When Ubisoft Montreal first announced Valiant Hearts: The Great War, I’ve waited for the game to be released for a long time. And the game is worth the wait. When talking about war, history books focus on the victories and the enormous amount of people that have died. Valiant Hearts: The Great War has made a way to portray that friendships can be bonded and families can be reconnected amidst the dark and deadly fog of war.
The Great War was a turning point in history, with casualties topping almost seven million. Empires crumbled, new alliances were forged, and many countries found independence for the first time. World War I forever changed how wars were fought, chemical weapons were used for the first time, armored tanks rolled across battlegrounds and air raids stroke fear in the hearts of citizens across Europe.
Valiant Hearts opens on a beautiful French countryside where Emile and his family lives. In response to Germany’s aggression, France has decided to kick out all German citizens from the country, including Emile’s son-in-law Karl. Devastating the family, Emile’s daughter Marie is left to take care of their newly born baby once Emile is drafted into the war. Over the course of four chapters and 27 stages, you are sent all over the Eastern border of France.
After a quick training mission where you learn the basics for the controls, picking up objects, punching and interacting with the environment you are sent off to war.Almost as soon as the war begins for Emile, he is captured and forced to cook for a German platoon as a form of imprisonment. It is here that Emile learns about Karl’s fate, being drafted to fight for the Germans. After a quick puzzle involving pulling switches and levers to make dinner for Baron Von Dorf, the German encampment is bombed from the air. While Karl safely flies off with the Baron, Emile is left for dead under a pile of rubble. Thanks to Walt, a medic dog, your life is spared and a friendship has been formed that will last a lifetime.
Each of the playable characters have their own unique method to puzzle solving. Emile, armed with a frying pan, is capable of ordering Walt around the environment to activate levels or pick up unreachable items. In one segment, a required item is beyond the reach of any humans after a chemical gas attack by the Germans. Thankfully, Walt is capable of crawling really low to the ground and reach the item unharmed. Freddie, an American, features more destruction in his puzzles, as he is able to toss grenades and cut barbed wire fence. The final playable character Anna, finds her way to the frontline of the war as a medic. A timing mini-game is played when trying to save the lives of soldiers on both sides of the conflict.
Breaking up the side-scrolling on-foot sequences, you’ll also find yourself driving a taxi across France towards the screen while dodging incoming fire from all sides in tune to Hungarian Dance No 5, French Can Can and Flight of the Bumblebee.
As the war rages on, the horrors of the actual events are portrayed not only in-game, but through hidden items and background information regarding all of battles you partake in. Make no mistake, Valiant Hearts is not a happy tale, but one full of tragedy, which is something not seen before as the primary focus on of a game. Using the UbiArt engine, the game’s visuals pop off the screen, with intricate levels of detail in both the foreground and background levels. Pulling wounded soldiers and friends to safety, watching soldiers sacrifice their lives for you, really bring home the “hell” that was The Great War.
A few games have had the ability to offer a bittersweet tone and to provide a theme that shows the stark reality of war offset by moments of humanity. The visual display of the game is creatively done and the soundtrack is splendidly made, transporting you into the environment on the first note. The game is a gem, probably one of the best games of the year.Note: Valiant Hearts: The Great War was reviewed on Xbox One. A digital copy of the game provided by the publisher.