Ubisoft’s own studio, Ubisoft Montpellier, presents an artistically beautiful but functionally frustrating depiction of World War I in Valiant Hearts: The Great War. This game will punch you in the gut with its unabashed portrayal of war and make you scream in frustration when the control scheme just doesn’t pan out.
The story of Valiant Hearts: The Great War follows several characters as they intertwine through the early stages of the war. It begins just as the war has broken out and quickly breaks apart the family of a French farmer, Emile. His son-in-law, Karl, is a German living in France but with war being declared, Karl is deported back to Germany to fight for the Germans. This is a great display of how the horrors of war would pit family members against each other. Throughout the game you will be introduced to other characters, Freddie and Anna, as they criss-cross paths.
The story-line is based on actual events of the war but uses some “creative licensing” to meld in the story of the game’s characters. This liberal use of facts is interesting and damning at times. I prefer that facts remain facts and not be misconstrued in such a manner. One of the worst instances was when a hill was blown up and the facts regarding it were twisted into the story. In the real war, the hill blew up do to an unattended stove, but in the game your character must take action to make the stove blow up instead. It wouldn’t be so evident if the game didn’t out-right give you these facts.
Speaking of facts, there is a ton of information that the game gives you either in diary entries or collectables, along with the story itself. The diary entries are fictional and written from the character’s perspective to add to the game’s story, whereas the collectibles are items found throughout the game and give quick historical facts in the description. It was, however, disappointing when facts were repeated with several items.
The artistic aspects of the game are seemingly simplistic, yet beautiful. The cartoonish style of the game takes nothing away from the horrific tale of war, yet still allows the characters to emote with clarity. Even with the lack of direct dialogue between characters, the story is carried through visual cues and narration. Some may say that the narration itself lacks emotion, but I would contend that it actually adds to the somber mood of the game.
As far as the gameplay goes, you’ll get a good mix of styles, but you may find the controls less than forgiving and lacking direction at times. There are quest type elements in the game, along with puzzle and rhythm mini-games, which helped keep things fresh throughout my playthrough. However, I had some issues using the left analog stick to complete actions consistently, and would have rather had one of the unused buttons as an action button to climb obstacles or ladders instead. Compound that with the issue of not being sure what needed to be done next because there wasn’t a clear indicator of your next objective and your frustration level could rise quickly.
Valiant Hearts: The Great War is available on your platform of choice, be it the PS4 version I played or PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, or PC. Given the graphical style of the game, I really don’t think that you will see much of a difference between the platforms. The value is solid given that $15 dollars gets you a game that will last six hours or more.
Overall, I enjoyed my time with the game and would like to play it again, but I recommend you look passed the control issues and twisting of facts to find the terrific portrayal of war and those that fought in it. They have it set up pretty well for sequels, so look for that to happen if the game sells well. Hopefully some refinement on the control scheme and direction issues will be done if the sequels do occur.
Recommended for fans of: World War I and historical events, but open to those looking to learn about such things.
*This review was based on the PS4 version and unless some significant differences are noted between editions on other platforms, consider this the definitive review of the game.
Paul Novak is a self described Polish ninja toiling away as an IT professional but more into gaming and writing. Physically existing in the west side of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania yet existentially flowing with the ether of the Internet. Found here at What’s Your Tag? and on the Twitter @dudewantshisrug. Game on with Team XBRO!