War brings sadness, more than anything. With the loss, destruction, and death that is accumulated in acts of war, it is nice to see games like Valiant Hearts go against the typical trend of World War themed games to simply focus on combat. This is a game that puts you right in the biggest war that humanity has ever been in, and you never, ever, have to shoot a single bullet at someone else. The characters in game are focusing more on surviving and helping those around them than trying to kill enemies, and this creates a very humanizing element to the game that makes it hard to put down.
What is Valiant Hearts: the Great War?
Valiant Hearts is a 2D point and click game where players take control of various characters. The game is set during the period of the Second World War and not surprisingly, most of the game’s events are set along the frontlines and the trenches. Progress in the game is made by moving the storyline forward, and this usually means solving puzzles by picking up items and finding out the best way to use them. Interacting with the environment is also often required.
There are a total of 4 characters in the game, Emile, Karl, Freddy, and Anna –each of these four have different roles to play in the story and you get to experience all their hardships first hand. Aside from progressing the story, exploring the environment also unlocks little historical facts –bits and pieces of trivia about the war. While this makes for interesting reading, they way they are presented sometimes breaks the atmosphere of the game.
Deceptively Simple Looking
The game’s 2D art features incredibly smooth animations and simplistic details –making it seem like a point and click game for children. However, we do remind parents that this game still focuses on the topic of war and as such, much of the game’s content are more targeted at older audiences. This is not only dues to the emotionally-centric nature of the content of the game, but also because some scenes that depict death do so in rather violent and graphic ways (though for the most part, Valiant Hearts is pretty subtle, often downplaying actual scenes of people dying).
The narrative is delivered through various means –sometimes by voice overs, sometimes it is given through subtle details in the backgrounds. All the puzzles and actions you take in the game reveal a little more about the game world and what is happening. It does not take much to piece together what the developers are trying to say, and it certainly adds a great layer of depth to the game.
Not All Perfect
As amazing as this game is, it also comes with its fair share of problems. One of the most often observed issues with the game is with its inconsistency with the narrative. It does try to deliver some things lightly, and the ample humor in the game (along with the cartoon like artwork) heavily emphasizes that it does not want to depress. But there is no denying the fact that many of the game’s main narrative sequences are truly heart breaking. This seems put to more imbalance with some of the music choices as well –particularly during one important sequence in Anna’s storyline (which can be either fittingly ironic or just plain anticlimactic).
In between puzzle solving and the minimal exploring, the game features some collectibles that unlock additional information. While interesting to read, these little fact pieces feel a little out of place. A quick little onscreen prompt that you have new journal material would have been more appropriate that tossing the whole data page on top of the game screen. This can often distract from the mood of the events as well.
The Verdict: A Thought Piece of a Game
Valiant Hearts: the Great War is a story hidden in the guise of a game, and as a story, it is a very good one. The game-y bits of the tale also add to the overall impact as you manually live out the character’s difficult lives. It is easy to get attached to Emile and the rest of the cast –despite the narrative keeping each of the tales separate, the consistent nature and tone of the game keeps everything as a cohesive whole. And while the game does have its share of problems, they do not take away from the overall experience –in this regard, Valiant Hearts proves to be a pretty strong and powerful proof that games can be excellent mediums for delivering important lessons to its players.