“Valiant Hearts” review – A tug on the heartstrings

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It’s not often a game comes along that’s quite like “Valiant Hearts: The Great War.” A war game that focuses not on the fighting of the war, though it definitely showcases the brutality and body count, but the mental and emotional effects it has on people.

For those who are thinking this is going to be something like “Spec Ops: The Line,” think again. This is a platforming puzzle game. There is hardly any fighting involved, save for the odd moment of launching rockets or throwing grenades to destroy bunkers or barriers.

What “Valiant Hearts” does do is inform you and educate you on the horrors of war. I’d honestly advocate this game for schools and classrooms more than for any sort of hardcore gamer.

Most of the game is centered around solving small puzzles that allow you to progress to the next zone of the map. These can be fetch quests to find the item that a specific person needs, or utilizing the surroundings and the inventory to try and build or destroy something that is essential to the objective.

Anyone who watched the trailers and footage of this game will know there is a dog companion. He’s a helpful little friend for holding on to items, distracting guards, crawling to places that the humans can’t reach and even pulling survivors out of wreckage.

That’ll come in handy depending on the character you’re playing as at the time. The four protagonists are all intertwined by certain events. Emile, the farmer and French soldier, is father-in-law to Karl, the conscripted German soldier. Freddy and Emile meet up in battle and become fast friends. Soon, the two team up with Anna in her search for her father while aiding wounded along the way.

Walt, the dog, aids Freddy, Emile and Karl in platforming puzzles and sneaking segments. He helps Anna find wounded citizens and soldiers to bandage up in little minigames.

Where “Valiant Hearts: The Great War” shines is in its message and theme. War touches all and no one side is good or evil in the conflict. Not all leave the conflict alive, even those we think might.

However, the gameplay leaves something to be desired. While it is a well put-together game in many areas, it does feel a tad repetitive and time consuming. Fetch quests can feel like busy-work, and after a time the player may become exasperated by the lack of direction in certain puzzles

Some might argue that the point of solving a puzzle is figuring out the parameters and then finding the solution, to which I feel they may enjoy this game thoroughly. It does tend to slow down the pace of the game, which feels as if it’s not sure what pace it wants to set.

“Valiant Hearts: The Great War” shows a different side of war.

Certain segments will be tense and full of time-sensitive puzzles or sneaking. While others tend to take too long or feel as if there is no urgency, which will throw the player off from having just been in a hurried state.

There are also times when the items on the ground will be hard to pick up or bug out of the player’s hands. In a section where I had to raise a flag, I left the screen after doing so, only to come back and find it on the ground. I attempted to pick it up, but the pick-up button and the interact button are the same. So, with the flag directly under a wheel that I could interact with, I could only interact with the wheel to raise the flag but not pick up the flag. This led to me actually having to restart the entire level over again.

The game also has a few bugs here and there that might stop the player. I tried to enter a doorway at the same time that an NPC did, and found myself stuck on the other side, but with the screen shifting as if I had gone through the doorway. Guess what? Restart the level.

While there are multiple bumps on the road to the conclusion of “Valiant Hearts,” the journey is enjoyable and fun. You will end up caring for the characters and wanting them to succeed, which is probably more the aim of the game than a really rewarding gameplay experience. Unfortunately, the ending is so abrupt that you’re left wanting more out of the story and wanting to know what happened to those friends you made.

“Valiant Hearts: The Great War” is a great game for its price. A good five or six hours of gameplay for $15 is not bad at all. This game will make you feel, it will make you care and you’ll learn a thing or two from the informative tidbits scattered throughout the game. It has value. Unfortunately, it’s not as good as other games that are probably the same cost.