Valiant Hearts: The Great War (PlayStation 3) Review

By Kyle Henderson 05.07.2014

Review for Valiant Hearts: The Great War on PlayStation 3

The latest game constructed in Ubisoft's beautiful Ubiart engine is Valiant Hearts: The Great War. A story-heavy, side-scrolling puzzle game set during World War I, it tells the story of five normal people swept up by the tragedy and carnage that roared across Europe in the early 20th century. There are simple puzzles to solve and the occasional basic combat section, but mostly this is an interactive story, and a damn good one.

Valiant Hearts: The Great War defies easy categorisation. It's predominantly a story in which the player moves through predestined actions to reach a certain narrative point, so it's not really in the same vein as say, Telltale's The Walking Dead; there's no control over character decisions or the direction the story takes. Environmental puzzles have to be solved along the way and a fair amount of time will be spent collecting items to give to others or for some story purpose/blocked pathway, so it also resembles classic point and click adventure games like the Monkey Island series. It's neither of those, though, really.

The story opens in the French countryside; Karl, a German, is being deported back to his motherland as France is preparing for conflict following Germany's declaration of war on Russia. He's being forced to leave behind his French wife Marie and their son Victor, and eventually ends up drafted into the German army on his return home. Shortly after, Marie's father Emile is drafted into the French army, where he befriends an American named Freddie and Belgian war nurse, Anna.

These five are the story's main players and they're all well-drawn, interesting characters with a unique perspective on the conflict. Emile is probably the main protagonist, although there isn't really an overriding focus on any one of them. Emile also happens to be the one who meets Walt, the dog that featured so heavily in the E3 trailers.

Screenshot for Valiant Hearts: The Great War on PlayStation 3

Walt's main purpose is puzzle solving. He's surprisingly intelligent for a dog, and can be commanded to sneak into enemy territory to steal things such as keys or explosives, or to push a lever at a precise moment to allow the player character to do something on their end. The puzzles are all fairly simple, but they're not really there to challenge; instead, they act as a way to grow close to the characters and empathise with their respective situations.

Each puzzle feels unique in its requirements and they all have bearing on the characters and story. For example, it might be a trading sequence throughout the French trenches so Emile can obtain ink and a quill to write a letter home to Marie, or figuring out how to use a crane to clear wreckage from a path during a combat sequence. It feels like the playing out of things these characters need to do, rather than arbitrary, game-y puzzles.

When not solving puzzles, there are combat sections to move through. These mostly consist of stealth, but the characters do get involved in proper combat on occasion. Quite often the player will find themselves dodging gunfire and shells or moving around Germans in the darkness; there's nothing like a proper shooter here, which is a choice that suits the style. The characters are the focus, not the carnage.

A couple of mini-games also help to add variety. Anna, the medic, heals wounded men via a rhythm game/heartbeat monitor hybrid thing that has the player pressing buttons to coincide with the patient's heartbeats. It's not particularly interesting but it's at least very difficult to fail at and gives players a sense of participation that would be otherwise lacking.

Screenshot for Valiant Hearts: The Great War on PlayStation 3

The better mini-game is the driving sections, again featuring Anna. On a few occasions the plot finds Anna and company needing to make a speedy escape from the Germans, using the taxi she rather handily has at her disposal. These sections have the taxi driving towards the screen with other cars, roadblocks and shells getting in the way. The avoidance of these obstacles is choreographed in time with classical music pieces. It's quite a bizarre experience but it's undoubtedly fun. Avoiding the attacks of a huge German tank to the bars of Flight of the Bumblebee is one of the game's more memorable sequences.

The graphics also tend to reflect the focus on character. Having been created in the Ubiart framework, the same engine used for the recent Rayman games and the RPG Child of Light, it's a cartoony look. Most of the characters aren't hardened fighters, just regular people dragged into the war, and the colourful, non-serious art direction suits that. It's not the grimy browns and greys of an older Call of Duty or Medal of Honor game; the colours and lines don't naturally suggest violence, much like the people they're representing.

Background music tends to counteract the levity found in the visuals, but in a positive manner. There's ominous war marches for the most action-filled sequences, small town jingles for the scenes set in peaceful parts of France, and some outstanding slower pieces for the emotional bits. The piano piece that plays over the main menu and some important parts of the story is, in particular, amazing. This more serious music feels like the war leaving its mark on these people; it's an impressive effect.

There's also commendable effort taken to educate players on the reality of WWI. Each level has two or three optional history lessons/photographs tied to it, e.g. scenes set in trenches accompanied by a couple of paragraphs on the incredibly harsh conditions that soldiers faced in the mud and filth. On top of this, there are a handful of collectable items to be found in each location, which have their own historical nuggets attached to them. Even the most knowledgeable players will probably come away having learned something, and it's all very interesting.

Screenshot for Valiant Hearts: The Great War on PlayStation 3

For all this praise, though, Valiant Hearts unfortunately has its fair share of flaws. While the story is extremely accomplished most of the time, there are certainly a few missteps, and as it draws to a close some parts veer towards the more outlandish and silly. It's an understandable desire to bring the separate stories together and find an emotional denouement, but it sometimes feels like Ubisoft Montpellier has to resort to contrivance and trickery to pull at the heartstrings. This doesn't detract from their accomplishment here overall; the writing and plotting is so good in its highs that it comfortably overshadows the lows.

There are also some aspects of the gameplay that feel a tad undercooked. It can often feel that a puzzle section has been shoehorned in because there hasn't been any gameplay for a while. There's a sense that the developer isn't entirely confident in their story method. It's a shame because the delivery of the story is top notch and can very easily stand alone; the puzzles occasionally feel as if they're simply standing in the way of the real juice of the game. It does also lead to a few puzzle mechanics being recycled a bit too much.

Ultimately, Valiant Hearts is a resounding success. As much as everyone was hyped by that E3 trailer, there were understandably some fears that Ubisoft Montpellier would be unable to pull this off with the respect the subject matter deserves. Having proven those fears to be unfounded, they've not only delivered an excellent story, but an expertly crafted, complete package.

Screenshot for Valiant Hearts: The Great War on PlayStation 3

Cubed3 Rating

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

Most of this score is awarded for the story and characters; they are truly among the best in any modern game. To Ubisoft Montpellier's credit, though, there's an always solid, sometimes outstanding, game behind the narrative, and a commitment to deliver the respectful representation of World War I that gaming has needed for a long while.

Developer

Ubisoft Montpellier

Publisher

Ubisoft

Genre

2D Platformer

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

Comments

There are no replies to this review yet. Why not be the first?

Comment on this article

You can comment as a guest or join the Cubed3 community below: Sign Up for Free Account Login

Preview PostPreview Post Your Name:
Validate your comment
  Enter the letters in the image to validate your comment.
Submit Post

Subscribe to this topic Subscribe to this topic

If you are a registered member and logged in, you can also subscribe to topics by email.
K-Pop Korner - The Best of Korean Music
Sign up today for blogs, games collections, reader reviews and much more
Site Feed
Who's Online?
hinchjoie, Ofisil

There are 2 members online at the moment.