Valiant Hearts: The Great War – History Lives On
By Sean Molloy
I freely admit that it has taken me nearly a week to dwell upon Valiant Hearts and its impact Ubisoft’s newest title has had on me. I also admit that in no way did I expect a layered, emotional and complete experience would ever come from a “smaller” downloadable titled. Yet here I am writing this, appreciating and thinking on the game in a kind of glow for a game that is easily one of candidates for game of the year thus far.
Valiant Hearts tells a story set throughout World War I, a time not very explored in the area of interactive entertainment. Inspired by letters found during the time period, telling the story of war through 5 very distinct and different points of view. Karl is a German living in France who is deported after the War breaks out and consequently separated from his wife Marie and their young child. Marie’s father, Emile is soon after drafted into the French army. Freddie is an American who volunteers to fight alongside the previously mentioned French army after his wife is killed by a German bombing raid led by the story’s main villain, Baron Von Dorf. Along the way, players are also introduced to Anna, a Belgian student who serves as a battlefield nurse. Along the way players play through each characters stories as they come together and are ripped apart time and time again.
Valiant Hearts brilliantly uses the UbiArt framework that has also provided the gorgeous visuals of both Rayman games by Ubisoft. The memorable art style, combined with historical pictures of the war evokes the creativity of the developers of the game, as I personally could not take my eyes off of the screen. The beauty of Valiant Hearts is in its simple yet effective art; swapping a gritty “lifelike” model for more of a comic feel. Characters still display such a strong sense of emotion and connection to each other than any other choice of design would be distracting. At its core, the game is of the puzzle/adventure/action variety. Players move along a 2.5 plane, occasionally switching characters and utilizing a medic dog to solve the puzzles strewn about each level. The challenges themselves can come off too easy at times but utterly fair keeping in mind the heaviness of the source material going on. I got hung up on one or two and had to ask the messenger pigeon tips to help me complete a level. None of this was in fault of the game being broken, more of user error and my lack of ability to spot an apple on the ground or a stick that needed to be thrown.
The soundtrack of Valiant Hearts also deserves specific mentioning itself. Game soundtracks and scores have had effects of courage or humor on me before. However, no game has ever delivered such an emotional punch to the gut as Valiant Hearts. I will forever remember the final levels as a benchmark of how music can blend with story in such an effective way. If someone were to ask me, “what is the closest to crying you’ve come to in gaming?” I have two answers; one would be the last piece of dialogue in last years brilliant, The Last of Us by Naughty Dog, The other being the last 45 seconds of Valiant Hearts. Tears welled up in the corner of my eyes and somewhere deep down I suddenly thought upon the horrors of war and the people affected.
Please, please do not pass up Ubisoft’s Valiant Hearts: The Great War. Even if history isn’t your thing, the stories of each character and a presentation is second to none is something not to miss this year. The emotional depth and complexities of the human spirit are on full display in each level. In a year of new consoles, it is a downloadable game that I am going to remember the most. Valiant Hearts is brilliant in every way and like I’ve said, is currently my frontrunner for game of the year.