Valiant Hearts: The Great War tells the story of four people whose lives come together as they all search for different things during World War I, aka, The Great War. The story begins in 1914 as the war is about to break out. Karl, one of our main characters, is deported from France since he’s German, breaking up his family. His father-in-law, Emile, is soon called up by the French forces to fight on the front lines. Emile is injured in battle and becomes a POW where Karl’s unit is stationed. Karl is working for the infamous Baron Von Dorf, our villain in the game. When the camp is attacked, Emile meets American volunteer, Freddie, who helps Emile in his quest to find and bring Karl home while searching for Von Dorf for his own reasons. Together, along with a helpful dog, they meet Anna, a medic who is in search of her father, a scientist kidnapped by the devious Von Dorf for his technological advances. Ok wow… that seems like a lot! Trust me when I say that it unfolds rather well in game and is far less confusing than what I just had to explain to you.
What we end up with is a moving and wonderfully told story of friendship, sacrifice and survival as Anna, Freddie, Emile and Karl suffer through the horrors of war, each for their own reasons and each with a different end game in mind. The subtext in the story also delves into the futility of both the quest for vengeance and war. Ultimately, it’s Karl’s desire to reunite with his family that ties it all together, but not before Freddie gets his chance at revenge, Anna finds her father amidst helping the wounded on the most savage of battlefields and Emile comes face to face with his own mortality and sees the violent effects of political face offs.
The gameplay in Valiant Hearts is simple enough. It’s a side scrolling puzzler that ranges from the simplistic ‘find something and put it here’, to the more complex, multi-part, ‘find this to get that, to put here, to get that so you can unlock this’ puzzles. Each of the characters has their own unique quality (bolt cutters, digging, etc.) that you will need to solve the variety of puzzles. Your dog also comes in handy as you can give him commands to aid you in your puzzle solving as well. They try to throw some curve balls at you with some random driving missions and stepping up the complexity of Anna’s healing parts, but honestly, that’s pretty much the gameplay in a nutshell. On the whole the focus of Valiant Hearts is never really about the gameplay itself, choosing instead to focus itself as an interactive narrative. It will still hold your attention from start to finish with an absolutely heart wrenching tale but you’ll never feel challenged in the gameplay department.
There are some unlockables and collectables along the way, each having an important fact about the area that you’re in. In addition to that, each new stage unlocks new facts about the time frame of the war as you play through. In essence, Valiant Hearts is secretly giving you a history lesson as you play through. I’m a bit of a history nut, so this proved to be an extra special little tidbit for me. There are also new diary entries from each of the main characters as you progress, to give you more insight into the characters state of mind since the dialogue is practically non-existent. Reading these facts and diary entries really helps to drive home the emotion of the game too. When you can relate this imagined game experience to experiences that perhaps your own great grandparents had it manages to hit home with much more punch than most other games.
The artwork for the game is another strong aspect of Valiant Hearts. Using the UbiArt Framework engine that Child of Light used earlier this year, the art is beautifully rendered and paints terrific levels from battlefields, to bombed out cities, to POW camps. Since there’s little to no dialogue in the game, it relies on the art to present the story visually, and it doesn’t slack on it at all. The music is equally, if not more brilliantly done! Utilizing a full orchestra, the music is engaging in every sequence and perfectly fits in every instance. I found myself on several occasions pausing it just to listen to the music for a little bit longer.
Overall, I couldn’t have been more pleased with Valiant Hearts: The Great War. Beautiful art, moving music and a compelling story that has a heart wrenching and unexpected ending with plenty of subtext for you to chew on, it was an absolute treat to play. While the gameplay itself isn’t complex, the puzzles were surprisingly fun even if not overly hard. It also wins extra points from me for slipping in historical facts and subtly teaching you a history lesson. Available for a reasonable price for digital download across all platforms, Valiant Hearts definitely is worth the pick up!