Ryan and I just finished a beautiful game. Frankly, I was shocked at how well it turned out. At first glance Valiant Hearts looks like an interesting point and click game that might make you a bit sad, but with a cute art style and a dog, I figured it was lighthearted war puzzle game. Well, in some ways it is, but it also delivered so much more.
August 2nd marks the date of the first military skirmish in World War 1, exactly 100 year ago. Often called The Great War, it’s horrors and traumas introduced the world to modern warfare, and in the introduction, more than 9 million combatants were killed. This year, 2014, some cities are honoring the casualties, the human sacrifice, in beautiful and moving ways. The Tower of London, for instance, overflows with red ceramic poppies, one for each military fatality. In Amersham, a field of six foot crosses will be unveiled. Perhaps in that same spirit of remembrance, UbiSoft created a moving and beautiful game that not only delights its participants with its great art direction and play style, but reminds us of the humanity behind the war.
While the premise is anything but uplifting, the actual game play is fun, engaging, and at times even silly. Instead of taking the more usual approach to war gaming and handing the characters guns, Valiant Hearts highlights a different side. Plenty of action happens throughout the game, and even the cartoon style can’t mask the horror, but much of it takes place around you, as you figure out how to help people escape predicaments, deal with gas attacks, or break out of POW camp. The highlights? For us, experiencing high speed car chases timed perfectly to music was particularly enjoyable, I was laughing pretty hard. The puzzles are fun, but not usually too challenging. We played on Veteran Mode after hearing others say that the default mode hints and prompts make the game incredibly easy. But that is something I liked about the game as well. It’s accessible to all level of game players.
While a few reviewers (linking to the IGN one) found the footnotes and extra information about the War heavy handed and unnecessary, both Ryan and I thoroughly enjoyed them. Each chapter brought with it more information about how soldiers and civilians dealt with the chaos around them, and while there were some facts I already knew, it brought to light others I did not. There are also hidden items throughout the game with small stories or facts attached to them, which once again brings reality and humanity back into an industry that thrives on warfare – games. Perhaps if the only agenda of the game was to have fun, then yes, the approach is heavy handed, but especially considering this year marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the war, I found the game moving, informative, and a tribute to a generation of people we shouldn’t forget.
Image Credit: A great interview about the game and the cool picture I lifted from it can be found in the link.