Valiant Hearts: The Great War is the second non-Rayman project to use Ubisoft quirky UbiArt Framework, after the beautiful but soporific Child of Light. A few weeks after the 70th anniversary of the D-Day (Normandy Landing), this Ubisoft Montpellier title is set back on a conflict that is rarely adapted in videogames nowadays: the First World War. The Great War as the French call it, is revived in the adventures of four characters – five if you count the trusty dog Walt – Emile, Freddie, Anna and Karl in the midst of the worst conflict ever known in the Old Continent.
Valiant Hearts: The Great War’s originality lies in its interest in the First World War, not the Second, as has been the case for countless titles (although the trend is downright dead nowadays). More importantly, it takes advantage of very interesting storytelling at the heart of the conflict and thus keeps the focus on the characters and the narrative. The game puts us in turn into the shoes Emile, a French 50 something sent to the front; Freddie, an American volunteer enlisted in the French army; Anna, a young Belgian student doing her studies in Paris; and Karl, the German son of Emile kicked back to the other side of the border. During this ten to fifteen hours of gameplay, these brave soldiers will tell their story and cross their destiny in both dramatic and incredible feats.
This is another strength of the game: to set the tone of war without calling for gruesome action. Without forgeting the mass death and the terrible days of European soldiers on the front, Ubisoft Montpellier’s title still manages to put some charm into this game; better yet, by removing the devilish connotation of the German enemies, straying away from the tones of Nazi-Germany titles set in 1939-1945.
It’s with a soft artistic choice that Ubisoft Montpellier manage to do that, mainly by the digital pen strokes of the talented Paul Tumelaire, the artistic director of the Valiant Heart, who had also worked on the latest episodes of Rayman, as well as Beyond Good & Evil. His drawings, influenced by Franco-Belgian comics – Tintin, Asterix, etc – come to life in the most beautiful ways thanks to Ubisoft in-house, giving us quirky animations, playing in parallel to the crisps details of the background.
The theme of a European comic (Also known as BD, or bande dessinée) is further enforced by the dialogues that appear in bubbles, the old school strip boxes that appear at times to show off different sides of the action, or to boost the narration between levels. In short, visually speaking, it’s a very successful style.
Valiant Hearts: The Great War goes further on than being a piece of art, as it is a puzzle game laced with simple skill, in the vein of Oddworld, or even Machinarium and The Cave. Even though it is set during the war, the game pushes you to work your brain, instead of your riffle aim. The story goes to different important points of the eastern front throughout the four key years of the First World War, from the mud of the trenches, passing by the Cathedral of Reims, Verdun and Somme; each level consisting of a large number of simple and complex puzzles.
All characters have their own key abilities of course, but the game does not let you choose the protagonist in each level: you will all play in turn, together or solo. Freddie for example, is the man of action, that will go through more platform levels, with assaults on foot or tank in which you need to clean areas and help troops advance. Anna, attends to the needed, with a smartly made – though sometime annoying – QTY mechanics. Emile can dig with a shovel to find short cuts in the trenches for his companions. Finally Karl will be mostly known for the infiltration parts of the game.
If Valiant Hearts: The Great War therefore has a “common core” gameplay (with puzzles that require you to find an object to bring to a specific point to activate a mechanism, etc.), the game also tries to propose other innovative phases, such as old-school driving episodes in taxis, but that’s mostly about it. This title is closer to the old point-and-click adventure games, with the mouse and keyboard.
And of course, let’s not forget Walt, the rescuer dog who will befriend the entire group, adding an extra dimension to the puzzles, since it can sneak into the holes to fetch objects, or activate mechanisms. If it is regrettable that in some instances, Walt was also the reason behind the game’s bugs, forcing me to reboot the mission.
So you might ask me if that’s all it… Well, pretty much. History maniacs will be interested during the game with the encyclopedic side of Valiant Hearts: The Great War, offering at the beginning of each mission brief explanations about the real-life battles, fighting techniques, or the life of everyday soldiers, which keeps the history in context. For the OCDs, there is in each level a series of trophies to find, emblematic of the conflict at the time, accompanied by short description that can bring you a smile to your face.
Valiant Hearts: The Great War was reviewed using an Xbox One downloadable code from Ubisoft. The game is also available on PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and PC. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published.
• A variety of ideas
• Endearing characters
• An amazing visual achievement
• Well thought tutorials
• A smart way to show such a difficult subject
• Rather simplistic puzzles
• Some reaction time seem sometimes illogical
• Missing Chapter (Incoming DLC?)