The lights are on
'The Great War?'
It is a testament to the horrors of the First World War that even in the century following its outbreak we still discuss it. It is dissected and examined from every angle, however thus far the Great War has been criminally underrepresented in the world of video games. With almost every era of history being presented in some form across gaming the absence of one of the most significant conflicts the world has seen is a notable blind spot. It is thus this blind spot that Ubisoft seeks to address with ‘Valiant Hearts: The Great War’.
A puzzle adventurer Valiant Hearts seeks to explore the Great War through an in-depth examination of the war, it’s casualties and of course through gameplay. Unfortunately in only two of these areas does it succeed, ultimately leaving Valiant Hearts, perhaps poetically, a valiant attempt at a game, but a better tribute to the First World War.
The Puzzle Baron
The gameplay (what little there is) mainly takes the form of a light puzzle adventure. With characters being presented with small puzzles to solve before advancing along the field. Most of these puzzles fall into the old adventure school mechanic of finding the right object for the right hole. It is a shame then that outside of a few select segments the gameplay never differs from this simplistic method of ‘Find A to open B”. Indeed you will rarely find yourself taxed by any of the puzzles throughout your play through. Which only makes it that much more frustrating when what should be a simple puzzle is obtusely explained. Puzzles difficulty should be determined by complex creations and problem solving not poor parameter instruction.
Oh how very fiendish...
This being said the gameplay is perfectly functional it simply lacks any true interest and aside from a few standout sequences (including a driving section set to the Can-Can which is quite frankly a work of art) never elevates the game.
The same cannot be said of the story however, and it is here that Valiant Hearts shines.
A Love Letter
Loving crafted and beautifully shown (and based upon real letters from the Western Front), the story of Valiant Hearts follows a group of tragic characters (and one plucky pup) through the events of the war across the Western Front. Each character possesses a tragic burden and is weighed down by the events of both their pasts and the cost of the war. Valiant Hearts does not shy away from any of the brutality of the War. Chlorine gas, madness, racism, the concept of honor, all get fair air time throughout the adventure and at no part is any issues treated with anything other that utter respect.
Trust me, this hurts.
By focusing on the actual human beings involved in the conflict, Ubisoft has sidestepped the issue of a generic ‘Bad guy” (an antagonist does exist but his existence is more to drive the player forward, the war is the enemy more than one man), you will at different points throughout the game find yourself on both sides of the conflict and rarely will you consider anybody an ‘enemy’, one stand out sequence involving a medic on the field of Ypres highlights perfectly the brutal impact of this war upon everyone, be they German, French, British or American.
All in this together eh?
This somber story is supported by a wealth of information thrown at the player. At any point in the game you can scan through the background information of the events you’re experiencing and learn the history of not only the states involved in this conflict but also the weapons, the people and the places that the First World War affected.
These bite sized facts do a tremendous job in expanding your knowledge of what is going on around you and allow the true horror of what happened during the time be at the forefront of this game. The only downside to all this information is the break it causes to the gameplay flow as you break the immersion to sift through as much as you can.
It may seem an odd thing to say on a gaming website but it is perhaps appropriate, ‘Valiant Hearts: The Great War’ is fantastic, but it is not a good game. As an examination of the First World War it is amongst the best and is a fantastic way to show the conflict to a generation of people who may not know it as well as it’s successor. However as a game it suffers. There is little to do and every collectable is a history lesson.
Ultimately your enjoyment of Valiant Hearts will come down to how you approach it. If you come expecting a deep and engaging puzzler you will leave disappointed. If you come expecting a First World War shooter, you will be very disappointed. But if you come expecting an experience of the First World War and if you are willing to slug through mediocre puzzles you will find an experience that is heart wrenching, somber, beautiful and above all a fitting tribute to those whose lives were forever changed by one of the bloodiest conflicts the world has ever seen. It is quite simply unique.
Looks like my unfinished one got published...whoops