Review: Valiant Hearts: The Great War

Release date: 2014
Version played: Xbox One in 2015

Developed by Ubisoft Montpellier, Valiant Hearts: The Great War is a 2014 side-scrolling action/puzzle game based on, as the title suggests, The Great War, aka World War One. It tells the story of four characters whose fates intertwine throughout; American soldier Freddie, Frenchman Emile and his German son-in-law Karl, and Belgian nurse Anna. It was developed using the same game engine as another Ubisoft title, Child of Light (which I reviewed, and found strangely appealing). Considering it is based on World War One, don’t go into it expecting many moments of joy…

+ the art style is gorgeous, looking somewhat like cardboard cutouts over the dynamic backgrounds. The playable characters themselves are all distinct, compared to the very intentional swarm of near identical soldiers you’ll be fighting alongside
+ the action levels involve dodging enemies, enemy fire, or getting item A to point B. These are tense and unforgiving, where (realistically, I assume) getting shot once is all it takes to lose the mission. Thankfully, the checkpoints for these segments are well placed
+ generally, the puzzle levels plays out as a condensed version of an item trading sequence (think Legend of Zelda); someone wants a pipe, who will give you medicine, which someone else will trade for a piece of meat, which will distract a dog etc. It is relatively standard, but it certainly still feels great to get that final sequence set
+ the narration between levels, and certainly the music/sound effects used throughout the game, really do get across the horrors of war. I was surprised just how much I would come to care for these characters, considering there is very minimal voice work from them, aside from the standard grunts and screams

– admittedly, the game does become quite repetitive in terms of level design, particularly the more action-hevy moments

> Not since Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons have I been quite as thrown by just how horrible a game would make me feel

Should you play this game: After completing the whole thing in roughly four hours, I can say it was well worth it for the story, but insofar as video games go, it was quite lacking. You might almost get the same experience by reading a few first-hand stories from World War One. But hey, I got it for free, so I can’t complain about that.

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