Valiant Hearts: The Great War
- Street Date:
- June 25th, 2014
- Reviewed by:
- Bill Braun
- Review Date:1
- June 27th, 2014
- Game Release Year:
- Ubisoft Montpellier
PS4 version reviewed.
There's no shortage of war-themed videogames. And although I may have lost track of how many 'Call of Duty' games have been released over the years, you can set your watch to the inevitable next entry. The once epic stories of World War II have been replaced with fly-by-night, Michael Bay action set pieces; inclusive of brief campaigns that are often ignored for the more frantic and fast-paced online multiplayer. Ubisoft Montpellier aims to shake up that format with 'Valiant Hearts: The Great War'. To aid in this story-telling, th game is powered by the same UbiArt Framework engine that underpins 'Rayman Legends' and 'Child of Light,' Replacing kill/death ratios and weapon upgrades with storytelling and historical poignancy, 'Valiant Hearts' proposes interesting gameplay ideas. But can originality equate to anything more than a bloated history lesson?
The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
In response to the assassination of Franz Ferdinand in 1914, Germany declares war on France and the Great War begins. 'Valiant Hearts' tells the story of this tumultuous period in history from the point of view of four intertwined, playable characters - and the loyal dog that accompanies them throughout. Separated by opposing forces, Karl is drafted into the German army, while his father-in-law, Emile, falls into rank with the French. Their experiences are joined by Freddie, an American soldier determined to avenge the death of his wife, and Ana, a Belgian nurse determined to mend the injuries of fallen soldiers on both sides of the war.
The primary focus of 'Valiant Hearts' is telling a rich story of family members struggling to reunite, while surviving the horrors of war. Relying on accurate historical accounts helps to ensure that the characters you play as are much deeper than their 2D appearances. Throughout the game, players will have the opportunity to educate themselves with frequent info capsules that describe the war (and tie in with the 'Apocalypse, World War I' TV series), the soldiers that fought and died, the locations, and the tools that were used. While historically enlightening from start to finish, 'Valiant Hearts' provides more than a simple study of World War I.
The developers at Ubisoft Montpelier approached 'Valiant Hearts' as a side-scrolling puzzle, adventure game. All four characters are controlled in a nearly identical fashion – the game's relative ease allows the much more compelling story to be at the forefront. Although a hint system is provided, none of the individual puzzles were problematic enough to ever require such help, and they all generally fall into the category of locating items, pulling levers, and removing obstacles. Still, as rudimentary as they are, resolving each puzzle was adequately satisfying from one to the next.
While not a fully playable character, utilizing the adorable and obedient dog, Walt, adds a slight degree of complexity to these puzzles. Characters are able to command Walt to obtain items from smaller, unreachable locations, crawl through tunnels, pull soldiers from rubble, and distract enemy soldiers. The limited number of commands are extremely effective and easy to manage, and the simplicity of his companionship is a pure delight.
'Valiant Hearts' also succeeds with the pacing of the game. The historical details never weigh down the underlying story, and the frequent puzzles are often broken up with moments of character development. Adding to this are a few mini-games that compliment the story, while providing variety to the overall gameplay.
Driving sequences are reminiscent of Ubisoft's more recent 'Rayman' games which combine gameplay with music. Maneuvering an early 20th Century car - while avoiding bombs dropped from airships, pedestrians and barricades, and enemy vehicles attempting to run you off the road - to an appropriately themed soundtrack was an exhilarating experience and one that provided some much needed levity in an otherwise sad storyline.
Even more unique are Ana's 'Rock Band'-style of medic mini-games. Whether attending to a broken leg, removing a bullet, or providing CPR, Ana's efforts are timed with specific button prompts that scroll across the top of the screen. Spread across three separate stages, each becomes more frantic as the complexity and variation of button prompts increases. It was an unusual, albeit entertaining, gameplay mechanic that at first seemed entirely out of place when considering the events that are occurring. By game's end, it was another feather in the cap of Ubisoft Montpelier's creative accomplishments.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
Utilizing the UbiArt framework - an in-house engine that has enabled visuals stand-outs like 'Rayman Legends,' 'Valiant Hearts: The Great War' takes a slightly different slant with the artwork, but one that is no less impressive. Where 'Rayman' was incredibly colorful and vibrant, 'Valiant Hearts' embraces dull browns and greys in an attempt to further immerse the player into the harsh conditions of war. But as depressing as that particular color palette may be, it is perfectly balanced with some of the more colorful and impressive set pieces throughout the game: raging fires, starry skies, full moon.
Just as interesting was the comic book style of storytelling. While not used as often as I would have liked, splitting the on-screen images with separate panes to detail events occurring at different locations was a fantastic way to cut back on final game edits, while keeping the player engaged with the action and events happening on screen.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
Although 'Valiant Hearts' replaces spoken dialogue with voice bubble images and unintelligible character gibberish, the voice-over narration that occurs in-between chapters is on the level of a high quality Discovery channel mini-series. The voice actor is incredibly effective in delivering narration that sets an appropriate mood across the character's struggles – emotionally and physically.
Ubisoft generally aspires to high levels with their quality musical scores associated with many of their games, and 'Valiant Hearts' is no exception. A morose and sorrowful tone is frequently established through the use of a simple, yet effective, piano score. Slow and deliberate, with an emphasis on tearful emotions. Contrast this with the high energy, big-band style emphasized during the frequent driving sequences, and the mood of the game is dramatically altered.
As interesting as the story, characters, and glimpses into the history of World War I are, it's difficult to recommend 'Valiant Hearts' beyond an initial play through. The puzzles are simplistic, the story is linear, and the game can be fully experienced in a single sitting. Although each chapter of the game provides a list of potential hidden items that help to further the history of that time period, finding the majority (if not all) of them on your first play through is not altogether inconceivable.
I continue to be impressed with the ongoing creative efforts of Ubisoft Montpellier, and 'Valiant Hearts: The Great War' is yet another reason to be excited. They've taken what many consider to be the most tragic war in history and turned it into a game that has a story filled with heart and emotion. 'Valiant Hearts' is as close to an interactive history lesson as you can come, and were I a high school history teacher, I would find a way to work the game into my classroom lecture. Fans of history – tragic or otherwise – and wonderful storytelling will find plenty of reason to see 'Valiant Hearts: The Great War' through to the end.
- 5.1 LPCM
- 7.1 LPCM
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