Valiant Hearts: The Great War (PS3) Review
Posted by Paul Meekin on 07.11.2014
Valiant Hearts looks great thanks to UbiArt, but how does it stack up? 411's Paul Meekin checks in with his full review!
Title: Valiant Hearts: The Great War Developer : Ubisoft Montpelier Publisher: Nintendo
The debut trailer for Valiant Hearts: The Great War is one of the best ever. Stark and boiling over with gravitas and pathos, if you got a chance to watch Ubisoft's E3 Press Conference, it's clear the audience was seven seconds away from bursting into tears. But the problem with a great trailer is pretty much anything can be made look awesome with the right music, pacing, and tone.
There's no way Valiant Hearts would be able to maintain the emotional punch its trailer did, and it doesn't. If you do a google of "Valiant Hearts" and "Cry" you'll likely find countless reviews saying the imagery and music and location and narration got them in 'the feels', but in reality, that's not going to happen as strongly as you think, unless you approach the game wanting and needing an emotional response.
The problem with Valiant Hearts: The Great War, is that it mashes up two great ideas that don't go well at all together. It's a driving range at an Opera. A jigsaw puzzle at a wake. It's a Hell In A Cell match between Jackie Gayda and The Brooklyn Brawler. To explain, we’re gonna have to get Greek.
Valiant Hearts wants you to think it's all pathos, a game made to affect you on an emotional level . A World War I drama, it follows the interconnecting paths of folks torn up in the turmoil of the era. The characters range in culture, ability, personality, and their back-stories are compelling enough to warrant your attention and interest. But the game wants your heart.
Between the somber piano music and a hand-drawn art style that's synonymous with games like Braid, Valiant Hearts is seems to desire some indie cred, as Ubisoft has clearly taken notes from the multiple games that endear the player via melancholy tone and wistful beauty.
Which is fine. The atmosphere of the game is great and somber and reverent, characters animate in a way that is broad and universal as well as often times touching, and the audio helps a great deal, too; be it a chirp, laugh, or the whimper of a puppy who sticks his nose in the wrong business. When I mentioned the word stark, I meant it. Valiant Hearts' art-style screams care and oozes personality. It will remind some folks of the Triplets of Belleville.
Valiant Hearts is clearly setting the player up for some kind of heart-wrenching tragedy, as a brother vs. brother dynamic unfolds via a German immigrant in France who's forced to return home and fight for Germany, ostensibly against his wife and literally against his father-in-law. Other threads emerge, and the likelihood of a truly happy ending is not high. Valiant Hearts is about the horror and camaraderie and memories and tragedies and experiences only people who have served in a war can truly understand.
But sometimes what something's about and what it is aren't the same. Valiant Hearts' gameplay trades exclusively in the currency of logos - it challenges the logical part of your brain to progress. It's an adventure game that's heavy on puzzles and making your way through a given area by pulling the right switches in the right order. Dig a specific way, use an item to distract a guard over here, walk in tandem with your puppy here, then use him to distract a guard there, and so on and so forth. Each character has a special ability or two, and you'll switch between them to accomplish the more elaborate challenges.
The puzzles grow in complexity and in their mind-bending nature, to the point where the first boss battle is pretty much an update of the final encounter in Super Mario World; pick up this thing, angle it the right way, and toss it into the open spot. But the game's closest relative is probably Blizzard's The Lost Vikings, where you'd complete mind bending puzzles by switching between characters on a 2D plane. Both games feature combat but are not about combat. Both games aren't so much about action as they are about action being the end result of pondering.
There are other kinds of gameplay that break up the puzzles, including weird rhythm sections when you're healing a wound like Rock Band: Combat Medic edition, and 'get out of the way of the incoming bomb' moments that are often set in time with music. You'll do other assorted tasks too in service of the story like roll out a giant bowl of soup for your captors while a POW, and so on.
Completing levels and finding collectibles rewards you with a boatload of historical information, various medals and other easter-eggy kudos, and leads into more of the narrative. It's really fun in that mind-bending sort of way, and no puzzle is too difficult to give complete pause. If you enjoy stuff like Lost Vikings, Braid, Myst, Monument Valley, or old adventure games like Day of the Tentacle or Indiana Jones and the Lost City of Atlantis, playing Valiant Hearts scratches that niche wonderfully.
But there's something weird about having puzzles that challenge your analytical thinking ability, while the narrative deliberately presses on the parts of your brain that are intentionally irrational - your emotions. There have been puzzle games with wonderful plots like Portal and Portal 2, and Braid was as mind bending as it gets. But those games weren't trying to tell a story specifically designed to impact you the way this is. Valiant Hearts is about specific places, people, and events, and is clearly desperate to make you sad in that 'beautiful' way movies like Saving Private Ryan do.
It's like taking a test that switches between complex algebra and critical thinking questions about All Quiet on The Western Front. By its very nature Valiant Hearts needs to come to a complete stop every few minutes to allow you to approach and solve a puzzle. There's no flow. If you're not super into puzzles, but are into well written and creative stories, you have yourself a bit of a pickle.
Which is great if you like pickles. It's perfectly fine to enjoy both these elements separately and get your 15 bucks worth out of the game - and then some. The puzzles and narrative are too creative to be considered anything but quality, even if they arrive at perpendicular angles to one-another.
Getting through the 10+ hour adventure felt a little like Bioshock: Infinite in that I'd be banging my head against a wall to progress just to see the story, only to like the story less because I was irked from the stuff I had to do to, to see it in the first place. But I'm not really a 'puzzle' guy.
If you're a puzzle guy or gal, history buff, or just like playing games that are unique and visually interesting, Valiant Hearts: The Great War is a great way to learn about some bad stuff that happened in Europe a few decades ago.
The animation of characters and 'cinematic' presentation are a delight. The overall presentation is focused and nothing feels out of place. This game is 'artistic merit' defined.
This depends on you. Like puzzle games? This is a 9. Hate puzzle games? A 7 will suit ya. The puzzles aren't so terrible you'll get stuck, but are elaborate enough to require real thought, which you may or may not want
Audio pops, characters emote in Animal Crossing style gibberish, and the game layers the various sounds of war, music, and incredible narration for a quality audio expierence.
How long Valiant Hearts: The Great War, holds your attention
Give or take a point or two depending on your interest in the subject matter. Like puzzlers? Add a point. Like history? Add a point. Dislike both? Subtract two.