Valiant Hearts: The Great War tells the story of World War I. It chronicles the trials faced by those that participated in and lived through both the French and, to a limited extent, the German sides of the conflict. The story line is based on and inspired by letters that were sent during the Great War. Valiant Hearts was developed by UbiSoft Montpellier and published by UbiSoft. The game chronicles the friendship, sacrifice, and struggle for survival during a conflict beyond the scope of any war that had been seen by the world previously. The story of Valiant Hearts follows four different main characters Emile, a French father and grandfather who is drafted into service; Karl, the son-in-law of Emile, a deported German who is forced to fight against his adopted countrymen; Ana, a former Belgian student turned battlefield nurse searching for her kidnapped father; and Freddie, and American who joined the French Army after the death of his wife at the hands of a German bombing raid. The characters meet up and separate at various points throughout the story. One additional element ties all of the story lines together and acts as a fifth character. The same dog, Walt, is featured throughout the game providing various forms of assistance to the main characters and helping to bring the emotions and expressions of the characters to the player’s attention.
The graphics engine used for Valiant Hearts is UbiArt Framework, seen previously in Rayman Origins, Rayman Legends, and Child of Light. The 2D visual style is reminiscent of a graphic novel. The colors throughout the game are muted earth tones, giving it a gritty, depressed feeling akin to the emotions of those fighting in the war. Overall, while not ground-breaking graphically, the game has very detailed artistry and was drawn very well using the existing Framework platform.
The Valiant Hearts soundtrack is put together very well. The main theme, “Dream within Dreams”, is very poignant and captures the anguish and hope felt by the characters. The piece, written and performed by Ian Paul Livingstone, made the game’s emotions come to life. It is eloquent and beautifully magnifies the story. Each piece is carefully orchestrated to match the time period of WWI in conjunction with the region of where the story is taking place and what is occurring in the game at that time. Some pieces, like “En avant la musique”, are upbeat and fast-paced while others, such as the main theme, are slower and evoke deeper emotions. The sound effects that accompany the game play are aptly war-like. There are gunfire, shouting voices, dog barking, and bomb explosions that accurately reflect the reality of the Great War. Each language that was involved in the conflict is accurately represented and translated via caption with the exception of the written letters, which were all related in English.
Valiant Hearts is a 2D platformer/puzzle game. The gameplay switches between the four characters point of views and often features Walt the dog as a playable character to assist with solving puzzles.
For the PC, the standard buttons are the arrow keys, but a key binding option is available to allow the player to switch to a different configuration. The biggest difficulty in the game was while playing Ana. Since she is a field nurse, the player has to “assist” her with her medical activities. It requires precision timing, much like when hitting notes in Guitar Hero, to successfully complete procedures such as stitching a wound and performing CPR. One of the other activities involves throwing dynamite, grenades, or other projectiles. This involves a physics engine requiring the player to hit a specific trajectory to complete the objective. Another task is digging, performed by Emile, and it requires the player to follow a specific path, be that vertical, horizontal, or most challengingly diagonally. There were also times where the digging had to be done quickly which increased the difficulty. When coupled with Walt, the player has to direct him to do specific activities such as digging something up, distracting a guard, fetching an object, or deactivating an obstacle.
Valiant Hearts: The Great War is a truly touching game. I’ve never been more emotionally involved in a game, and at times it didn’t feel like a I was actually playing a game. It felt engrossing to the point of actually feeling immersed in the story and personally invested in the outcome. While playing the game, the player develops an emotional attachment to the characters and, at least for me personally, may second guess the actions the game forces the player to take and may not always like the repercussions of those actions. Much like watching a favorite character die on a television show or book, the same feelings are evoked during the course of playing the game. There is that feeling of if only they had done this other thing instead, their outcome would have been different. In a sea of video games that create a detached feeling between the player and the real world results of their characters actions, Valiant Hearts is a beacon of humanity, creating a visceral connection to the story and a connection with the past that is rapidly fading as time passes. This game is not only enjoyable to play, but it also tells a great story and is an engaging history lesson bringing to light the scope and tragedy that was the First World War. Since there are no longer any living WWI veterans left to tell their story, this is a great way to reach those who wouldn’t normally be exposed to or interested in this moment in time.
I give Valiant Hearts: The Great War a 5 out of 5.
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