I don’t know much about war, but I suspect I’m more knowledgeable when it comes to details related to World War II than World War I. Mind you, this is not me saying I’m knowledgeable at all. Just more familiar with how things went down from 1939 to 1945. Blame it heavier on popular entertainment media than my limited history school lessons, as I probably absorbed more from things like Band of Brothers and The Saboteur than anything else. As for World War I…well, I know it was one of the deadliest conflicts, with some absolutely terrifying weapons of war used. Like severe mustard gas.
So, naturally, there’s not a plethora of games based on this happy-go-lucky time period, though I did recently puzzle my way through Covert Front‘s alternative take on World War I. Ubisoft’s Valiant Hearts: The Great War is also a puzzle adventure game, released in summer 2014 and developed by Ubisoft Montpellier, and walks the path of being both fun to play and educational. Evidently, the game was inspired by actual letters written during World War I and focuses on four different characters: the Frenchman Emile, his German son-in-law Karl, American soldier Freddie, and Belgian nurse Anna. It’s a heart-twisting story of love and survival, sacrifice and friendship. There’s also a dog you can continuously pet.
Valiant Hearts: The Great War is divided up into four chapters, and each chapter is split into several sections. Most of these sections you to clear an objective in order to progress through the story, like solving environmental puzzles or acquiring specific items related to the situation. Other sections mix the action up, such as surviving heavy gunfire, stealthing past enemies undetected, and, my personal favorite, rhythmic car chase scenarios set to classic songs where you have to avoid obstacles in the road. Also, each of the four characters is able to interact with the world based on who they are, such as Emile shoveling through soft ground, Freddie cutting barbed wires with his shears, and Anna treating patients’ injuries through a mini QTE. When available, the characters can order the dog to carry objects and push levers.
Despite the tone and horrific historical details, I’m really enjoying my time so far in Valiant Hearts: The Great War. It’s got a fantastic, cartoonish art style, and the puzzles have not gotten too complicated to the point where I’d want to throw the controller away. Even if they do, there’s an in-game, timer-based hint system, if you need an extra clue on what to do with the dog or how to sneak by that watchful sniper in the tower. Toss in some relaxing piano tunes for when you are reading up on days past, as well as a soothing narrator, and this is a strangely tranquil gaming experience amidst all the explosions and mortar shells. I’m somewhere in the middle of chapter two currently, so I don’t expect this to last that much longer, but that’s okay. It’s bite-size, but so far quite filling.
Lastly, I keep thinking from its title that Valiant Hearts is somehow related to Vandal Hearts, a PlayStation 1 tactics RPG that I regret trading in back when I was young and dumb (but haven’t written about yet). Alas, the two are no more related than…well, I tried for the longest time to think of some witty war comparison here, but came up empty. Germany and Canada? Meh. If you’ve got a killer line, drop it in the comments.