A little while ago I wrote an article on Sniper Elite 3 and why it was awesome, and mentioned that this year was a special year for early 20th century history buffs due to the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in World War 2 and the 100 year anniversary of the start of the First World War. Continuing that trend, I’ve decided to show you guys another awesome game set during a time of massive global conflict.
This game will be a bit different, however, because it is set during the First World War (also known as the Great War). Another reason why this one will be different is because, unlike many games set during the violent first half of the 20th century, this game is not a shooter at all. It is a charming puzzle game that is a lot of fun to play, while simultaneously taking the subject matter that it is based on incredibly seriously. In fact, I think this is probably my absolute favourite war game of all time, and I will tell you why.
Valiant Hearts, as I mentioned above, is very fun to play. Considering how respectful it is to the source material (read: real life war with lots of dead people) the game still manages to make me crack a smile every few minutes or so…..when it wasn’t making me cry. Consider this your official GameCupid disclaimer for Valiant Hearts; the story will make you will cry.
But let’s not dwell on that. One of the more fun things Valiant Hearts features is the car chase sequences. What really makes it special isn’t so much the fact that there are car chases, but the way in which they are presented.
Vive le pamplemousse!
While driving you’ll be playing from the view of being in front of your car looking behind it. Sometimes there will be other vehicles behind you chasing you and trying to ram you off of the road. Sometimes there will be aircraft strafing you, and sometimes you’ll get warnings indicating the position of obstacles that you are going to run into if you don’t get the timing just right. Here’s the best part; you can’t see the obstacles in front of you, so in order to get the timing just right you need to be alert to musical cues from the old timey tracks like Hungarian Dance No. 5 or Flight of the Bumblebee.
Man’s best friend. Our faithful companions, who happily go for walks with us, enjoy relaxing in front of a warm fireplace, and giving big slobbery kisses all over us after a long, painful day at the office. This dog is the same best friend who we forgive for the fact that, even though that tongue licking us is the same one that licked their nads not five minutes earlier, it’s still a sign of love from the happiest thing to see us when we get home. I could go on and on about how awesome dogs are (I’ve got two of them at home): how my dog keeps my feet warm at night, wakes up with me in the morning, curls up next to me when I’m sad and loves me unconditionally.
You aren’t here for that though. You are here for this dog.
This is Walt. He’s a German Shepard that works for the medical officer at a POW camp you’ll bump into during the story. From there, he becomes your best friend and is a very handy one at that. Walt is best used for reaching required puzzles that are out of reach or that are in areas where only small creatures can go. He’s invisible to German troops and will work with all 4 of the main characters in the game at some point or another. Some of his skills include, distracting enemies and fetching objects which range from collectibles to grenades. He is also great at being adorable. He can also be used to manipulate switches for the odd multi-switch puzzle…. Speaking of which…..
Valiant Hearts is at its very core a puzzle game and one that is executed very well. They range in difficulty from simple puzzles like pushing a crate into position for climbing to memorizing environmental hints in order to correctly guess the combination to a safe. Other puzzles Valiant Hearts Features include the careful placement of explosives, manipulation of switches to open trap doors with the help of Walt and venting mustard gas. Some of my favorite puzzles involve disguises to get past checkpoints so I can pick up objects required by another character, then exchange them for the items I really need.
There are also other puzzles that require precise timing to avoid being spotted by guards, cutting barbed wire fences before getting gunned down by machine gun emplacements and doing quick time event puzzles in order to administer medical attention to wounded characters.
This won’t hurt a bit
I’m going to share something with you. My Great Grandfather fought at Vimy Ridge as part of the Canadian Division of the British Army. Vimy Ridge was the fight that showed what Canadians could do and proved to the world that we were a nation coming into its own sense of identity. Because of people like my Grandfather, today I can proudly serve in the Canadian Army and wear a Canadian Flag on my left shoulder.
I’m very proud of my Grandfather and everything he’s done both in defense of my country and for the greater global sense of peace. You could say it’s made me a bit of a history nut when it comes to early 20th century history. In fact, one of my favorite things to read in my home is my grandfather’s memoirs from that time period.
I’m getting off topic though. See, one feature that I really loved about Valiant Hearts was the little tidbits of history that are scattered throughout the game. In every level you can pick up collectibles that are kicking around which give you access to an info page with the history of what that object was and how it might have been used. Also at the beginning of every level there’s a bunch of new historical data that becomes available which tells you about the famous battle you are about to take part in, as well as the conditions the troops were forced to live in and the casualties that resulted from those battles along with other cool tidbits of information.
This is how WWI started in case anyone was fuzzy on the subject
Finally, we come to one of my absolute favorite Valiant Hearts Features, the characters. Valiant Hearts lets you play as 4 characters throughout the story and each of them has a thouroughly thought out back story. None of the characters have much in the way of dialogue, instead preferring to speak with their actions and the odd mumbled phrase but still manage to evoke a sympathetic and sometimes emotional response from the player. Over the course of the game you grow to care about these characters and feel deep regret when they are harmed or put in harm’s way.
Each character also regularly sends letters back home which detail the horrible things they’ve faced during the war. They talk of hopes and dreams and the fear of what the next battle may bring them. Indeed, these letters remind me of some of the letters I’ve seen from my Grandfather during his time in the first Great War, while at the same time chillingly reminding me that war never changes as I recall having conversations with friends and family who have fought overseas in the conflicts that still plague the world today. There’s also the odd letter that you can find on the battlefield left by other soldiers and bystanders.
Valiant Hearts is a very well thought out game. There is plenty of heart and soul that does its very best to educate the player about the horrors of war, and the impact it has on people and their families. It’s fun, charming and full of puzzles with historical tidbits and respect for those who have died to ensure the future we have today. Sure it’s a bit violent as war games generally are, but unlike the brainless shooters we are so accustomed to playing these days, Valiant Hearts instead asks us to take a step back and look at what is happening around us and to realise that even though what we are playing today is just a game, for those men 100 years ago it was a mission that many sacrificed everything to complete.
If you love history as much as I do and enjoy a good puzzler, I’d highly recommend giving this game a try. Also, the next time you see a veteran out and about enjoying the peaceful life that they’ve earned, please make sure to thank them for everything they’ve done. Lord knows they’ve done more than enough.