Though a few videos have been published leading up to the release of Valiant Hearts: The Great War, not a lot of them did very much to explain what the game actually was. Clearly, we could see that it was being built on the UbiArt Framework and from what we read, we could clearly see that a lot of care and attention was being lavished on treating the subject matter with the greatest of respect. What we didn’t know though, is what sort of game we were looking at. Platformer? Shooter? Puzzler? Who could tell?
Well as it turns out, Valiant Hearts is a side-scrolling puzzler set in World War I. On occasion, there are dalliances with higher-tempo platform action and shooting, but these are rare occurrences. If you’re ever asked to test out your reactions, it’s never for too long. No, the order of the day here is completing puzzles to collect items or effect reactions that will lead you to the next section of the story. Cranks, gears, pulleys, levers, a bit of Pipe-Mania, and a canine companion that loves to have his belly scratched all feature, and whilst the experience isn’t perfect, it sure is high-quality, emotional fare.
You play as multiple characters, whose lives are all affected by the outbreak of the war. French veteran Emile, US Commando Freddie, and Belgian nurse Anna are the main characters you’ll be playing as, with the game switching between them as their paths cross and as the story requires. As mentioned, an army dog befriends the crew and can be commanded to fetch things, pull levers, and squeeze through tight gaps. Generally, the team are separated, joining forces when required, with AI taking over to control the character that you aren’t directly controlling. The AI also controls the dog for pretty much the entire duration of the game, and does a good job of it. Rarely will man’s best friend wander too far or get in the way of your view, and the little fella is relatively fearless. Undoubtedly, you’ll grow to care for your new four-legged pal.
The UbiArt framework has featured in a couple of outstanding titles, most notably Rayman Legends and Child of Light. And whilst you can look at Valiant Hearts and just tell that it’s built on that great framework, it doesn’t ever reach the heady visual heights of those two releases, but there are some nice touches, such as the almost comic book-style picture-in-picture view that's used when important things are occurring off-screen. It’s very pretty at times, but there are some rough edges to be found. There’s also a couple of nasty bugs to report, generally to do with things not triggering. We had to restart a section where a cart full of explosives wouldn’t detonate and clear our path and at one point, we directed Anna to walk through a doorway and then changed our mind so told her to go back out of the room again quickly. The result? Anna stopped responding to commands and we had to restart the game in order to continue.
Fortunately, these issues are relatively uncommon and some people will play through without issue. It’ll depend on what your luck is like.
The issues don’t stop Valiant Hearts from being top-notch stuff. Thanks to the game’s generous checkpointing system, you’ll not feel too aggrieved at what turns out to be a minor inconvenience. The puzzling is high-quality stuff, and most players will be surprised at how often they’ll see a way of doing something and then find out that it works in-game, where a lot of other puzzlers would refuse to comply and force you to do things the single way that the developer intended. To cap things off, there are a handful of driving sequences which are set to classical music which are great fun, much as the musical levels in Rayman Legends were.
But what must be commended here, is the story. A twisting, winding tale is told in front of your very eyes, and the source material is handled with such care and reverence that it’s hard not to get caught up as you play. Valiant Hearts may be a work of fiction, but it sits upon a bed of facts, set during a time where many millions of fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, sisters, brothers, and friends had their lives cut short by a brutal and bloody war that affected every single nation on the planet in one way or another. Those brave men and women that risked and gave up their lives in the name of freedom are not exploited here, when they have been by other titles. Ubisoft Montpellier should be applauded for their approach, which highlights the nightmarish conditions on the battlefield, the sacrifices made in the towns and cities, and in the horrific outcome that each assault generally resulted in.
We are trying desperately to not spoil any part of the storyline for you, so we’ll leave things there before we do.
As a videogame, Valiant Hearts: The Great War is imperfect. The DDR-alike mini-game you’re forced to play in order to help Anna cure a patient for example, is dull. But for every low point, there are more than a few highs to offset it. The five hours or so of gameplay that you’ll get from a single playthrough are rewarding and memorable, with that fantastic storyline backing up some great puzzling action. Some may find themselves frustrated when bugs occur, but we think most will be forgiving of them once the end credits roll. As a package, we’re sure that Valiant Hearts is something that you’ll never forget. And you should indeed never forget.