Valiant Hearts opens with a happy family, bright scenery, and a chaotic spiral into World War I. This opening cinematic is perfect for setting the tone of the game, and introduces a memorable cast of characters. During my time fighting The Great War, I dug around mines with a soup ladle, had a dog distract guards while I knocked them out with a shovel, and chased a crazy baron in a comically evil Nazi zeppelin. The experience over all was an enjoyable one, and I would recommend it to anyone.
During my five or so hours playing Valiant Hearts, I found that my favorite aspect was the soundtrack. The story telling is done with very little dialogue (mostly one word grunts in various languages, except in cut scenes), but with the music as a backdrop, it is easy to get emotion out of the characters without words. The storyline follows Emile, a grandfather who was called to fight for France in World War I. The twist is that he’s fighting against his son-in-law, who was kicked out of France for being of German nationality and conscripted into fighting for the Axis (much conflict, much sadness). This story is underscored by plenty of somber piano, and the occasional jaunty horn piece during a car chase. I liked the soundtrack to this game so much that I’ve been listening to it on repeat for days now. In the end it fits the game better than the soundtracks of most AAA titles.
The game also does a good job matching its story with the dreary, but cartoonish art style. The backgrounds made the scenery feel somber, without going too gruesome (which could have been easy to do for a game about trench warfare and nerve gas). This balance allows Valiant Hearts to tell a sad story, but still leave its content accessible to gamers of all ages. The violence of war is there, but it is always underscored by the game’s art-style and never takes it too far. It made the story enjoyable, powerful, and didn’t bog it down by being too depressing. All of this is flat-out amazing when you again consider the fact that the game is about World War I.
My one true disappointment with Valiant Hearts is the fact that the story never reaches its true potential. The narrative starts off strong, but quickly peters into a series of fetch quests that don’t really feel like they’re doing anything to help it. Don’t get me wrong, the gameplay overall was fun, but I do feel like it could have been integrated into the overall story more. Most of the exposition is given through collectables and postcards that can be found or unlocked as the story progresses, as well as brief cut scenes with an amazing History Channel style narrator giving back story on the war. I would have loved to hear the narrator explain more about what was going on, rather than reading large paragraphs about different types of barbed wire and boots from the unlocks.
The game managed to keep fresh by allowing gameplay as four different characters (five if you count the dog) whose fates were intertwined. By far, my favorite character to play as was Anna, a medic on the front lines. However, part of this gameplay involved a quick time rhythm game to heal soldiers along the front. I’m fine with the mechanic, but the animations that go along with it are very similar each time she heals someone. I’m not sure that every battlefield injury can be solved with ether and injections, but hey, that’s why I’m a video game reviewer and not a combat medic.
The main gameplay of Valiant Hearts focuses around solving puzzles to progress the story line. This ranges from finding a chef a sock so that he will give you ink, to blowing up a tower that is pinning a German soldier (because physics). These puzzles are the perfect level of difficulty, with most taking under two minutes to solve while still feeling very rewarding. For those who find the puzzles too difficult, Valiant Hearts also has a hint system that is very helpful, and only reveals hints after the player has struggled with the level for a certain amount of time. This option can also be turned off for the more hardcore audience.
Finally, another place Valiant Hearts shines is with character interaction. There’s genuine emotion between characters that makes it feel important when they are solving puzzles together. Specifically, I loved the dog (because animals). The dog is part of what keeps Valiant Hearts so fun; it serves as comic relief throughout the battles and struggles of the main characters. It adds an interesting layer to puzzles too, as the dog can go into the background while the main character stays in the foreground. This meant that the puzzles never got dull and the solutions varied from level to level. This animal deserves a spot in top ten game dogs, right behind Dog Meat(Fallout 3).
Overall, Valiant Hearts was a very enjoyable experience, and one that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys puzzle-platformer games. The gameplay mechanics are solid and the puzzles are easy-enough to figure out, while still providing enough challenge to keep the game interesting. The best part by far is the soundtrack, which synchronizes perfectly with the game’s art style and aesthetic. It immersed me in the game and made every second feel like something out of a movie.