Valiant Hearts – What is a game when it’s not a game?

The dog is probably the coolest character in the whole thing

The dog is probably the coolest character in the whole thing

I am going to again temporarily break from my mission statement in order to discuss Valiant Hearts: The Great War. Valiant Hearts is not quite what you’d call an indie game having been designed by Ubisoft Montpellier in partnership with the documentary series Apocalypse: World War I. But I feel its subject and tone is fresh enough to merit it worth discussing.

Reviewing a game like Valiant Hearts is never going to be easy. An attempt to cover a topic as significant as the First World War in a game touting historical accuracy is always going to draw attention from more than just gaming fans. So too will it open up the games as art debate, a discussion I am always more than happy to dive into.

Valiant Hearts aims to tackle very a historical and human angle on military and war themed gaming aside from the usual bang bang, blow up everything mechanic of most military games. Playing out against the backdrop of the First World War, Valiant Hearts tells the stories of several characters on both sides of the conflict whose paths intertwine in a tale of love, sadness, triumph and loss.

I sure am glad field medic training covered getting keys from doves.

I sure am glad field medic training covered getting keys from doves.

The game plays as that of a puzzle-adventure which sees you running around the various battlefields and locations of the war looking for items, pulling levers, pushing objects etc. This is problematic for me as considering the game presents itself as a realistic and factual tale of the harshness of war, the puzzles you are asked to solve are completely ludicrous in relation to reality. Most of them are also incredibly simple and shouldn’t take longer than a few minutes to work out at most.

Get the dog water... war is hell.

Get the dog water? War is hell.

Every now and then the game throws a boss battle at you and these two are completely insane. For example running around on a rooftop throwing grenades at a giant steampunk zeppelin; or driving in a car whilst dodging the attacks of a tank that is more reminiscent of Doctor Robotnik than a World War One vehicle. I’m not a history expert, but I’m going to bet that these scenarios never actually took place. There are also several outrageous coincidences of the characters running into each other over the years of the war that for me really destroyed what was an otherwise engaging narrative.

Valiant Hearts: The Great War_20140625194152

Ah yes, fancy meeting you here.

Besides a few absurd hiccups, the narrative of Valiant Hearts is otherwise good if perhaps a little over-dramatic and needlessly soppy. The story does however feel like it restrains itself until right at the end where it drops a massive depression bomb on you.

I would argue that the game’s biggest saving grace is the art style which stands as out above all as the coolest part of the game. The visuals are simple, crisp, and interesting to look at as the play out in a flash animation style using the UbiArt Framework engine.

Seems legit.

Seems legit.

So far Valiant Hearts has received relatively good reviews all clocking in at around about the 80/100 mark on Metacritic. It’s the kind of topic you want to love and almost wills you to like the game before you’ve even played it. But I’m afraid that after playing it, there is one thing I must say. Valiant Hearts is not a good game. Yes its visually appealing and yes the story is moderately engaging but as a game it’s just too simplistic and ridiculous to have a real impact.

I almost hate to disagree with conventional wisdom on this one but this is how I feel. A game cannot be allowed to get by on its subject matter alone.

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