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Valiant Hearts: The Great War Review


Valiant Hearts: The Great War Review

Valiant Hearts Review

Price: £11.99
Developer: Ubisoft Montpelier
Publisher: Ubisoft
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360
Version Reviewed: PC

I think the best way to summarise Valiant Hearts is to simply point out that it's a game about World War One that features comedy musical car-chases. During these scenes you move your spluttering automobile left and right, back and forth to avoid machine gun fire, artillery shells and grenades, all in time with the rhythm of classical pieces from the same era such as Flight of the Bumblebee and Night on Bald Mountain. Colliding with any of these explosive obstacles obliterates your car, but this has nothing on the clash of tone that struggles at the centre of Ubisoft Montpelier's latest game.

Anyone familiar with the French studio's output might recognise these sections as similar to the musical levels featured in their exceptional Rayman games. Yet Rayman's melodic maps were a reward for the completion of a particular stage, a colourful and upbeat celebration that fit perfectly with those games' joyful and exuberant tone. In Valiant Hearts, they smack of a desperate attempt to inject some light relief into a setting that I'm not sure can or should be relieved of its gravity.

Valiant Hearts: The Great War Review
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Let's dial this back a bit. Valiant Hearts is a side-scrolling puzzle game in which you assume the role several characters all trying to make it through one of humanity's greatest tragedies. There's Emile, an ageing French farmer drafted into the French Army, his son-in-law Karl, a German born man living in Alsace, who is drafted into the German army. Meanwhile, Freddie is an American who volunteers to fight for the French forces out of a personal lust for revenge. And lastly there's Anna, the daughter of a French scientist who joins up as an ambulance driver and field-medic.

Valiant Hearts: The Great War Review
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It's in the telling of these personal stories against the desolate backdrop of the conflict where Valiant Hearts is at its strongest. Each character offers the player a different lens through which to experience the war, but all of their stories interconnect at various points throughout the game's four chapters. Despite featuring minimal dialogue and narration, the game's beautiful animation lends a great amount of personality to these characters. There's an obvious and telling difference between how Freddie charges through the trenches like a muscular battering ram, driven by anger and a sense of duty, while Emile drags himself onward with a kind of reluctant determination, driven mainly by the French officer pointing a revolver at his back. Valiant Hearts really strives to invest you in these little cartoon people, and it almost works.

Valiant Hearts: The Great War Review
Click to enlarge

Unfortunately, then comes a bit where you sneak up behind a German soldier and clout him about the head with a soup ladle, and it all goes a bit wrong.