When I first laid eyes on Valiant Hearts I, like many others, predicted big things for the World War I title, and I’m glad to report I wasn’t wrong, at least in my opinion. Tackling World War I, an era largely ignored by videogames thus far, the game attempts to do two things – create an enjoyable puzzle adventure, and to convey the tragedy and heartbreak, as well as the hope and camaraderie felt during the war, to the player. It’s a game that tells a war story, one that’s inspired by real life letters and events from the front, and the developers have crafted a fitting tribute to the troops, with a beautiful game, not only visually so, but also in terms of the writing and characterisation.
Brothers in arms
The game puts you in control of various characters during the conflict, whose paths intertwine as they survive the horrors of battle. Instead of a scrolling shooter, however, the game is far more cerebral, and much of it is puzzle-based. Rather than killing German soldiers, for example, you’ll instead find ways to distract them so you can sneak past (or occasionally knock them out from behind), or figure out ways to bypass or remove a threat. You may need to wire TNT to blow up a gun emplacement or bridge, or figure out how to re-route deadly chlorine gas back into a pumping station to blow it up and open the way for your allies. You even get a rather cute and helpful dog to help you out, and he’s used extensively in puzzles, often in very clever ways. There are also rhythm game-style challenges, used when healing others as a medic, one of the game’s characters.
Indeed, the puzzles on offer here range from simple, to devious and tricky, but never illogical or cheap. I will say, however, that experienced puzzlers may want to play the game on veteran difficulty, as this removes highlights and other aids that could make the game far too easy. And, with a game like this, a big part of the experience is about the challenge of figuring conundrums out for yourself.
The puzzles are varied too, and although some elements are used several times, such as levers and block pushing, the puzzles never get boring or overly repetitive. It’s always enjoyable and rewarding, and this is partly due to the fantastic presentation, and instantly lovable characters that you really do feel for.
The game isn’t all puzzling, though, and there are more action-style sections. One of the highlights, and a section that made me grin from ear to ear, was an early example of the car chase scenes that see you racing towards the screen whilst avoiding bombs and bullets from aircraft. These levels are set to music, à la Rayman, and work brilliantly. In fact, the entire musical score of the game is superb, and perfectly fits the subject matter. Other sections also break up the puzzling, including stealth missions behind enemy lines, and on the whole, the game keeps you gripped from start to finish.
Alongside the game itself, special praise has to go to the educational aspect it features. Yes, education in a video game that doesn’t make you want to chew off your hands. Who knew?
As you move through the various stages, you’re given historical snippets of information on the war in the form of short and simple slides. This information, which is often coupled to the events happening in the game, actually teaches you about some of the most interesting aspect of the war, and also highlights the horror of the whole thing, from the disease-ridden trenches, to the need to use urine-soaked cloths as makeshift gas masks. You can even pick up hidden collectibles that provide more information. If Valiant Hearts was made available in school history lessons, I’m willing to bet it’d teach far more about the war than boring text books, and it’d certainly be more memorable.
Fightin’ the war
Valiant Hearts may not be the most challenging or complex game, but that’s not the point. It’s a touching tribute to those who fought in World War I, and in this regard, the dev team has nailed it, in impressive fashion, with a great game underneath.
It’s a thoroughly engaging insight into one of the worst periods of human history, and that it makes this into an enjoyable game, at all times paying the utmost respect to the subject matter and those who fought in the war is admirable. It has far more impact than anything the likes of Call of Duty or Battlefield could ever hope to achieve, and it’s one of the best games released this year so far. Get it.
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