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Valiant Hearts

By BloodyFanGirl08-07-2014
MrJenssen (editor)
StuntmanLT (editor)
Valiant Hearts

The Defence

Ubisoft Montpellier
Adventure, Puzzle
Release Date:

The Prosecution

Intel Core 2 Duo 2.0 GHz
AMD Athlon64 X2 2.0 GHz
Nvidia GeForce 9600GT
AMD Radeon HD 3850
2 GB
2 GB

The Case

Originally announced towards the end of last year and showcased during Ubisoft’s conference at E3 with a truly tear-jerking trailer, Valiant Hearts promised to focus on the personal stories of a selection of characters during the First World War. The main question is, does Valiant Hearts deliver on its promised emotional intensity or does its emotional punch miss the target completely?

The Trial

There are a few immediately obvious differences between the Valiant Hearts I played and the Valiant Hearts announced back in 2013. Namely, the initial announcement trailer mentioned a fifth character, ‘George, the British aviator who lied about knowing how to fly’ whom is not playable in the final game and not nearly as prominent as in the first trailer. The final game switches focus between the remaining four characters. There is farmer Emile who is conscripted to fight for the French forces and his close friend Freddie, an American who voluntarily fights for France. Then there is Anna, a Belgian veterinary student who does her utmost to treat injured troops whilst she searches for her father. Finally there’s Karl, who is a German living in France that gets deported and subsequently conscripted to the German forces. He’s also in love with Emile’s daughter, Maria, and while the first trailer implies that this romance is a huge part of the plot, in the final game it is a much smaller sub-plot. All of these characters are then tied together by Walt, the dog, who can get to areas you can’t and assist with puzzles.

This can only end badly.

This can only end badly.

These are interesting people caught up in the war for a number of reasons. In direct juxtaposition to these affecting characters is the cartoony villain of Baron Von Dorf who is much more one-note in comparison. His moustache-twirling, flat characterisation feels out of place and seems to exist at cross-purposes to the kind of story Valiant Hearts wants to tell. That said, the boss fights against Baron Von Dorf are over the top in every way and more enjoyable for it. Fighting the Baron in his zeppelin in a church, using a broken organ to play the tune of his demise, is definitely a high point.

Gameplay is largely comprised of side-scrolling puzzle solving. Many puzzles involve finding various setting-specific objects that can perform as a lever for various switches that, when flipped, remove an obstacle in your path. The same mechanics are reused often but the game at least tries to present these in different ways each time they appear. Puzzles are very simple and most of the time you’re even given hints if you spend over a minute trying to solve one. The solutions aren’t obtuse but they are still engaging to work through. Though sometimes, you’ll have the right solution but it frustratingly won’t work as it should; mechanically speaking, the game lacks a final layer of polish for some puzzles.

What is not lacking in polish is the art. This is another game on the UBIart Framework, like Child of Light and the cel shaded style looks gorgeous. I do however have a few minor complaints: during cutscenes, there are a few occasions where a zoomed in shot is used and the outlines of the art look pixelated as they were not designed to be seen that close up. The art direction has also chosen not to give any of the characters visible eyes. It sounds weird put like that but I didn’t start questioning this choice until after I’d played the game. One possible reason for this artistic choice is that the lack of eyes accentuates the character’s roles as everymen & women. But some gamers will likely be left feeling ‘Goodness, could no one afford a barber during World War I?’

The British have come.

The British have come.

Speaking of the game’s historical setting, the game has heaps of information on offer to those who want it. Cutscenes provide light information on which forces are where and where the characters are in relation to the action. But if it’s the nitty gritty of history that you love, the game has a wealth of information on offer in that regard as well. As you play, new fact cards are unlocked, either by just playing normally or by picking up special items that belonged to soldiers. To access these cards you have to open up the menu but it’s not compulsory to do so. There are non-intrusive on-screen prompts telling you when you’ve unlocked something new but beyond that, accessing this information is totally optional. It’s great that players have the option to access this information if they want but it’s odd that, more often than not, this rarely influence what you see during gameplay. For example, one card mentions the involvement of Indian soldiers fighting against Germany and in the next level you see Indian soldiers fighting alongside you. However, moments like these are few and far between even though it’s clear that the development team did their homework. If they’d gone to so much trouble, why didn’t they show their work way more often during actual gameplay, rather than hiding it away somewhere in the menu?

Another odd choice is the way death is handled in-game. Valiant Hearts takes place mainly on the battlefields of the First World War so the bloodied and broken bodies of your comrades lie all around you. But you’re one of the main characters so death during gameplay sequences is basically inconsequential; if you die there’s a fade to black and then you just get back right up again close to where you died. Even Walt the dog is impervious to damage. Characters can and do die later on but that is often confined to cut scenes only. This ludonarrative dissonance takes out a lot of the game’s intended emotional punch.

What doesn’t diminish the mood is the soundtrack; the music of this game is always on point. The soundtrack greatly uplifts some otherwise uninteresting gameplay segments and makes the player feel like what they’re doing has purpose. The car chase sequences, which could have so easily been tedious, are brought to the level of set piece thanks to careful musical implementation.



What is rarely well implemented however is Uplay, and most of the problems I had playing this game can be attributed to that. I shan’t go on at length as I’ll likely just be regurgitating what others have said and have said better. However, once whilst playing, my computer crashed and upon returning to the game, I was asked to either load up a game from my local disk or the cloud. Neither worked; my previous save games were gone and I had to start all over...

The Verdict

Valiant Hearts’ emotional core is marred by ludonarrative dissonance, inconsistent characterisation and not the highest level of polish mechanically. Whilst it lacks the emotional punch promised in its trailers, it still tells a number of affecting stories. And yes, you probably still will get teary towards the end. It will also not leave you wanting for the history-side of things nor will it bog you down with too much heavy information.

Case Review

  • That Music!: Great soundtrack put to excellent use.
  • Pleasing to the Eye: Gorgeous art using the UBIart Framework.
  • Done Their Homework: There’s a lot of info available for the history nerds...
  • I Lost My Homework: ...but it’s hidden away in the menu screen.
  • Simple Puzzles: They won’t frustrate you but they won’t challenge you much either.
  • Imprecise Controls: Sometimes the right solution to a puzzle doesn’t work the first time.
  • Pointless Death: For such a bloody time period, death is mechanically inconsequential.
  • Screw Uplay: Wherever you buy this game, you have to struggle with Uplay.
Score: 3/5
Valiant Hearts will probably still make you cry.


Everyone knows who won WW1, everyone knows that many people died, and everyone knows that a life in the trenches was a bad one, but most of us don't know the individual people that made it "The Great War." What makes Valiant Hearts unique is that it trades in the constant explosions, gunfire and action sequences that other developers would have put at the forefront of their game, and instead gives us a story about a father and son, a story of revenge, a story of self-discovery, and a story about the most adorable dog in the history of video games.

Where Valiant Hearts shines is with the characters. It isn’t as depressing as The Last of Us or The Walking Dead where most of humanity has been thrown out the window, but instead shows you a world where people still can play (fantastic) music, dance, eat with each other, and fight for what they believe in, making for a setting that you want to see made right. Each character has his/her own goals and story arcs that only become more interesting as you play, and it's hard to pull away from the game once you start playing it. Despite the WW1 setting, the gameplay isn’t loaded with guns so much as environmental puzzles. People will be shooting at you and trying to blow you up, but you have to rely on your wits more than your reflexes. There are also collectibles in every level that you can pick up to learn some real life facts about WW1 in addition to the real life background of every mission that you're put in. The puzzles and collectables are a welcome change to the WW1 setting and all contextually sound with a good difficulty, but they do delay the furthering of the story and music. The gameplay is good, but the story, music, and narration is so phenomenal that you'll want to be getting back to the story as soon as possible.

With nearly no dialogue, barely any action sequences, and only a handful of puzzles, Valiant Hearts instead manages to convey the humanity and joy of life through the constant death and horror of the war. Valiant Hearts may only be $15 and a couple of hours, but the story, music and characters make it just as emotionally impactful as any Telltale game.

Score: 4/5


Games are art. That’s something that simply cannot be denied anymore. There are far too many examples of games with true artistic merit. Of course, that does not mean that every game qualifies as a work of art, but the same is true of all artistic mediums. The important thing is that our beloved medium is no longer floundering in the dark trying to establish itself. No greater evidence for this can be found than with Ubisoft. Sure, there are some individual games by other developers that may be better recognised, but Ubisoft are the only developer really making an overt effort to raise the profile. Point in fact, the Ubiart division, who have now brought us Valiant Hearts. A gorgeous, moving painting following the First World War with a great deal of artistic license.

Whilst the First World War was of course a real event, the way it plays out in the game, from the stories of the multiple protagonists, to the flow of events, is clearly stated as being an interpretation rather than a straightforward retelling. It starts by informing us of a man named Karl, a German national living in France with his wife and her Father. Deported after the onset of hostilities. Initially, this seems to have little bearing on the story, as you first take control of his Father-in-law Emile, who becomes the main protagonist of the story. Before embarking on his first expedition, he meets the second playable character, an American soldier Freddie. And is then promptly injured in battle and taken as a prisoner of war.

Playing as Freddie shortly after, the game teases us with multiple plot threads that promise to be intertwined only as the game nears its climax. But then we are thrown a curve ball. As Emile escapes from his captors with the aid of a friendly dog from the medical core, meeting back up with Freddie shortly after. The two form a fast friendship and, with the help of the dog Walt, set out to track down and return Karl to his wife and child back in France. This allows the narrative to flow a lot more smoothly than the initial confusion suggested, and sucked me in almost immediately. Whilst Walt...I felt a greater connection to this lively little fellow the moment I first saw him than many expertly fleshed out, voiced characters. The bond between him and Emile is so beautifully organic, forming the backbone of the entire experience. In short, this is an incredible game and simply should not be missed.

Score: 4.5/5
Comments (4)
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Posts: 1548

#Bobfish - Well, that's what appeals are for I guess.

Posts: 3290

Honestly, it actually exceeded my expectations. Hence the score

Posts: 1548

Another game that is nothing to what it was revealed to be? Oh you, Ubi, I dont like this deceitful trend.

Posts: 3290


I just noticed. The one who shot Emile was Karl. No wonder he survived