Just over one hundred year ago, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, a treaty was signed which ended the Great War. Whilst it wasn’t quite the war to end all wars which they thought it was at the time, it was a moment where, after years of gunfire, terror and loss there was silence.
Almost as a gesture to celebrate this anniversary, Ubisoft recently released Valiant Hearts: The Great War on Switch. Originally released four years ago (just before the anniversary of the beginning of the war) Valiant Hearts received critical acclaim for its sensitive discussion of the topic matter and won a variety of awards. However, does it still hold up all this time later.
I’ll warn you now. This review will be short and sweet. I’m not the most succinct person in the world, but I’m going to try to be as vague as I can about Valiant Hearts, as its biggest merits come from the surprises it brings to the table. The plot begins by introducing you to Karl, a German man married to Marie, a French woman. Recently having had their first child, they live nearby to Marie’s father, Emile. At the beginning of the war, Karl is forced to leave France and his family and to return to Germany, where he is forced into military service. Emile is also conscripted into the French army, leaving Marie alone with her child. The story then switches between the perspectives of these, and other characters, as they travel through Europe in an attempt to fulfil their individual goals and survive the conflict.
The plot, whilst arguably a little on the nose, is absolutely excellent. Somehow Ubisoft have captured a comfortable midpoint between all the sides of the war and created a work which both comments on and remembers the events of the period respectfully. It’s presented (rightfully so) as a horrific series of events which devastated all involved, whilst also honouring the sacrifices of those who fought. Each character represents an entirely different perspective on the war and this gives it an excellent sense of weight throughout.
As a game, VH definitely falls in the adventure game category, though some action elements are included. The majority of your time will be spent finding ways to progress by picking up and using objects, and whilst this is mechanically simple the puzzles are just difficult enough to give you pause without ever becoming frustrating. The gameplay does change depending on the plot, with mechanics completely tied to it, and it’s a refreshing way to present a game such as this.
One element I loved, especially as a teacher, was the inclusion of a variety of collectables. Each chapter has a bunch of hidden objects to find which are tied to a fun fact about the war and a photo. Throughout I was motivated to find these and learn more niche facts about the world and war, and I’m incredibly pleased that Ubisoft took inspiration from their OTHER historical series and included these handy facts.
Valiant Hearts is presented in a beautifully stylized cartoon style. Presented almost as a comic, the atmosphere is incredibly fitting and really conveys the contrasting feelings many felt at the time to the player. Soundwise VH also comes packed with period-appropriate tunes and design which fits the overall style, yet also conveys the weight of events. I was surprised by the voices of the characters, however, as they are almost sims-like. Each character has a wordless way of speaking, yet somehow they have integrated accent into the gibberish. How PC some of these are can be debated, but regardless it’s a refreshing way to punctuate the world.
As a port itself VH is right at home on Switch, running fantastically. It’s a good fit for the console, as it lends itself to short, sharp sessions and the screen really shows off the vibrant art direction.
In short, Valiant Hearts is a triumph of game design which both remembers and comments on the intricacies of war. Whilst it’s a relatively short experience it’s refreshing to see the war tackled in such a way, sacrificing shooty shooty bang bang gameplay for a more thought-provoking way. In an industry, and world, increasing full of conflict, it’s reinvigorating to find a gem such as this which flips modern conflict on its head and shows the real costs of battle
Valiant Hearts: The Great War is developed by Ubisoft Montpellier, written by Matt Entin & Ed Kuehnel; Gerard Barnaud and is available on the following Platforms: PlayStation 4, Android, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, iOS, Xbox 360, Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows.