Like a cold shower on a hot summers day, Valiant Hearts is a refreshing cross between an action puzzler and a modern FPS. But unlike modern FPS's, Valiant Hearts tells the joys and hardships of a small group of people. This is no good versus evil battle, only normal people trying to survive the hell they were dragged into. Valiant Hearts is a harrowing game, an honourable testament to World War I, and an experience I would highly recommend.
Valiant Hearts revisits The Great War, which is a breath of fresh air by itself. More importantly however, Valiant Hearts tells the tale of five people, whose fates are destined to intertwine: Emile, a French farmer thrown into the war scenario; Freddie, an American soldier seeking revenge for the death of his wife; Anna, a Belgian nurse searching for her missing father; Karl, a German soldier married to Emile's daughter, Marie. All of these characters are endearing and memorable. There is a dramatic, compelling story here, with an ending you'll never see coming. There are a lot of misleading, unnecessary cliffhangers, which were rather annoying, but this can be forgiven considering the story in full. Additionally, there is plenty of backstory and historical facts about the war for those interested.
One of the most impressive aspects of Valiant Hearts are its visuals. I was surprised by how well the cartoonish art style worked against the bleak environments of the great war. To make the game more visually accessible, the gore is toned down significantly, though it does spike in some of the bloodier battles towards the end of the game. The animations are stylish and manage to reflect the characters traits through their movement. Emile, for example, will struggle to get over obstacles due to his advanced age. Freddie, on the other hand, can power through obstacles with ease. The soundtrack is equally sublime; sometimes upbeat but usually somber. It adds a heightened sense of drama to the more action-packed scenes, and helps to wrap the player in its depressing tone.
Contrary to other games set in the battlefield, you don't actively participate in killing. Instead, you spend most of the time helping others, regardless of what side they're on. When you are part of an offensive, eliminating enemies often takes the form of a puzzle, although you may have to clobber a few heads every now and then. Out of the five main characters, four of them are playable. Their canine companion Walt also intersects in their adventures to help them solve puzzles via commands by the player. The puzzles themselves become pretty straightforward once you've learned the basics, usually taking the form of pulling a lever, throwing a brick, etc. I found this works well for the flow of the game, as being interrupted by a difficult puzzle might take you out of the moment.
These characters often find themselves working together, and Valiant Hearts takes advantage of this by giving each character unique abilities and tools. Emile has a shovel that allows him dig through certain areas, but he can't do anything if barb wire blocks his path. This is where Freddie comes in, as he is the only one who carries wire cutters. This adds more depth to puzzles, but is more often used to stop players from speedrunning through the entire level.
The action/adventure puzzle format allows for a plethora of varied levels. One level puts you in Paris , untouched by the war and brimming with joy and excitement, speeding past oncoming vehicles to the tune of the Can-Can song. It's a brilliant scene and the absolute highlight of the experience. One of the later level puts you in the Chemins des Dames offensive. The sky is dark, an orange hue looming in the distance. The rugged landscape is strewn with bodies as far as the eye can see, only interrupted by plumes of smoke and fire. The screams of dying soldiers ring through the air. It's hell on Earth, but the general forces you to continue. You have no choice but to embrace the bloodbath, using piles of bodies as cover from enemy machine guns, moving out of their sights only to be bombarded by enemy shells. It's harrowing, gripping and hard to watch. Another level has you shooting down enemy planes and bombers in a tank, wherein you must time your attacks perfectly. Sections like this are only used on a couple of occasions, but thanks to simple controls, they are easy to get the hang of and fun to play. Its remarkable really, how well all this variety works together.
Valiant Hearts has four chapters that will take you six to eight hours to beat. There are unlockable trophies and hidden collectibles, but if this isn't enough for you, then you won't find much reason to replay the game. Regardless, Valiant Hearts is a stunning game, and another great achievement for the Ubi Art engine. It offers an appreciation of the smaller struggles during The Great War while exposing its horrors. The characters are charming, the gameplay is interesting, the storyline is gripping, and the visuals are full of heart.