Before I dive in I would like to commend Ubisoft for flexing their indie muscle and releasing games like this and Child of Light. It is an ambitious project that is a far cry (Mild Pun Intended) from anything else in their stable of titles. Valiant Hearts is a game about war where the main objective is not killing the other guys. I will provide a quick warning there may be some minor spoilers below.
Probably the most striking of Valiant Hearts’ plethora of great qualities has to be the art style. It is perfectly simplistic and an ideal match for the tragic tale the story weaves. Watching the color pallette change from vibrant and hopeful to drab and desperate is an experience in and of itself. It is also quite astonishing to see how well the light hearted animation does at depicting the horrors of the first great war. The soundtrack also does a great job of setting the mood for the game. It is quite somber for the most part, but I have to admit it features the best buggy driving music since Return Fire.
As you may have imagined at this point, Valiant Hearts is not the typical war game. It revolves around a family and the friends they make in the horrific situations they face. The game focuses more on the impact war has on relationships with our fellow men and women instead of trying to rack up the highest possible body count by the end of the campaign. I can count on a single hand the number of enemy soldiers I attacked. For me this is actually a good thing, it gave a bit of gravity to the decision I made as a player on whether or not I wanted to attack an opposing soldier. The other aspect of the game that I greatly appreciated was the fact that the only gun I possessed was a decoration more than anything. I never fired a single round from my rifle, in fact for the first third of the game my primary “weapon” was a soup ladle.
As you go through the game you control one of four characters as they traverse the battered landscape of war. While the story is pretty short Ubisoft has done an amazing job with the character development. The story follows everyday people fighting for both sides that have been thrown into the middle of the war without their consent. The majority of the cast is drafted by their respective sides while the remaining members get involved by circumstance. While most of the story is driven by your actions a lot of character development is done through letters written by the characters to each other or their loved ones back home. These letters give a pretty intimate look into each characters lives and their motivations that carry them through the tough times. By the end of the game you really feel like you are part of this poor family that has been ripped apart by the tragic war.
The gameplay of Valiant Hearts is about solving puzzles with little to no combat involved. I have to say this is another area that the game really shines. Each puzzle is different enough to keep the game fresh throughout the entire campaign without it feeling too repetitive. They range from simple fetch and return to rhythm based medical interludes ala Rock Band. It also features a couple tactical espionage missions that would make Hideo Kojima proud. A majority of the main puzzles either tie directly into the plot of the game or provide character development, which is nice. This gives the puzzles a sense of worth instead of just being another obstacle you need to pass to advance. Though none of the puzzles are particularly challenging it still gives the player a sense of accomplishment when you hear the violin medley signifying their completion.
Another admirable goal Ubisoft had for the game was to teach players about World War I. They did this by including historical facts about situations faced in the game. For example you learn about “Trench Warfare” as you are navigating through the trenches. This is done through pop up windows and a brief paragraph about the subject. While I really did like the idea, the execution left a little to be desired. In order to read the facts you would be taken completely out of the story for 5 to 10 minutes. The other disappointing thing about the historical facts aspect is you have to read them when they pop up or you will miss out. I couldn’t find a way to go back and read them after I completed the level or the game. I do commend Ubisoft for providing a history lesson with the game, I just wish it didn’t take away from their beautifully crafted story.
The only real disappointment I had with the game was it’s brevity. Now they do say that the sign of a good story teller is leaving the audience wanting more, which Valiant Hearts does accomplish. Unfortunately it didn’t compel me to go back and play thru the available content again. It took me about 6 hours to complete, and that is being generous. Unfortunately it doesn’t really encourage a second playthrough. Now don’t get me wrong, the story is paced very well and may actually suffer if it’s dragged out further, but offering some sort of value to replaying it would be nice. The $15 price tag isn’t quite as difficult to swallow as $30 for Ground Zeros, but at least Kojima offered us some replayability to justify it’s high price. Even Tale Tale’s “The Walking Dead” offered some choices throughout the game that could encourage a second playthrough.
All-in-all I really did enjoy my time with Valiant Hearts and I would highly recommend it if you ever see it on sale. The story is fantastic, the character development is top notch, and the puzzles are very engaging. Now if you’ll please excuse me, I think I have something in my eyes that is causing them to tear up.
*Review based on PS4 version. Also Available on PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, and PC