Video games that are set in times of war are pretty typical. You usually don’t have to do much besides fill an enemy with lead, and then do that to the next person. That’s a bummer, since we get so few examples of war games that can be more than just shooting people. For example, Spec Ops: The Line, while still being all about shooting enemy troops, delves into the psyche of the main character that slowly gains PTSD throughout the game’s single player experience. It goes to some really dark and uncomfortable places that you don’t see many developers tackle, and it is really refreshing. This is why I was looking forward to Ubisoft’s Valiant Hearts: The Great War. I have to say, this is one of my top 5 favorite games of 2014. It is a game that does everything that I want to see with games that take place in war-time eras. It chose a setting that isn’t common in games, has endearing characters, dark themes, and was just an overall fulfilling experience.
Inspired by letters from World War I, the game takes place after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, with the result of this being Germany and Russia going to war. You play as four different characters. The first character is a German named Karl. He was living in France until the Germans were forced to leave France after the assassination of Franz Ferdinand. The second character is Karl’s father-in-law, Emile, who is required to join the French forces to protect the country. On his way to the front lines, Emile meets our third playable character, an American volunteer named Freddie. Our fourth playable character is named Ana, a Belgian nurse who wants to heal anyone in need, no matter what flag they carry. The four main characters also interact with a German Shepherd, who was originally part of the German forces. We were supposed to get a fifth playable character, but I will talk about that later on in the review. I have to say, this is easily one of the best cinematic experiences I have had this year. The story was dark and touching, the characters were likable, and they all did this with very little talking to be had. Most of the talking was done by the narrator, with some slight gibberish from the main characters. Overall, it was a poignant and intense story.
Valiant Hearts: The Great War is an adventure game mixed with some minor action and puzzle segments. For the most part, you will play as one of the four main characters obtaining different items that will help you in the puzzles that are inserted into the levels. You will solve puzzles, from finding levers to pull, to finding ways to get past the enemy gunfire. A couple of the characters have their own abilities, like Freddie has a pair of wire cutters, Emile can dig through the ground with his shovel, and Ana can heal the wounded. At times, you will be thrown into a taxi cab with Ana, and through a musical tune as you are driving along, you have to dodge obstacles that are in your way as you come into the fray. The best part about this game’s overall game design is that you will rarely, if ever, have to shoot someone. There are bits of action-oriented sequences from time to time, but there is a lot of variety, so the game never became stale for me. The game even inserts bits of historical pieces from World War I that educate you. The game is about five or six hours long, but the experience is perfectly paced, and it doesn’t overstay its welcome.
The game’s 2D graphics are beautiful. They are well drawn, well animated, and give off so much more emotion and personality than most games that have realistic graphics. Sure, Valiant Hearts looks like a comic book, but there is more emotion here in this comic book-like look than in 95% of games that take place in war-time settings. The music is beautiful. I don’t know who composed it, but whoever was in charge of making music that was dramatic, emotional, and fit the mood at every point, good job! That music helped reinforce every scene that the player went through.
As you can tell, I can’t praise this game enough. This was going to be my 10 out of 10 game. However, I do have some complaints. My first complaint is with what would have been the fifth playable character, George. George was described as a British fighter pilot who lied about knowing how to fly. Like I said, he was originally supposed to be a playable character, but his role was reduced to the point of making one appearance during a mission where you play as Freddie. Ubisoft, why did you reduce his role in the game? Why make him if you were then going to push him into the sidelines? I know we have a long list of British video game characters, but I feel a little confused as to why his role was reduced. Is he going to be in some kind of DLC for the game? Ubisoft have yet to explain why George’s role was reduced. I personally think that he had one of the more interesting character descriptions, and I would have liked to have seen why he lied to join the air force. Granted, the four main characters are all well developed and are not a waste of space, but still, I would have liked an explanation as to why George’s role was reduced. It doesn’t make sense to introduce this specific British fighter pilot so late in the game, when he has only one minor part in the overall story. Oh, and if they say they didn’t have the budget to animate him, like they did with Assassin’s Creed Unity and Far Cry 4 concerning the lack of female characters, the internet will have their heads on a spike. So, do I have any other complaints? I only have some minor ones, like I thought some small puzzles were only put there to elongate the game. However, this didn’t make the levels overstay their welcome. I know a lot of reviewers complained about the dog not having much of a character, but I don’t think he is the worst thing, since you are constantly with him, unlike the dog in Call of Duty: Ghost.
Ubisoft has recently put themselves in a rather awkward position, because during E3 a few weeks ago, they had a weak excuse as to why two of their biggest games coming out this year don’t have playable female characters. Luckily, Valiant Hearts: The Great War shows off that when they aren’t giving out terrible excuses, they can make a really fantastic experience. If it wasn’t for that slight little nod to either DLC or a sequel that rubbed me the wrong way, Valiant Hearts: The Great War would have been my favorite game of 2014. This game has it all, from a great story to really compelling characters. It is $15 dollars right now on PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. I do hope we can get some more games like this from Ubisoft, but in both downloadable and physical release, because it shows that they are not afraid to try something different. You know, unlike so many other companies that only do one or two franchises and that’s it. If you have the money and the time to enjoy what is possibly the best story in a video game of 2014, check it out!
This game gets a 9 out of 10.