. The somber setting is heightened by the mournful musical soundtrack of the title.

To give things a more personal feel, Ubisoft delivers historical facts about each city, setting, and on some of the items and attacks. Reading about the chemical attacks of Ypres while you explore the devastated city allows the player to better understand what happened and provides an opportunity to connect to the game’s setting. Adding these historical notes educates the player about World War I, its victims, and gives a real portrait of the hell that war brings with it.

Valiant Hearts: The Great War is on the short side, lasting roughly 6-hours. That being said; the experience is a powerful and emotional journey. It is one of Ubisoft’s best releases and a must-play for gamers this summer. Valiant Hearts: The Great War is now available for PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360, and PC.

Pros:

  • Emotional Storyline
  • Powerful Characters and Atmosphere
  • Historical Facts
  • Lovely 2D visuals
  • Brilliant Soundtrack

Cons:

  • A bit on the short side
  • Simple puzzles

Overall: 4/5