I know this first sentence is getting old, but I’ve been meaning to play Valiant Hearts for years. Something about the fact a games publisher like Ubisoft funded a studio to make a fairly indie-looking WW1 game that would include historical facts resonated with me in such a way that I was excited to get my hands on the beauty. Alas, 3 years after the game was originally released, I finally managed to sit down for one weekend and put the gorgeously hand-drawn puzzle platformer thorough it’s paces.
So what is Valiant Hearts? Put simply, Valiant Hearts is a 2D hand drawn puzzle platformer where you take control of 3 different characters all just trying to make their way through WW1, the “great” war as it were. You start each characters story at the start of the war, and proceed to find out how they became involved in the war, and how it affected them personally. Throughout the course of the campaign you’ll take part in many of the famous battles, and get to see, first hand, how the people of the time lived and coped with what was going on around them.
Whilst puzzle platformers aren’t usually my cup of tea (“The Cave” for example, was only played for half an hour and never touched again), something about Valiant Hearts managed to keep me so entranced that I wanted to see everything the game had to offer; so much so that I proceeded to spend so much time collecting every collectible hidden throughout the main campaign. This is rare for me, but understandable when you get down to the core mechanic of the game: It’s splendid art-style.
Every character in the world of Valiant hearts is lovingly detailed, with each animation happening so fluidly that you’d be forgiven at times for thinking you were watching a cartoon show. Hundreds/thousands of NPC’s you meet throughout the game are also just as detailed, and help to present how horrific WW1 was, with millions of dead bodies strewn throughout each stage as if they’re a part of the scenery.
The art style doesn’t stop at the lovingly detailed characters though – even the stages themselves are so marvellously hand drawn that you feel like you can relate to, and understand the world Ubisoft has created. Streets bristle with detail, with even woodland scenes having little quirks here and there to make them feel full of life.
It helps that whilst you’re making your way through this aesthetically pleasing world, the soundtrack helps to properly cement that you’re in the 1910’s, and as such, gives a fantastic range of music that would have been popular at the time.
So aesthetically, both in the visual and audio departments, Valiant Hearts truly stands out above the crowd when it comes to world building. But what about it’s actual gameplay?
This is where some of the issues start to crop up.
For the most part, you’ll make your way from left to right as each of your characters. You don’t control all characters at the same time, instead each stage that progresses the story has you taking control of one and one alone. Each character comes with their own abilities that are made use of in each stage: Freddie, the black American is able to set up explosives and cut down barbed wire, Emile, the French man, is able to control a dog to grab objects and can dig in specific areas, and finally Anna, the Belgian lady is a nurse and is able to heal people.
These random abilities may sound weird to have, but they help in pushing the story forward and making you get a feel for what life must have been like in those days.
Each stage will have you moving along until you encounter an obstacle in your way, at which point you’ll have to use your smarts to navigate past. Take for example the french man – in one of his stages, you need to infiltrate a german encampment, making sure the guards patrolling never see’s him. This stage makes heavy use of his digging and dog controlling mechanic, and as such, pushes you to look at every item in the environment as a potential solution to getting to your end destination.
The issue is, these puzzle usually detract from the world building itself. You’ll spend quite some time rushing back and forth, picking up items in a specific order just to solve a puzzle that could have not even been there in the first place. I wanted to play the game to learn more about WW1 and to observe the stunning attention to detail; not to retread the same steps over and over to overcome one obstacle.
There were also a few bugs on my travels; in one stage, the scripted moments never occurred, leaving my characters to just stand there forever, waiting for something to happen. Another stage, my character got stuck on box, and as such was never able to move, meaning I had to quit the game and come back in. Nuisances sure, but not exactly game breaking bugs.
That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed my time playing Valiant Hearts, and if anything, wished I’d had played the game sooner. The little titbits of historical facts strewn between great art and animations was a match made in heaven, and certainly made the war more relatable on an emotional and human level. I’d hugely recommend you pick the game up if it goes on sale, you won’t regret the time you invest into this gorgeous world.