Formats: PC (Windows), PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Steam Price: $14.99USD
Genre: Platform puzzle
Theme: World War I
Creativity: 6; Difficulty: 3; Atmosphere: 8.5; Fun: 8.5
Languages: English, French, Italian, German, Spanish
At this time every year, on 25th April, Australians and New Zealanders commemorate the involvement of both nations in the ill-fated Gallipoli Campaign in World War I through an annual event called ANZAC Day (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps Day). It is not a celebration, but rather a somber event that seeks to remind future generations on the suffering endured by those in Gallipoli and later on, the Western Front and the Palestine Campaign. These days, ANZAC Day commemorates the veterans of all of Australia and New Zealand’s conflicts and acts as a reminder of what war is really about.
It is in this frame of mind that I introduce the first computer puzzle game review on this blog. Valiant Hearts: The Great War, developed by Ubisoft, is an easy platform-puzzle game which educates players on World War I’s Western Front in an artistic manner.
Played through from 1914 (the start of the conflict) through to 1917 in four chapters, Valiant Hearts: The Great War is centered around five likeable protagonists: Frenchman Emile, his German son-in-law Karl, an American soldier called Freddie, a Belgian nurse named Anna and their collective sidekick dog, Walt. Through the narratives of these characters from both sides of the conflict, the game seeks to present the battles of The Great War not as events to be won by the player, but rather one long slog to be survived.
The game uses a 2D watercolour comic book style to tell a beautiful story of friendship, suffering and challenges to people’s humanity in the worst situations. Tackling such a subject matter in a way that still allows kids to play is not easy and the game developers have done a superb job here. Both the striking visuals and the excellent soundtrack help convey the horrors of the Western Front without resorting to gore or gratuity.
Although the main arc of the story does revolve around confronting a German villain with some outlandish technological elements, the game designers have put a lot of research into the setting of the game, which evolves as the war drags on. Tense parts in the story are broken up by light-hearted moments and small vignettes of trench life. They pose different challenges for the characters, who don’t get a break even when there is no fighting.
The gameplay is traditional platform. The characters must use stealth and brains to overcome obstacles, escape tricky situations and survive. The puzzles in the game are not particularly hard and tend to revolve around ‘use ability/item for particular situations’. Combat is more about using wits and reflexes to overcome situations rather than charging at the enemy. Still, the game is rarely dull. Sections with Walt the dog are specially fun to play as players use him to enable actions.
The platform element of the game also contains many hidden items which are used in conjunction with ‘Historical Facts’ notes to provide some basic information about World War I. This was a nice touch for a younger playing audience who might not know anything about this epic conflict and the human cost of it all.
At $14.99USD on Steam, Valiant Hearts: The Great War is relatively cheap when you consider the quality of the game. It won Best Narrative and the Games for Change awards in The Game Awards (2014) and the Best Animated Video Game award in 42nd Annie Awards for good reason. The game is very polished aesthetically and has an extremely moving story.
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
Lest we forget.”