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Genre: Puzzle, Adventure, Educational
Developer: Ubisoft Montpelier Studios
Release Date: June 24, 2014
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Network (PS3), Xbox 360 Games Store, Xbox One
Let’s Player: Cryaotic
Some spoilers for the beginning.
“War makes monsters of us all.”
-George R. R. Martin “A Game of Thrones”
“I was never a hero. That’s just how they justify war.”
There is nothing great about war, but there is something to be garnered from its portrayal. Inspired by letters found during the First World War, Valiant Hearts is nothings less than a a bittersweet masterpieve.
I actually wound up watching this game by accident; I thought I was clicking on Vandal Hearts, but even when the realization set it, I was already hooked. Valiant Hearts: The Great War manages to be entertaining, funny, heartbreaking, and educational. I learned more about the first World War than I ever did in history class. I knew about the assassination of Franz Ferdinand (hell there’s even a street near me named after him), but I didn’t know about the treaties France had signed prior that drew them into the conflict, nor was I informed about what they did to their German residents, though I’m sadly not surprised. It’s not without its precedence, nor have we presently learned.
Karl, a farmer living in the French countryside with his wife Marie and their son Victor, is forced to leave and return to Germany where’s he promptly drafted (like…seriously? Why would you do that France?? Obviously any able-bodied men sent back are going to be conscripted! I mean…I understand the “logic” behind it, xenophobic and paranoid as it is, but I don’t understand why they didn’t realize that someone like Karl would be loyal to the land where he and his family resided and ousting people like him from the country is a bad move since it only served to augment their enemy’s ranks *sigh*). Not long after Karl’s forced departure, Marie’s aged father Emile is impressed as well, leaving the young mother alone to tend to the harvest and care for her son.
When Emile arrives at the train station, he sees a Black American soldier being taunted and immediately steps in. This is Freddie who voluntarily joined the French army after his wife’s was killed in Paris by Baron von Dorf (the game’s sort of Big Bad). After the train incident, he and Emile become immediate friends. Emile is unfortunately captured after his first skirmish and winds up working as a cook in the POW camp when he reunites with Karl his son-in-law. The reunion is sadly short lived as the English as too soon attack. Emile is buried in rubble, but Walt, the medic hound, digs him out, and the old farmer manages to free another man who is badly injured, but manages to tell him Karl escaped on a blimp.
Later, we meet Anna, a veterinarian whose father, a premier engineer, has been kidnapped by the Germans for surely nefarious reasons. She takes a job as one of the cab drivers who shuttled French soldiers to the front lines (another previously unknown factoid), but when she sees the devastation the war has taken, decides to stay and help. With her medical knowledge, driving skills, and bravery, she is an invaluable asset to the wounded, injured, and ill.
The style of the game is best described as storybook like with simplistic, but gritty, drawings that are all the more poignant and perfect for the story Valiant Hearts tells.
The gameplay is mostly puzzle with more of an emphasis on avoiding enemies (and certain death), though each character does have a way to attack/defend themselves. There are also some high intensity driving scenes with epic music.
Certain people will ask you for certain objects or you’ll need to find equipment to progress like a wheel or gear for a particular machine. It’s fairly intuitive and the people who need something will have it in a speech bubble over their heads. The scenes also shift between characters, and they often meet up/work together. Walt (the doberman) is usually with the person you’re controlling, which is greatly to your advantage since he can fit into spaces a human can’t and fetch items with your directive. Emile and Freddie initially work together, but the plot also takes them to separate areas. Anna is introduced later (in the most bad ass way, I should add), and Karl is playable closer to the end.
Sprinkled throughout the game within character diaries and letters are little factoids about the first World War, and like I said above, some of these things were completely new information to me. VH manages to be both an amazing game and teach you important history lessons.
I’m not going to give away the ending, but I will tell you I ugly cried. UGLY. CRIED. Like my husband stopped playing Destiny 2, and the friend he was playing with could hear me through the headphones and asked if everything was okay. Usually, when a game makes me cry, I’ll tear up a bit, maybe cover my face, and give a few audible sobs. Nope. I was in full blown bawl, and Cryaotic (the Let’s Player) lived up to the first three letters of his screen name. There is a great deal to be said for injustice.
This is another game I have nothing bad to say about. Now, granted, I didn’t play it myself, so there might be some annoying nuances of gameplay I’m missing, but I’m fairly observant and can usually tell when something works or doesn’t (e.g. the foibles with Paper Mario: Color Splash, though I suppose I also read reviews about the same). There were some parts that I’d have a bit of trouble with, the boss fights for example, but like Ori, Valiant Hearts is forgiving with its checkpoints, and I think this is an integral part in making a game both fun and replayable. Unless you’re someone who loves a near impossible challenge, I don’t see the reason to not have reasonable ones. Most of the games I’ve been watching and playing seem to understand this seemingly minor detail that can make a huge difference.
Valiant Hearts is a tearjerker masterpiece whose simplicity in style belies the depths of its soul. While you may not be moved to bitter tears like I was, I promise, you will still be moved.