Valiant Hearts -The Great War-
When I saw Valiant Hearts earlier this year, I knew it was going to try and make us all cry and it did not disappoint. It truly captures the tension and deadliness of trench warfare and really all war. The true horror of crossing into No Man’s Land and the loss of your troops in the blink of an eye.
Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination triggers WWI due to the complicated web of treaties and the world was changed forever. Germans were being deported from France back to Germany and that is what happens to Karl. He is then conscripted into the military to fight the French. At the same time Emile, a Frenchman, is conscripted to fight the Germans. The twist is that they are family, Karl is Emile’s son-in-law and father of his grandson. They both must fight and it is a truly dismal situation. They both meet friends along the way. Emile becomes friends with an American volunteer, Freddie, who is there to set things right. While Karl after being wounded by Emile’s unit becomes friends with a nurse Anna. There is one thing that drives all of them, getting back to the ones they love.
At different times you play as all four and your faithful Red Cross dog. You control the dog through a secondary set of controls when you hit the left bumper. Ubisoft Montpellier did an amazing job capturing the feel of being in the trenches. It is dingy, muddy and dismal. It is filled with mud and death, leaving no right choices.
The graphics are strangely pretty and boarder on cute (especially the dog) which seems very strange in such a dark game. But the UbiArt engine truly shows its flexibility in making the trenches and environment feel real and horrifying. Valiant Hearts looks like a piece of art and succeeds at being beautiful and wistful.
Symbolism plays a major part in Valiant Hearts. Everyone in the game is gray because life is not just black and white but everything in between. This is especially true during times of war. No one wants to be at war, fighting and killing other people but it is inevitable and the men and women must fulfill their duties to the country they call home. Ubisoft Montpellier depicts this throughout but the best example of this comes when Emile is in the mines of Vauquois. He is sent to save soldiers trapped in a series of tunnel collapses and as he goes deeper and deeper he comes across a German soldier. Instead of leaving him to die he chooses to save him. They become “friends” and help each other find their way out. The German soldier saves Emile from German guards and lets him return to the French. Minutes later Emile delivers dynamite that is used to kill many German soldiers including the one that he saved. It is just one of a series of gray actions made throughout the game.
Valiant Hearts is an action puzzle game that succeeds on every level of gameplay. They balance puzzles with the adventure really well and switching between characters adds good variation. The running scenes are filled with timing; you need to dodge machine gun fire, artillery fire, and airplane attacks. The action sequences really ratchet up the tension. By adding in the puzzles it lets the tension break so it doesn’t seem like a Michael Bay film, with one explosion after another. The only issue with a few of the puzzles is the back and forth. Sometimes it takes forever to do one puzzle because you can only carry one item. Anna is a medic so every once in a while you will have to fix people up and there is a mini-game for that. It is kind of like Rock Band or Guitar Hero where you have to match the button to the heartbeat to save the person. Ubisoft Montpellier was diligent and made sure the game did not suffer from repetitiveness.
That isn’t all however, there is educational pages that you unlock as you play. They give you real facts about what happened in the war. One that was incredible to me was the Battle of Verdun where 70 thousand soldiers were killed every month and the battle lasted ten months. That means that 1 French and 1 German soldier died per minute. There are other tidbits about what life was like in the trenches and how the poison gasses worked. So it can be an educational tool as well and that is something that I think is awesome.
Finally we cannot leave out the music and narration. They are both great and fit every situation perfectly. The music adds something amazing to the game, it just enhances everything from the sadness, happiness, and violence. I cannot describe how much feeling is in the music. The narration is just as good. The narrator hits every note just right and has a profound voice that conveys so much.
Valiant Hearts succeeds on every level. The different characters, puzzles, motivations, actions, and everything else keeps the game fresh. The environment really transports you back to 1917 and life in the trenches. The additional element of education pleases the history nerd in me and I believe it reminds people that WWII actually had a precursor (most people have no idea what the war was about, when, and the terrible cost). Emile has the best quote, “war makes men mad.” I think this is true, not only in the case of WWI but all war. I guarantee that you will love this game even while it makes you cry. Go play, it is an experience that no one should miss!