The Great War. Normally depicted in the form of a first person shooter. Occasionally shown from the over-the-shoulder view. Never re-enacted as a scrolling comic platformer.
But Ubisoft are on a massive roll at the moment and it seems that everything they touch turns to gold….and Valiant Hearts: The Great War is no exception as through the unique UbiArt style, Valiant Hearts tells the story of Emile, his family and a stranger or two who turn out to become his best friends. Oh and there’s the now standard dog involved as well!
But just how good is it? Does it turn out to be an emotive storyteller or is it just a boring history lesson in disguise?
Well, it’s certainly not the latter!
You find yourself playing as a number of characters throughout Valiant Hearts who, whilst originally strangers to each other, quickly find their worlds turned upside down by The Great War, needing to rely on each other in order to just survive. Set as a side scrolling puzzle platformer, you’ll not just find yourself solving riddles in order to make your way through the four defining chapters but you’ll also be taught the way of the war as you go.
It all starts off simple enough and the game kindly walks you through the first chapter or two, bringing you the full story about Emile, Freddie, Karl and Ana as they struggle through 1914-1918, without making you struggle too much with any puzzles. It’s all a bit straight forward as you learn how the devs want you to tackle each section and prepares you well for tougher times ahead.
Now, a dog in a war game is pretty standard fair these days and Ubisoft have picked up the baton and run with it big time even when the main emphasis is on problem solving. Not only do you find yourself controlling the main characters but these guys quickly build a superb relationship with a medical dog who waits on your every word. He’s essential to solving some of the puzzles and brings that added little dimension to the game that helps it spring into life. A quick press of LB followed by a command button will see the mutt carry out your every order and whilst he has no hands, he’s superbly adept at squeezing through tight spaces, pushing levers and grabbing a gasmask or two.
And boy, you’ll need to make good use of him because Valiant Hearts gets pretty damn tough! Not tough in a ‘oh, I’m dead again’ kind of way but more in a ‘why the hell would I want to do that’ kind of way. The puzzles are a defining part of Valiant Hearts and we all like a good test of the old gray matter, but as the story nears the end, the puzzles that you become faced with turn more into a chore as you find Emile and his friends moving back and forth through numerous buildings in an attempt to try and find a solution. The design in the first two parts is second to none but play your way through the latter stages of the war and things just get a little frustrating, sometimes hit with no rhyme nor reason to what you are doing. It’s not bad enough to stop you playing, but just enough to stop Ubi’s latest title from hitting the highest of high notes.
However, the rest of the game is so damn good and engrossing that you’ll implore yourself to battle through the annoying bits just so you can see where the story is going and what lies round the corner.
And round that corner is many a delight. The Taxi ‘dodge em up’ Missions are a superb addition and split the platforming up brilliantly, whilst a number of equally excellent quick time ‘rhythm’ events have you harking back to the good old days of Rock Band…albeit a less noisy more sombre one. With many collectibles to find in each chapter (each with a quick historical fact about them) and a decent ‘hint’ system in place for when the going gets stupidly tough, you’ll find many a reason to keep on plodding through.
Ubisoft have also decided to include an element of teaching into the game equation and whenever the story hits a scene that can be informative, there is the option to hit the ‘Y’ button to take in some real world historical facts straight from those times of battle. It may have been a while back when I took history at school, but I have to admit to learning plenty more of The Great War via these information clips.
Valiant Hearts: The Great War is something everyone should play. It’s a game that is as fast paced as you want it to be (except for when the bombs are dropping and you’ve got to get a move on!), and whilst it’s not quite as emotionally draining as I thought it was going to be, you really do need to be a hard nosed bastard if you don’t eventually feel for Emile and his friends. The puzzles are, on the whole, decent with only the much later ones a letdown but other than going back to pick up a few missed collectibles and achievements, there isn’t much of a replay value in it…..even if you decide to play through on the ‘Veteran mode’.
It’s good, but one thing you must never do, is forget!
Valiant Hearts: The Great War is out now on both Xbox One and Xbox 360.