Review: Valiant Hearts

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Since its inception in March 1986, Ubisoft has had a knack for producing outstanding video games.

Triple A franchises such as Assassin’s Creed, Tony Clancy’s Rainbox Six, Far Cry, Rayman and Trials are just a few of the series that the Paris-based corporation has had recent success with.

It is their lesser-known, ‘indie’ titles that have garnered a wealth in interest since 2012, however.

Child of Light was charming, beautifully designed and a throwback to the era of RPGs; Grow Home was also a quaint compute game and showcased an interesting concept, puzzle wise.

Valiant Hearts: The Great War, developed by one of Ubisoft’s subsidiaries, Ubisoft Montpellier, was another game that somewhat flew under the radar upon release in 2014.

So what better time to dive into it, after it was featured as one of Xbox One’s Free Games with Gold titles back in October 2015.

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Set during World War One, Valiant Hearts is a freely-based story telling of four different characters as they navigate the infamous ‘War To End All Wars’.

Players progress through the personally absorbing stories of Frenchman Emile Chaillon, German son-in-law Karl, American solider Freddie and Belgian nurse Anna as they cross paths with each other throughout the four-year long conflict.

The game itself is split into four chapters – each around two hours long – and players are tasked with steering past various obstacles and brain teasers as they progress through the course of the campaign.

Some puzzles are relatively straight forward, while others take a little more time to work out. Fortunately, if you ever do get stuck at a particular problem, the game does provide hints – spaced one to two minutes apart – so you don’t end up getting too frustrated.

Like 99% of all video games these days, Valiant Hearts also hides collectibles in each of its levels and, with over 100 to find, some players may think it a thankless task to locate them all.

Luckily, the vast majority can be found along either the linear route of the game itself (thanks to its 2D sidescrolling design) or just slightly off the beaten track.

Once each level has been completed, players are able to go back and play them in whatever order they choose to locate those elusive optional trinkets if they so wish.

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Another interesting part of the game is its historical facts that players can view, at the beginning of each new section, by pressing the Y button (or triangle button on PS4).

These facts help to educate players about varying aspects or battles throughout The Great War and, though a little invasive and pushy about wanting you to read them, provide a fascinating insight into real life events.

Perhaps the most distinctive design about Valiant Hearts, though, despite its apparent setting, is that you do little in the way of fighting.

Soldiers, aircraft, tanks and cannons attack, shoot, traverse and die around you in both the foreground and background as the player progresses through each section but, save for two short periods of driving a tank while firing off shells and a brief quick-time punch up, there is hardly any combat for the player to partake in.

For a game based around war, it’s an intriguing take on the genre.

Aesthetically, Valiant Hearts is gorgeous – its cartoon-ish style contrasting nicely with the setting of the game and proving that Ubisoft’s art direction is up there with the best.

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The sound direction, too, is superb – the game’s title screen music played on piano providing poignancy to a game set during The Great War, while another moment alongside a French marching band delivers one of a few humorous moments in the game.

Valiant Hearts is by no-means perfect, however.

In keeping with the realism of the setting, taking any damage results in the controlled character dying immediately, and causes the player to pick the game up from the last checkpoint.

It is a refreshing take compared to other games that use health bars or other ways to prevent instantaneous death, but it means one silly mistake can cost the player, particularly if you are engrossed in the unfolding story.

A word too on the boss fights that the game has.

The car chase ‘battles’ at certain points are a tad annoying, whilst another encounter sees you given mere minutes to rescue another character from the hands of a status-obsessed German commander.

Again, it is a welcome change from seeing an enemy’s animation continually fail to bash down a solitary door as you figure out how to stop them, but the time limit can lead to frustration if you need more time to work out just what the strategy, to win, is.

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The game’s final chapter wraps up the over-arcing story nicely, and throws in a twist that will leave players shocked and, perhaps, slightly emotional.

It’s a move that demonstrates that, despite its cartoon-ish nature, events of this ilk did occur throughout The First World War, and reminds players of the horror of war.

It is this realism that sends out a message of just how traumatising real life events would have been for anyone involved in such a horrific period at the start of the 20th century.

Educating the next generation about past atrocities are of huge importance to prevent events like this happening again.

If Valiant Hearts strikes a chord with anyone and provides that tuition, even through the medium of a video game, then it has done its job.

Verdict: Valiant Hearts: The Great War is a cool eight-hour puzzle-adventure game that acts as a poignant reminder of the events of 1914-1918, and its educational tools add something extra to what could be considered just another 2D sidescrolling title. 8/10

Valiant Hearts: The Great War is available now on Xbox One, Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Playstation 4, PC, iOS and Android.

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