When it comes to major conflicts World War Two has the video game market cornered. The only other war of note, which has been featured so predominately as the backdrop of a game, would have to be Star Wars! How refreshing it is then to see Ubisoft cover the First World War in their digital title Valiant Hearts. What is also novel about the release is that, rather than being a bog standard shooter or a historic strategy game, Valiant Hearts: The Great War is a puzzler with a touching story that is brought to life via some gorgeous comic book style graphics.
The game begins with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which sparked off the hostilities that engulfed most of Europe back in the year 1914. The rising tensions resulted in France booting German nationals back to their country of origin, because back in those days you could deport undesirables from your borders without the EU kicking up a fuss. One of the chaps affected by the mass exodus is a bloke named Karl who is separated from his French wife and conscripted into the German ranks. In a cruel twist of fate his father in law Emile is recruited to fight for the opposing French army.
Valiant Hearts boasts a quartet of playable characters. Aside from Karl and Emile, the story also covers the adventures of a an American named Freddy and Anna a Belgian student who sports a sheepdog like hairstyle (I have no idea how she can see where she is going with those bushy bangs.) Freddy has joined the French army so he can get vengeance on the Germans – specifically a commander named Baron Von Dorf who led an assault that resulted in the death of his beloved. Anna on the other hand, who has studied medicine, sets off for the frontlines to aid the injured and search for her missing father.
Playing through Valiant Hearts reminded me of old school puzzle adventure games like Codemasters’ classic Dizzy series. Getting through the levels sees the player collecting useful items, which have conveniently been strewn across the landscape, and figuring out how best to utilise them in order to solve the brainteasers impeding your progress. In addition to using objects, Valiant Hearts’ cast also have their own set of unique skills, which can get them out of a sticky situation. Anna for example can treat the wounded via a bandage themed rhythm mini-game, Freddy can use wire cutters to hack through barbed wire, Karl is a master of disguise who can sneak past guards and Emile carries a shovel that comes in handy for digging tunnels and whacking unsuspecting enemies on the noggin.
If puzzles aren’t your thing fear not. When developing the game it’s clear that Ubisoft wanted players to experience the story with minimal frustration. The puzzles you come across are so simple than even my feeble intellect managed to suss them out. If all else fails however you can rely on the handy hint system to point you in the right direction after a couple of minutes. Aside from tackling conundrums Valiant Hearts also mixes things up with some light action sequences. These usually involve dodging a rain of artillery fire or using your driving skills to weave past oncoming traffic.
Although Ubisoft has recently been lambasted for releasing subpar AAA releases, Valiant Hearts proves that the company can be surprisingly creative with their smaller projects. Using minimal dialogue Valiant Hearts is able to deliver an emotional tale that highlights the cruelty of war, rather than glorifying it like other games do. The cartoony visuals plus a smattering of comedy ensure that the game is fun to play and not overly depressing despite the subject matter being covered. I also found my play through to be an educational experience thanks to the collectables scattered across the levels. Unearthing these items trigger pop-ups that impart you with historical facts pertaining to the period. I can honestly say that I learnt a lot about World War One from completing this game. Shame that software of this calibre didn’t exist when I was a lad – if it had I might have not flunked my history exams!
FINAL RATING: FIVE STARS