We all know that World War 1 was a pretty horrific event, costing millions of lives and changing the face of the world forever. But what of the other side of the story, the friendships, the rescues, the favours and life-long relationships? That’s not something we often see in video games, with most titles before now focussing more on the killing than the emotion of the people embroiled in the war. But with Valiant Hearts we have something unusual: a story of friends coming together, stories moving on different paths and occasionally crossing to create a powerful and moving experience.
The UbiArt engine has already given us a couple of spectacular games, with Rayman and Child of Light both receiving worthy praise for their fantastic visuals, and Valiant Hearts carries on the trend with some great drawn visuals which manage to not only carry the weight of some of the more heart-stopping elements of the war but also allow the characters and environments to have a level of attachment and wonder that games with near photo-realistic graphics have struggled to match. From start to finish the games looks gorgeous, and if you hook up your Vita with Remote Play everything keeps its crisp and detailed ways giving you an equally awesome experience on the smaller screen.
But far more impressive than this is the music soundtrack, which goes largely unnoticed but is undeniably brilliant – the music in the title screen itself could be listened to for hours, and sets the scene for what’s coming up in a way that is very often ignored by other games. That title screen, featuring one character and the medic dog which you meet a short while into the game, tells a story in a single picture and shows the detail and thought which went into every small aspect of Valiant Hearts.
The game itself is a side-scrolling puzzle(ish) platformer, bringing some thought-provoking but not entirely difficult problems to solve using whatever you can find nearby to complete certain actions or reach certain areas previously out of reach. The cast of three men, a dog and a woman all have stories which bring home the horrors of war, and while most start off living separate lives their stories intertwine throughout in an entirely believable (if not occasionally James Bond type) way. It does seem a bit odd at times when this believable and heart-tugging story turns a corner into the territory of an action game with little interest in reality, and for a game which seems to work at its best when you’re believing the characters and getting full engrossed in a story which you could very easily imagine reading about in a history book, it’s a bit of a distraction.
But dig a little deeper still and there’s more to see than you think. Searching for hidden treasures through the levels is nothing new to platform games, but when you can hit a button and find out exactly what the item is and how it was used in the war, as well as the range of location facts and other snippets of information about the various battles through the war it starts to get genuinely fascinating. You not only start to learn stuff, but actually enjoy it and want to find out more. I started off by ignoring the unlocked info provided, but once I’d read a few I went back and read everything that I could find in the game. Seeing some of the figures related to what went on during these few years is enough to bring tears to anyone’s eyes, but when backed up by the story playing out in front of you as well it’s very powerful stuff.
So as a game Valiant Hearts is impressive and very much worth playing. It doesn’t have the level of challenge you might be expecting, but the storylines, visuals and incredible music all come together to provide an experience that shouldn’t be missed by anyone who’s ever had so much as a passing interest in the first World War. It’s a shame, granted, that the action goes off course a couple of times and changes the face of the game in a way that isn’t overly welcome, but combine the rest of the game with the history it provides you with and you’ve got something very unusual, and exceedingly worthwhile.
While Ubisoft are putting together a lineup of stunning titles such as Far Cry 4 and Assassin’s Creed they’re also taking care of an entirely different type of game, and in Valiant Hearts it’s one you really should take a look at.
Reviewed on PS4