When was the last time a videogame brought a tear to your eye? There have been only a few games over the past 20 or so years that have genuinely moved me to tears. Some have done so by making me feel sad (I’ll miss you Aeris), while others brought on an emotional reaction purely due to their sheer beauty – Journey springs to mind. There were a few scenes in Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us that tore a little at my heartstrings and I might admit to a tear or ten… here or there. Still, nothing in recent history can compare to the emotional rollercoaster that is Valiant Hearts.
I think we always knew this was going to be one of those games. Based on letters found from soldiers during the original world war, Valiant Hearts is an authentic slice of that era, that doesn’t dress it all up with fluffy dialogue or emotional set pieces. It uses simple concepts to portray a truly horrific time in human history – but does this really make for a good GAME in the end? I’m happy to say that although Valiant Hearts might be a bit too straightforward for adventure game veterans, it is a game that promotes simple puzzle solving married with a clever and unique interface making for a pretty solid game all around.
In many ways the game plays out like other recent adventure titles like The Cave or Stacking, in that you are typically tasked with finding certain objects in the general vicinity, using your cunning and guile to unlock one puzzle after another. The game also features little action sequences, but unfortunately these are too it’s detriment. Sections where the player must throw items to damage machinery and unlock new areas are fine, but the purely random nature of some bombing sequences in the game will leave some players with a bitter taste in their mouth.
Still, the real joy is not only found in the puzzle solving… but the narrative. The game weaves together four stories, taking place from the outset of World War I in 1914 through to 1917 when America officially entered the fight. It’s a diverse cast that doesn’t try to portray any one side as the absolute evil, instead showcasing that soldiers and civilians from all sides were heavily affected by the events of the “Great” War. You play as a female French Civilian/Army medic, a German solider, His father-in-law (who is a French soldier) and an African-American G.I. Each character has moments of joy, horror and deep loss explored in the game.
And I haven’t even talked about one of the games most important characters. A German army dog that holds the whole thing together…
This is one of those games that totally falls into the category of “Games as art”. Visually the game is stunning, but more importantly it’s relevant. It stands as a history lesson of a war all too often forgotten about. From the epic set pieces involving Zeppelins, to the horrific introduction of Chlorine Gas, the game explores the many facets of the bloodiest war in history… and it will make you question the rationale of that war. The motives and objectives of the characters are clear cut and transcend gender, race, king or country – showcasing a singular unity that is rarely explored in other games.
As an art piece, Valiant Hearts is one of the most exciting games released in recent wars. It certainly helps that it’s a pretty interesting little adventure game too.