STAFF REVIEW of Valiant Hearts: The Great War (Xbox One)

Friday, July 4, 2014.
by Adam Dileva

Valiant Hearts: The Great War Box art You don’t see a lot of games these days based on World War I. Sure there are a few here and there, but there are even less that is a puzzled based game like Valiant Hearts. Powered by the UbiArt Framework engine, which games like Rayman Origins and Child of Light have used, Valiant Hearts has an incredibly unique art style backed with an interesting historical setting and tear wrenching story. You’ll become engrossed with the emotional story and amazing artwork while going through a historical adventure.

Inspired by real letters written during the Great War, Valiant Hearts tells the story of four characters that begins just as the war sparks in 1914 while subtly teaching you history lessons at the same time. Karl, a German immigrant in France, is forced to leave the country when war breaks out without any choice but to leave his wife and child behind. Since Karl is now gone, Emile, the father in law, must watch after the family, but is shortly after forced to enlist into the French forces on the front lines.

Emile becomes injured and taken to a POW camp in his first battle, which happens to be the same camp where Karl is stationed. Karl is having to follow Baron Von Dorf’s orders, the German villain of the story, but soon realizes he wants to part of this war. Emile becomes close friends with Freddie, an American who agrees to help Emile find Karl and bring him home. I don’t want to get much more into the plot, but it’s a fantastic story that will have you engrossed, but beware if you cry easily, it can be quite emotional. The story is connected very well and weaves a fantastic story about friendship, love, and sacrifice.

The core gameplay of Valiant Hearts is a 2D sidescrolling adventure, but there is a heavy puzzle element involved as well. Some levels will have you simply trying to figure out how to progress with puzzle after puzzle, where others may have you in an exciting car chase sequence, or even a section with grenades and other objects you’ll need to lob and properly arc to progress (which are essentially puzzles in themselves).

Valiant Hearts is a story driven adventure, and because of this, you’ll take a set path before being able to move onto the next level, but it’s done in a really smart way as to not feel so linear. You’ll want to think before acting or else you’ll be set back to the last checkpoint, though usually very forgiving and not much will have to be repeated save for a few of the boss battles. Most levels will have you solving puzzles or sneaking in areas, but it changes up the formula just enough to stay interesting.

While the core gameplay may be puzzle based, it felt like it was just the right level of difficulty. Many were very simple that required not much thought, whereas others seemed almost impossible, that is until the in-game hint system gives you a hand. While there is a hint system in place, I rarely had to use it and you also actually have to wait a set amount of time before it will even prompt you with hints, forcing you to actually try it on your own for a while before giving you a helping hand. I really enjoyed this approach, as I wasn’t given the option to “cheat” and breeze through each section since the hints are dished out on specific timers. The first hint gives you a vague clue, whereas the second and third will give you more specific suggestions, essentially telling you how to progress if you get stuck. Again, optional, so I completely agree with this method.

Most of the puzzle are cleverly designed, and while some are a simple ‘pull the lever’ solution, there are some more intricate ones where you’ll need to find item A to get item B to reach item C to reach area D. Some puzzles even utilize a split viewpoint, almost like a comic book, where you can see two things happening at once so you know when to act. Each of the characters you play as have their own special ability as well, such as wire cutters or digging which lets puzzle play out in a different way. You also have access to use your trust dog Walt that follow you around the battlefield, as he is trained and can be commanded to pull levers, pick up items, and more.

I was surprised to see that Valiant Hearts doesn’t really have much voiceover work aside from the main narrator between levels. Instead, characters communicate via Sims-like gibberish and cartoonized speech bubbles, though you’re always aware of what is trying to be conveyed. Valiant Hearts as a wonderful musical score attached to it as well and is completely fitting of the mood and ambiance of the story that unfolds. The combination of unique art style and music is a perfect fit and was pleasant from beginning to end.

For those that like to find every hidden item in a game, there’s plenty here for you, actually over 100, spread across all of the levels. Ubisoft has also weaved in actual history lessons into the menus as well, but short form accompanied with real pictures from the era that gives you a glimpse into what actually happened during the time or area your stage is set. Normally I don’t pay too much attention to additions like this, but it was quite interesting and I actually learned quite a bit from these history lessons.

Ubisoft has done an amazing job and showcasing the UbiArt Framework engine once again to truly elevate Valiant Hearts onto another level. Even though the artwork is cartoon-like in nature, blended with the historical source material, they’ve painted a story that is engaging and emotional, all while looking beautiful in its own way; not an easy task for a game about war.

Overall: 9.0 / 10
Gameplay: 9.0 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 9.0 / 10


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