Valiant Hearts is latest title Ubisoft has made using their ‘UbiArt Framework’ – previously used in Child of Light and recent Rayman titles such as Origins and Legends. Loosely based off of letters from World War 1, Valiant Hearts is a puzzle game that tells the story of 4 characters and their dog as they struggle to survive the Great War. Each of these characters have their own storylines that all intertwine throughout the war.
Dodging, Hiding, Throwing, and Digging
If there’s one thing I learned from Valiant Hearts, it’s that War is made up of four actions. These actions are repeated ad nauseam until you’re bored with it all and then it ends.
First and foremost, you must dodge shadows. Everything that is going to hurt you will have a shadow – as long as you are not standing under it, you’re fine. Once you have dodged stuff, you must then hide behind bushes. As long as you are behind a bush, nobody will ever be able to see you and you’ll be able to sneak in to do whatever you’d like. If someone is facing towards you, you can throw something at them to distract them and they will stare at it for as long as you need to reach the next bush. This is good, because if you didn’t do that and you stepped out, they’d just instantly kill you so it’s important that they’re so easily distracted. Last, but not least, you must be able to dig. The ability to singlehandedly dig tunnels is a must, and you have to make sure you can avoid buried explosives while doing so.
As long as you have these skills, you’re qualified to be a soldier. If you want to be a medic on the other hand, you’ll still need to dodge – but you’ll be in a car while dodging and things will resemble the Battletoads riding sequences we all hated as children. Hiding is still important, as is throwing… but instead of digging you must complete quick-time events that resemble rhythm games. These are the skills most important to a medic.
Failing at any of the puzzles typically just sets you back to the last checkpoint… but not with the medic quick-time events. If you miss enough prompts during that minigame, it forces you to restart it, except with a severe handicap: you’re one missed prompt away from failure. It’s a really obnoxious way to handle it, but fortunately the minigame itself is easy enough that I had to intentionally lose once to test out what would happen.
The game tries to vary things up by inserting puzzles amid the dodging, hiding, throwing, and digging. Most of these puzzles are extended fetch quests where you have to get x item to give to someone so he’ll give you y item that someone else wants to trade for z item that a third person is after. This sometimes extends for quite a while and it can get really dry. Getting some of these items occasionally requires some more involved puzzles – like moving pipes to get fluids flowing to the right place or opening a safe by finding the right combination from things hidden in the environment. They’re silly, and for the most part they’re all incredibly easy. If it wasn’t for the subject matter and the story, I’d assume this game was designed for small children.
A Soldier’s ‘Life’
Despite having a strangely childish art-style, Valiant Hearts features some very brutal imagery. You’ll have to take shelter behind a pile of dead bodies at one part, and watch as people get mowed down by machine guns. It’s not a pleasant story… but it is nowhere near as sad as the trailers hinted.
It has the potential, there’s some interesting story elements there. The characters have some distinct and interesting backstories, and they connect the characters together in a very clever and natural-feeling way… but they simply don’t provide enough OF the story. So much of the story is garbled jibberish and it just really takes away the connection.
The occasional bits of voice acted story, the letters being narrated, and the text backstory elements you get are all quite interesting… there are just too many gaps between them that they attempt – and fail – to tell through the gameplay itself. The lack of either voice or text-based story during most of the gameplay segments is really felt in Valiant Hearts, most notably since the game feels like it should be primarily a story driven game.
This was one of the most disappointing experiences I’ve had in a while. I understand why the trailers didn’t show gameplay now, though. It’s hard to make this type of gameplay look good, especially when it’s done so badly. Normally I can forgive awkward gameplay if there’s some redeeming quality to the game… but this game simply doesn’t have one. The gameplay is boring, the story over-promises and under-delivers, and even the soundtrack and visuals are not anything special.