Publisher Ubisoft Entertainment is known for their successes with the ever popular Tom Clancy releases, Far Cry games, Assassin’s Creed franchise, and Watch Dogs. Developed by Ubisoft Montpellier Studios, Valiant Hearts seemed to be a smaller endeavor compared to it’s previous blockbusters, but this historical adventure was pleasantly surprising. An educational, adventure & puzzle game set in World War I, challenges you to examine the aspects of war through a human element that tugs at your heart strings.
While it’s a single player experience, you actually play as four different protagonists and, at times, a trusty German Sheppard from different sides of the war. Their stories brilliantly intertwine and ultimately have you rooting for each of them regardless of their country’s affiliation. Solving various puzzles and swapping characters is essential to figuring out anything from how to free trapped soldiers in dirt covered trenches, to properly timing a button sequence to stitch up a badly injured soldier as a nurse.
These four people are all in the Western Front of World War I. German born, Karl, though living in France, is drafted to fight for the Germans, despite heavily protesting leaving his wife and young son. The second (and my personal favorite) character, Emile, is Karl’s father-in-law, drafted to fight for France–heartbreakingly, against Karl. Thirdly is a robust American deserter, named Freddie. Without revealing too much, Freddie is motivated primarily by vengeance of the death of a lover, hence his desertion. Freddie still fights in the war, but on the side of the French instead.
Then there is the ever resilient Anna, a dedicated Belgian nurse. She moves throughout the battle dodging the fray, assisting and patching up whomever she possibly can French and German alike. Lastly, but certainly not least, there is your beloved canine companion… a German Sheppard trained as a soldiers medical helper. I became quickly attached to this loveable creature. He’s consistently helpful to all the main four protagonists at some point during the game, however starts out paired up with Emile.
While the puzzles are slower and more thoughtfully paced, this game does take place during a massive an bloody war. Certain missions are uber fast paced and require perfect timing during a side scroll style of gameplay. Dodging bullet fire, random mortar bombs and helping your allied soldiers evade traps and ultimately not die is a large part as well.
After completing each mission and/or puzzle scenario, there is always a historical cut scene. These include actual World War I facts and then a more in depth explanation of the interactions between the four protagonists and their intertwining plight.
While Valiant Hearts has an amazing storyline and immersive puzzles, graphically it’s fairly basic. A 2D game experience, with 3D cut scenes and cartoon like characters does not sound like it would be visually stunning, but the developers at Ubisoft definitely pulled this off wonderfully. It has beautifully constructed war scenes with gratuitous violence and mild gore. Then amazingly drawn characters and pre-industrial age city scapes, really make you feel like you are actually in the middle of a war-riddled France and Germany.
The narration in Valiant Hearts is primarily saved for the cut scenes in between each mission set. The controls are really easy for anyone to master. Left toggle to move each character, zooming and swapping characters sometimes requires using the left trigger or other action buttons. The tutorial is fairly straight forward, however, and you will be battling in the trenches quickly.
Sometimes during the puzzles it is necessary to hunt for certain objects to complete the mission, which can be frustrating. One mission requires the maneuvering of your trusty German Sheppard into a bucket to avoid nerve gas; while another has one character running on the top of your screen, but requires timely swapping between another at the bottom to avoid enemy soldiers. Ultimately the various challenges and crazy missions make completing each of the tasks that much sweeter.
While there were several achievements that I could complete to get the coveted trophies for the PS4, I really wish there were more. Being a big PlayStation trophy hunter, if the game would have included a platinum trophy, it would have been a huge plus for me. Additionally if you get stuck during any mission, there is a “hint” option, but it’s on a delay and you only get up to four. So, if you are really super stuck, you’ll have to wait several minutes in between hints.
The missions and puzzles get progressively more difficult as you progress towards the conclusion of the story. Shamefully, I must admit, I got so aggravated towards the end of the game, I had to resort to consulting the Internet for one wickedly hard mission. The average or casual player should have no issues solving most of the puzzles, but if you need to use the in-game hints, I promise I won’t tell if you won’t!
Ultimately, I absolutely adored this game and have no serious complaints, except I wish it was a bit longer. Once I started playing, I simply couldn’t turn it off and stayed up into the wee hours of the morning until I beat it. It took me approximately 10 hours play through the entire game. Without spoiling the ending, I’ll simply say that you should grab a few tissues for the tears you’ll shed for the ending.