Monday 7 July 2014

Valiant Hearts: The Great War Review (PS3)

Valiant Hearts is the fourth game from Ubisoft to use its UbiArt Framework. Before it Rayman Origins, Legends and Child of Light were also built using the system that creates beautiful 2D games. Valiant Hearts is the story of four characters set against the backdrop of the First World War. Their story runs throughout the conflict as they are thrown together and pulled apart. Above all else it’s really a story about love and friendship.

The real draw of the game is its style. It look absolutely stunning and though presented in a comic book way really brings home the suffering and horror of the situation. This is done through very subtle touches and often in the background of scenes. The one that sticks most in our mind is a small boy crying over the body of his parent in a pile of rubble after the assault on a French town. The depiction of chemical warfare certainly has an impact as well.

These subtle images are underscored with a sensitive and gorgeous musical score which really helps to build emotion as you play. You’ll really begin to care about your characters and understand just how horrific the conflict was. It also does a good job of showing how families were pulled apart and how people living near the borders of different nationalities were separated during the conflict.

One of the characters you will play as is Karl, a German man married to a French women named Marie. He is drafted into the German army at the outbreak of the war and much of the story revolves around him trying to get back home to be with his wife and child. Another character is Karl’s father in-law Emilie who is drafted into the French army where he meets our third character –an American soldier serving in the French army named Freddie. The last character is Anna, a Belgium woman who becomes a battlefield nurse. You also quickly pick up a dog companion who can be used to pull switches, distract soldiers and gather objects from hard to reach places.

The game itself plays out like a 2D adventure game. Most of the time you’ll need to find an item and take it to the place where that item needs to be used. There are also sections where you’ll have to get past enemy gunfire and the odd very whimsical bit where you try and outrun something in a car while a crazy tune plays. There are puzzles to solve as well. These normally involve making pipes fit together or throwing something at something else at a particular angle. There’s a bit of stealth also as you hide behind barrels or bushes to avoid guards and searchlights. It’s certainly not the most difficult game in the world but it certainly flows well and it’s also quite a sizable game, clocking in at around six hours.

Exploring the levels is important as it helps to give you an overall picture of what you are trying to do. There is no speech in the game world with everything being done via thought bubbles.  Unless you look around it’s highly likely you’ll have no idea what to do with those braces you just found or that lump of coal. There are also a number of artefacts littering each level which unlock facts and information about the war.

Now, we don’t claim to be great historians on World War 1 so we can’t lay claim to how accurate the game itself is. That said, the facts and pictures unlocked are usually referenced and if nothing else it certainly awakened a curiosity in us to try and find out more about the subject matter at hand and that can only be a good thing.

It may sound a little simple but it’s amazing how well it all works together. You really do care about the characters and we had the urge to keep going to find out what was going to happen next to them. You could perhaps argue that the tone is a little inconsistent with the car missions but for the most part it hits the correct notes and carries a sombre feeling of people doing what must be done even though the situation is horrendous. 

Overall, we can say that we haven’t played anything quite like this before. The setting and style are unique and it reminded us a bit of the Ralph Bakshi film Wizards. A lot is going to come down to if you invest in the characters and story. We did and we feel Ubisoft has done everything they can to make players feel genuine emotion while playing. It’s a touching, heartfelt story that someone clearly cared about when making. It’s crafted beautifully and told poignantly and we really can’t ask for any more than that.

Overall 9/10

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