If you’re a fan of small downloadable games, puzzle games and adventure games, chances are you’ve heard of ‘Valiant Hearts’, Ubisoft’s genre-blending downloadable title. Ubisoft have been releasing a number of trailers and behind-the-scenes videos for Valiant Hearts, which helped give the game some pre-release hype, as well as illustrate the fact this is going to be a game that Ubisoft are quite proud of.
Some of the developer diary videos pointed out how much length the developers went to create a heartwarming tale of bravery, a game that whilst not a first person shooter, was able to tell a moving story set in World War I that will both move and addict players. While the videos convinced me that Valiant Hearts was going to be an instant classic, getting my hands on the final game has left me feeling disappointed, and a little bored. Read on to find out why.
Valiant Hearts opens with Europe teetering on the brink of war. Emile owns and works a farm with his daughter and his son-in-law Karl, a German. When Germany declares war on Russia, France deports all German citizens, including Karl, causing much heartache for Emile’s daughter, Marie. Karl is then drafted into the German army and at the same time, Emile is drafted into the French army.
After training, Emile is thrown into battle with his unit being wiped out. Emile himself is captured by the Germans and forced to cook for them. An American, Freddie, rescues Emile from the Germans and the two unite as they have goals they will take them to similar places. Freddie seeks revenge against Baron Von Dorf, and Emile wishes to reunite with Karl, who serves Van Dorf. Along the way, they’ll meet a faithful German dog and Anna, a field medic who wishes to rescue her captive father from Von Dorf. While there are moments where the story can stir minor emotions in the player, there is no immediate identifiable tragedy, only hundreds of identical grunt soldiers being shot and exploded. Also, just as the game draws players in with some emotional depth, something extremely silly comes along and ruins any potential immersion the player may have felt, like a ridiculous boss battle versus a zeppelin. It felt like one of Robotnik’s contraptions out of Sonic the Hedgehog.
Gameplay is a blend of several game genres. Most of the time it is a slow-paced sidescrolling platformer, but it also has puzzles and occasional mini-games to break up the monotony. While players can sneak around and stealthily take out Germans, they will not be directly fighting the Germans. For the most part the gameplay works well, but there are times when certain sequences feel like filler. At one point, I was playing as Anna and patching up soldiers, which involved a rhythm-matching mini-game. Why Anna had to wait to match applying a bandage with an on-screen button input is beyond me, as she should have just put the damn bandage on those soldiers’ wounds. I understand that the gameplay needed breaking up, but even a simple non-rhythm QTE would have worked better, or mimicking the round motion of applying a bandage with rotating an analogue stick. The way the first aid mini-game was executed just felt…goofy.
Other puzzles felt goofy because of the way the story is relayed to the player. Valiant Hearts doesn’t employ traditional speech, you see. Instead, some key words are spoken (like “help”) and the rest is a muttered mess of gibberish. While it was charming at first, it really did begin to grate on me, especially as some puzzles relied on trial and error instead of the game’s characters simply communicating to each other what they needed. While I’m more than certain it wasn’t the attempt of the developer, it also detracted from the World War I atmosphere, as did the game’s animation.
Speaking of the animation, Ubisoft Montpellier stated that they were attempting to deliver an art style akin to a high-quality comic book. The results though, feel more like a flash toon you’d find on the internet… in 2001. There are times where the camera zooms out and the war-torn landscape can create an impact, but it’s hard to feel the emotion of World War I when the soldiers bounce along the battlefield, and they have no eyes. I’m not a video game developer, but I would have treated a World War I game a tad more seriously than Montpellier did with their gibberish-speaking emotionless French Army.
Now while it might sound like I hate Valiant Hearts (and for the record, I certainly don’t enjoy it), it does deliver some clever puzzles. I don’t feel these puzzles are challenging enough or even original enough to warrant purchasing Valiant Hearts. While I try to only compare games when I can do so favourably, far too many other puzzle games spring to mind when I contemplate recommending Valiant Hearts. I suppose if you’ve already played Braid, Fez or other downloadable platform puzzles already, then Valiant Hearts might interest you.
- Cute art style
- Irritating speech
- Filler segments
- Challenges don’t provide a challenge
Valiant Hearts is a game that I desperately wanted to like. In fact, I was actually dying to get my hands on the full game after seeing trailers and the developer diary videos. Unfortunately, several underdeveloped ideas and design clashes hold Valiant Hearts back from what could have been a truly great game. While it isn’t a horrible game, the fact that the game can’t make up its mind on what it wants to be leaves a metaphorical after taste in one’s mouth.
Score : 5.5/10