World War One is sadly under represented in video games. It’s a
war that – to steal from a film critic I follow – is simply not ‘sexy’. It’s a
war without the same level of firepower or artillery as World War Two or
subsequent wars. It also is a war that didn’t feature as much involvement from
America – there was no ‘America came in and won the war’ moment to reference in
World War One. For these reasons, Valiant
Hearts is a more than commendable game that bucks the war genre trend.
For too often, war games seem to be automatically represented
within either the FPS or strategy genres. For this reason, it’s pleasing to note
that Valiant Hearts is a platform
puzzle game. The game opens with the disclaimer that it is ‘Freely inspired by
the events unfolding on the Western front between 1914 and 1918’ and, by way of
one of the finest narrations this side of Morgan Freeman, you are introduced to
the characters whose journey you are to follow.
First there is Karl – a German, married to another character’s
daughter, who is deported and drafted into the German army. His father in law –
Emile – is drafted into the French army at the same time. Along their journeys,
they meet Anna, a nurse, and Freddie, an American who volunteered to join the
French army. To describe what paths their journeys take would be to spoil the
wonder and emotional impact that embodies Valiant
Throughout each chapter, players are given a glimpse into what
occurred during WW1 — whether it be via the beautiful level design, which informs
the player subtly, or through the many collectibles to be discovered within the
levels. And what collectibles! It was upon finding a collectible during the
second chapter that I knew that this was not only the best game released during
2014, but simply one of the finest games ever made.
To give a bit of background about myself for a moment – I was a
terrible history student at school. I never understood the relevance of learning
about a war that ended (at the time) eighty years prior. So when I found a pair
of socks in the game and subsequently discovered the significance of those
socks to the soldiers of WW1, all the history lessons I didn’t pay attention to
suddenly felt wasted. Each collectible comes with notes about its relevance in
WW1. They’re not just some random collectible added to give the game more content
– they provide a purpose to educate the player.
Complimenting the collectibles are journal entries, which help explain
the character’s motivations and how the war is impacting them. Alongside these
are real photos from WW1 as well as real letters from the Western Front that
were sent to families back home. Altogether, these items push the reality of
the war and enforce a human element that is so often missing from war games.
Having all of this great information is useless without similarly great
game mechanics to hang it on. Valiant
Hearts was made using the same engine that the exceptionally beautiful Rayman Origins and Child of Light were created on, and was produced by Ubisoft
Montpellier. This is different platforming than the fast-paced Rayman or the languid and thoughtful Child of Light. The characters in Valiant Hearts have a physical weight to
them. This is explored wonderfully in later moments as the toll of the war
weighs heavily down on them. There is no running or jumping, and given this is
a war game, there’s surprisingly only a small amount of shooting or fighting.
It’s this lack of fighting that helps enforce the theme of
reluctance – these characters (and you by extension) are fighting in a battle
they don’t want to fight in. They are mostly forced to fight in these
situations due to the circumstances placed upon them, and so it makes sense
that they would in fact not want to fight if they can avoid it.
There are puzzles here, but they’re not illogical puzzles that
exist just to lengthen the game – they are puzzles that in the context of the
war make sense and progress the narrative. As Anna, the nurse, you sometimes
have to partake in quick-time events that involve you bandaging or injecting a
patient – and in some circumstances, performing CPR on a patient. It’s these
quick time events and puzzles that help boost the narrative of Valiant Hearts and further educate the
player about WW1.
I use the term educate and not inform because I feel that Valiant Hearts is an important game. I
feel it’s important for education to remain progressive and that games such as this
continue to be made. It’s a game that made me want to drag out the history
books and discover more about WW1. It’s a game that, dare I say it, would be a
great tool to use in schools. With its use of great character design and
moments that feel genuine and earned, Valiant
Hearts propels itself into the realm of great game literature.
As a film lover first and a gamer second, I’m proud to see that
there is finally a game that I can utter in the same breath as Paths of Glory and Grand Illusion – two great WW1 films that are also referenced in Valiant Hearts. There is so much to
recommend with Valiant Hearts that I
haven’t even touched on the superb canine companion or even the beautiful
score, but it’s also a game that I feel should be discovered. It’s a game that
opens itself up to you as you progress – not with deep combat systems or showy
graphics, but with a moving story. Valiant
Hearts is a rare gem, a game that tells an impactful story through
gameplay. I do hope that Ubisoft Montpellier turn their attention to similarly
underrepresented wars like the Boer War or the Korean War, as I feel the design
that they have created with Valiant
Hearts is a perfect way of exploring the subject of war without needing to resort
to just being another FPS.
Privacy & Cookies Policy
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.
Any cookies that may not be particularly necessary for the website to function and is used specifically to collect user personal data via analytics, ads, other embedded contents are termed as non-necessary cookies. It is mandatory to procure user consent prior to running these cookies on your website.