Due to the success of the previous Ubi-art games, Rayman Legends and Child of Light, there were high hopes for Valiant Hearts, the side-scrolling puzzle game from Ubisoft. After their fantastic E3 trailer, players expected a heart-wrenching experience through the hell of World War I. After playing through the game and, at times forcing myself, the game is the embodiment of war. In the beginning it’s exciting and adventurous, but by the end you just want it over so you can go back to your regular life.
The gameplay itself isn’t terrible and, in fact, during the first two-thirds you’ll be very impressed at the level design and the techniques used to create puzzles. The 2D landscape is more 2.5D, mostly due to the ability to hide behind certain obstacles, bushes and scaffolding mostly, but the pathfinding also allows you to move inside buildings or to different areas simply by pushing up or down on your controller.
As mentioned, the puzzles are actually very well done and for the majority of the game are very well placed. There are sequences when you’re in the dark, trying to sneak of POW camps, when you have to time every step nearly perfectly that would seem frustrating, but is actually so well done that it’s one of the most satisfying parts of the game. Other puzzles require you to obtain certain items in a particular order for you to continue. Strangely though, the “fetch missions” never feel boring.
There are action sequences, as well. Boss fights or simple “drive a tank, shoot things,” are used to break up gameplay magnificently, never letting players settle into any one particular mechanic for too long. The characters, of which there are four not counting the pooch who tags along with each character at some point in the game, also have their own unique abilities depending on which point of the game you’re at. Like most puzzlers, you can pick up items to give yourself an added ability, albeit as a one-time use to complete a puzzle and move on.
The story follows a character from the French, German, and American sides of the war and does very well to include a female as the medic, essentially their only role considering women weren’t allowed to see active combat. With Germans as the antagonists of World War I (it’s always the Germans, isn’t it?), a bit of history also gets trickled in. In the form of pictures and a brief synopsis, players are educated on the hell that was WWI trenches, mustard gas, and even historic battles that players will take part in throughout the game.
The problem comes in the last portion of the story, where most puzzles are replaced with simple, “stop and go,” gameplay, resulting in very tedious gameplay. It seems as if the game was rushed in development, considering how meticulous the earlier chapters were. The result is that players are left with a bad taste in their mouth. It’s like eating a cake, but when you get to the last bite it’s sour and makes you dry heave. You won’t say the cake was great, you’ll only remember that last bite.
If you’re looking for a way to spend some time solving some fun puzzles and experiencing some good storytelling, Valiant Hearts will fit that bill for the most part. If you go in expecting a profound, heart-wrenching story that adds an artistic element to the medium, you’ll be disappointed. Valiant Hearts is fun and, during the summer lull, will make for a good distraction, but if you’ve got other titles to finish, it can wait.
Overall score: 6.5 out of 10