Valiant Hearts: The Great War is not what you might expect from a game about war. In a growing market full of war shooters, Valiant Hearts is more of a puzzle-solving adventure inside a history lesson, with a touching story of life during the First World War. It artfully accomplishes recreating the war in a non-graphic animated art style that players can enjoy with almost no objectionable content.
The game grabs players instantly with its charming style as a narrator begins describing the early days of the war. The story focuses on several fictional characters who had their lives torn apart by the conflict.
The game begins in the French countryside with a family divided. Karl, a German, is deported back to Germany, leaving behind his French bride and newborn son. Soon after, his father in-law Emile is drafted into the French forces. Karl is enlisted on the opposite side to fight for the Germans. The game has two other playable characters. Freddie is an American fighting for the French in hopes of avenging his wife, who was killed when the war broke out. Anna is a young veterinary student in search of her kidnapped father. Perhaps the most endearing character in Valiant Hearts is a Doberman Pincher named Walt, a dog medic in the German army. Walt becomes a valuable ally to each of the playable characters.
From the early days of the war, the game goes on to hit on key moments in the conflict. The puzzles players must solve can be as simple as finding a hidden lever to get to the next area. But others are far more elaborate, like when Emile must fight against a German Baron and the player has to use a church pipe organ and crashed zeppelin to win. The characters give players a human perspective on the horrors, compassion, and heroism of people caught up in the war. Each new setting in the game unlocks facts and trivia players can read, including historic photos. Interesting details include the events of specific battles and the number of dogs used on both sides. All of the trivia runs parallel to the game’s story events, to help give a player perspective.
For a game about war, Valiant Hearts cleverly conceals the almost inevitable graphic violence with its animated look and choice of visuals. It uses the UbiArt graphics engine, the same technology used to create the water-colored style of Child of Light. Valiant Hearts uses its animated art style to help set the game’s atmosphere. Before the fighting starts, colors are bright, but as war rages, the game takes on more muted tones.
The game is rated Teen for violence, blood, and use of alcohol and tobacco. In one scene, the game puts players on the frontline, tossing grenades to take out a machine gun nest. As violent as that sounds, players rarely cause the deaths of the other soldiers, who tend to flee instead. Even when a player accidentally dies, there is rarely any blood—they simply fall over. The game does show wounded soldiers with bloody bandages and the battlefields are littered with dead soldiers. There are times when players must heal wounded soldiers by pressing the correct buttons in sequence. One medic sequence involves amputating an arm, but the actual operation is obscured by the injured soldier’s body.
Valiant Hearts: The Great War, available as a download-only game on Playstation, Xbox consoles, and PC, has a touching story that can be both humorous and tragic without being graphic. The game manages to avoid being heavy-handed on either extreme. Even the music helps weave a balance between the story’s emotional themes. The gameplay is never too challenging and the puzzle solving is fun and clever.
It’s refreshing to see such a painful and potentially graphic topic approached with care and respect. Valiant Hearts is very appropriate for nearly any gamer, and it can be enlightening to those unfamiliar with, or just learning about, the Great War.