Valiant Hearts The Great War Review: Small Game, Big Ambitions

Valiant Hearts is a 2D side-scrolling game set during the First World War. Based on real letters written at the time it follows a group of characters; their experiences and their interactions with each other throughout the conflict.


Valiant Hearts is a game that everyone should play, though not just because it's a good game, and it is a good game. So good in fact that I finished it in a matter of days; an accolade rarely bestowed on games and, more increasingly, films.

No, the reason you should play it is because it's a game that tells a story -- one of the most important stories in fact -- and it tells this story in such a way the likes of which you won't have seen in a very long time.

Set during the First World War, Valiant Hearts: The Great War is a side-scrolling 2D animated experience that recounts the lives of a small group of characters and their experiences throughout one of history's most harrowing conflicts.

Considering the subject matter you'd be forgiven then for thinking that perhaps a side-scrolling hand-drawn cartoon might not be the most appropriate medium for telling this story, but as you'll soon begin to realise, it's this key difference that makes it so refreshing and unique.

The game is immediately given a head start thanks to its soundtrack; a beautifully haunting affair the game's theme will be put even the stoniest of hearts on an emotional back foot. This level of quality continues throughout. (It's interesting to note that almost all of the best game soundtracks from the last two years have come from smaller titles: Bastion, Hotline Miami, Rayman Legends and Transistor to name but a few.)

Once you start 'playing' it becomes apparent that this is not a game in the conventional sense; more an interactive story Valiant Hearts is reminiscent of the Flash-based online games that used simple controls but enthralling visuals to draw you in.

Thankfully the storyline is equally as enthralling. The narrator gently guides you through the first few levels as each character's predicament is laid out in front of you.

Through a substantial series of short puzzle-based levels you'll cover every major conflict from the first major battles to the bloody standstill that was trench warfare.

The puzzles themselves range from the very simple to the infuriatingly difficult, to the point in fact where some found in intrusive. We didn't find this to be the case, every puzzle served a purpose which was, principally, to move you through the story.

Some reviewers have criticised Valiant Hearts for lacking substance, and others have lambasted its infuriating puzzles but honestly this isn't how you should approach the game.

A great comparison is the iPad game Monument Valley. It's a game that asks nothing more of you than to tap a person from one side of the screen to the other. The reason you'll play it to the end though is for how it looks: it's a stunning vista of good design and optical illusions.

This then, is the way you should approach Valiant Hearts.

All of this seemingly makes Valiant Hearts a game that should be played, but it is in fact, the educational aspect of the game that raises it above your average historical game.

Partnering with historical experts Ubisoft's development team took the opportunity to add in facts and explanation. Inside each level you can pause the game and read contextual historical information about what was going on around you, whether it was trench life, the use of tunneling or the first case of biological warfare.

Both the great wars have been tackled by games however I think it's fair to say that neither conflict has really been tackled with the aim of educating the players.

The last game that stands out in this regard is Medal of Honour: Allied Assault. Allied Assault famously allowed gamers to play through the D-Day landings; an event arguably so horrific that many veterans have never spoken about it.

Were they right to turn such a deeply personal moment in history into the level of a video game? Yes. Why? Because they did it with respect and tact. The game gave gamers an interactive snapshot of that moment of time and in doing so, it educated them. It brought that harrowing but pivotal moment in time into the minds of young people and even caused some of them stop playing and start learning about what happened.

It's with this hat on that you should approach Valiant Hearts, because underneath that beautifully drawn world is a game that poses questions that every person, young and old should be asking.