Review: Valiant Hearts: The Great War (PS4)

valiant-hearts-review-banner

Title: Valiant Hearts
Format: PlayStation Network Download (1.2 GB)
Release Date: June 25, 2014
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft Montpelier
Original MSRP: $14.99
ESRB Rating: T
Valiant Hearts is also available on PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PC.
The PlayStation 4 version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was purchased by PS Nation for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy.

World War I is a complicated war that has rarely been given the video game treatment before. Due to the war being long and filled with trench warfare, poisonous gas and lack of set piece moments as found in World War II it is understandable that the video game industry has been reluctant to cover World War I. So in order to cover the The Great War, Ubisoft Montpelier went the route of focusing on the human aspect and by doing so were able to achieve some genuine heartfelt moments and to stir some powerful emotions.

Valiant Hearts: The Great War_20140705024952

Valiant Hearts: The Great War follows the lives of 5 playable characters: Emile, Karl, Freddie, Anna, and an adorable and helpful dog. The story starts as World War I begins when Karl, a German born man living in France is deported back to Germany when war is declared and he is drafted to fight for Germany which means Karl has to reluctantly leave his French born wife and son for Germany. To make matters worse his Father-in-law, Emile, soon finds himself called upon to serve his country of France. Basically setting up the main story of a family separated by the madness of war. The other characters include Freddie an American living in France who is driven by vengeance after his wife is killed during a German airstrike which motivates Freddie to take up arms and join the French Army where he eventually meets up with Emile along the way.  The other major character is Anna, a Belgian woman who is a nurse that travels across the war helping those in need.

The story for Valiant Hearts: The Great War is touching and the game does an amazing job at attaching the player to the characters through the wonderful art and story which is mostly told through narration. Built on interesting and endearing characters with intriguing backgrounds and motives is where Valiant Hearts thrives. The art is something that really sells the game with it being absolutely gorgeous despite some of the horrific aspects of the war it has to display. The story does some stretching to bring the paths of the characters closer together, but that factor is easily overlooked as they are all likable somewhat justifying it all.

Valiant Hearts: The Great War_20140705030525

Gameplay:
Valiant Hearts is a side scrolling adventure game whose primary gameplay components are various puzzles like moving pipes to change the flow of poisonous gasses or water and finding objects hidden in the environment. None of these were particularly challenging which didn’t really matter due to the great storytelling as in most adventure games.

Many of the puzzles make use of your canine companion and involve sending the dog to retrieve something in hard to reach areas or help with puzzles that require two actions at one time. When he’s is being used, the game cleverly turns the visuals black and white which is a nice touch as it is from the dog’s perspective as well as letting the player know who is being controlled at the time.

Valiant Hearts: The Great War_20140705033220

Since the Valiant Hearts is set in World War I it does deal with some major battles. These mostly involve avoiding incoming bombs and gunfire by running from cover to cover waiting for the enemy to reload. There are a couple sections that involve jumping into a tank or using a canon and though these sections are not super challenging they do an excellent job at breaking up the pace of the game. They also add some extra elements that give the player some power and the ability to be more on the offensive side as opposed to just running and hiding from the action.

Anna’s sections of the game focus on her being a nurse and are unique in that she has her own rhythm game when it comes to helping wounded soldiers. The rhythm game is simple throughout and only slightly increases in difficulty in terms of speed. Anna does not have the most playing time compared to the other characters largely due to her being a nurse and not dealing directly with the battles, but she becomes very vital to the story at the end and features some very tense moments.

To help inform people about the situations in the game, Valiant Hearts is accompanied by facts that pop up when reaching certain points that deal with important parts of the war based on time and or setting. These factoids are accompanied by a picture and small text and provide the player with some background on the current situation in the game. This is also true of the hundred collectibles hidden throughout the levels. Each collectible is given some background on why it would be there, making them worth seeking out as they provide interesting details to the world. The fact that these objects are not just the usual pointless trinkets found in other games, but rather little nuggets of information with historical context is a nice touch.

Valiant Hearts: The Great War_20140705025357

Visuals:
As stated before, Valiant Hearts is absolutely gorgeous and while it comes across as borderline cutesy it does not avoid dealing with serious subject matter. World War I had some of the worst aspects of any war like the use of poisonous gasses and the horrors of trench warfare.

Many levels feature gas on the battlefield and when you see the damages of war it is absolutely devastating. These moments and others are treated with respect and the art makes an impact. Many times during the game I was mesmerized by the art only to remember exactly what I was looking at and being reminded that this was a real war.

The 2D art is used wonderfully for this type of game which is focuses on the story first and foremost and really flexes the UbiArt engine that powered games like Child of Light and the recent entries in the Rayman series.

Valiant Hearts: The Great War_20140705034518

Audio:
The music is good and from time to time adds to the game in terms of emotional tension and it’s occasionally synchronized with actions in the game like when avoiding bombs. During Anna’s rhythm game the music also increases in speed to help build tension. It all stays with the time period and works nicely with the artwork and story in setting an atmosphere.

For the most part the characters only talk through journal entries at the beginning and or ending of a chapter and their interactions in the chapters devolve into a couple audible words or phrases when communicating with each other. There is a well voiced narrator that dishes out the story from time to time as well. This voice acting being limited to just a narrator does a good job and blends well with the pace and tone of the game and helps achieve what the game sets out to accomplish.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is single player only.

Valiant Hearts: The Great War_20140705040349

Conclusion:
Valiant Hearts: The Great War is an artful game that is a heartfelt experience and does a great job at shining a light on a war that video games for the most part have ignored. The gameplay may not challenge a player for more than a couple minutes, but it is never a dull experience, rather just a vehicle for helping tell a story.

Without spoiling the ending I will say that the last chapter was one of my favorite experiences in gaming this year and it had me on a roller-coaster ride of emotions throughout. The ending silenced me for sometime after playing it as I sorted through it all in my mind. I cannot express enough how much I recommend the game. I can deal with annual Assassin’s Creed and Just Dance games if Ubisoft continues to support these smaller UbiArt games when they are this well made and different.

Score: 
8.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

Written by Michael Cwick

Michael Cwick

Just a nerd from the Windy City. I’m actually really bad at describing myself because I get all self-critical and self-conscious. Follow me on Twitter, @The1stMJC, to see my borderline insane rants on tv shows and other non important subjects. If I’m not tweeting I’m probably just watching Buffy or Firefly for the millionth time.

Twitter Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Technorati Facebook
  • Sarah

    This game is beautiful!