Valiant Hearts: The Great War is a side scrolling puzzle game available on the Playstation Store.
First and foremost Valiant Hearts is a stunning game. The reason I decided to buy it was purely for the unique artistic direction. The visuals are something of a cartoon, but they manage to convey such emotion. The character design is simple, none of the characters have eyes, or even movable mouths, but they still seem like coherent characters with different personalities. The simplicity of the characters is what makes them. You as the gamer convey all of your emotions onto them. The backgrounds and the environments are equally beautiful. They are very similar to what you see in the recent Rayman games, from the same developer, but with a much more sombre atmosphere.
The game is an adventure puzzle game. Most of your time will be spent working out numerous different puzzles. These range from trying to get objects to finding your way around objects blocking the trenches as well as a few adventure sequences. Each of these are satisfying to complete, but it must be said that this is not a challenging game. This didn’t put me off particularly, due to the fact that I wanted to progress through the story, but if you are looking for challenging puzzles look elsewhere.
The story follows the 4 protagonists journey and experiences throughout WWI. The characters stories interlink at numerous points, with them sharing the overriding joint goal of taking out a German commander. You will play as each of the four characters; Emile, an ageing French farmer, Karl, German born, living in France, is forced into the German army (he is also the son in law of Emile), Freddie, an American soldier bent on revenge for his fallen wife and Ana, a Belgian nurse. You also order around a dog, who helps you to complete the puzzles. Each of the characters play the same, apart from their special abilities, such as Emile being able to dig. The characters are simply designed, but due to cut scenes they all have meaningful back-stories which give them unique personalities. Playing the game, you definitely feel empathy for each characters position as well as the war itself. Needless to say this game is a melancholy affair, due to the subject matter. But there are uplifting moments, like saving the lives of opposition soldiers and riding a taxi out of Paris whilst avoiding objects. The game is a human story, it tries not to portray any politics, simply that it was an awful time to be a human in Europe. However it must be said that the villain, the German commander, is a somewhat negative stereotype that doesn’t fit the atmosphere of the game as a whole. He is a lazily created and by far the worst in the game.
The audio of the game is fantastic. The whole game has piano driven and orchestral pieces which really ramp up the emotion. They help to convey a sense of melancholy which is needed in a game about the great war. However there are some more upbeat sounds as well, such as a band playing in the train station before Emile enters the war. It is one of the stand out features of the game and it combines with the visuals perfectly to provide a coherent overall atmosphere.
One of the criticisms I have read elsewhere is of the historical notes that appear during the game. Throughout, as you reach new levels, notes are available, detailing the actual history of WWI. I find this criticism completely unfounded. The notes appear in the corner of the screen and you have to press a button for them to pop up. They don’t appear on the screen by themselves. If you don’t want to read the historical notes provided, there is no reason for you to do so, you can easily play the game without reading them. But for me, as a bit of a history nut, it was great to read the true stories behind the environments and the narrative. The game places you in areas of real significance to WWI such as the Somme. This was an added bonus for me, but even if you don’t like the history, it’s not a negative that they accommodate for those interested, which is why I find the criticism unfounded.
At just £11.99 this game is fantastic value for money. It gives you a unique experience in a period of history which is not often portrayed. If your looking for a simple game with high emotion and fantastic artistic direction, give this a try. In fact if there is anyone reading this who is looking for a unique experience, just try it, this game is full of character and is suitable for people without much gaming experience. There is no denying that this game isn’t perfect but it is very good indeed. I would rate this game as 8.5 out of 10. Valiant Hearts: The Great War puts to shame the amount of games being priced at around £50 and is well worth the money for an interesting and emotive gaming experience.