The worth of a valiant heart

<em>Valiant Hearts: The Great War </em>is Ubisoft&rsquo;s latest implementation of their UbiArt engine, which was previously&nbsp; used for well-received platforms <em>Rayman Origins, </em>&nbsp;<em>Legends, </em>and the artsy RPG <em>Child of Light. </em>UbiArt uses the hand-drawn assets of the concept artists involved to produce visuals that look hand crafted, lending a storybook quality to the games running on it.

Curiously,<em> Valiant Hearts </em>applies this storybook quality to the more serious topic of several characters in the midst of the First World War, and I&rsquo;m not entirely sure of the intended effect.

Gameplay is largely linear, following different characters like Karl, a deportee from France forced to fight on the German side, or Emile, the father of Karl&rsquo;s wife who fights for the French.

Notably, this is a World War game where you never fire a shot. Emphasis is instead on basic puzzle-solving and traversal. Emile, for example, can dig through the ground, an important tool in trench warfare. The game is not about shooting the enemy, but about getting from point A to point B.

The best part of the game is its emphasis on puzzles rather than combat. Some may be put off by the potential violence of a shooter, but may be more inclined to this more accessible version of gameplay.

And while the story can come off as a jarringly Disney-fied odyssey across the fronts of WWI, the game does offer actual trivia on the real events that levels of the game are based on, and there are collectable items that give tidbits of information on real devices that would have been used on the battlefront. It&rsquo;s best compared to a museum exhibit, a barely educational experience with a sprinkle of facts to get people to learn.

Still, there&rsquo;s a missed opportunity for more emotion, a <em>Limbo-</em>esque juxtaposition of artstyle with serious subject matter that could have been more impactful. As it stands, the darkness of war is far too sanitized to really have much effect. The ending section of the game is actually fairly poignant, revealing an aspect of WWI I was not previously aware of, but the characters aren&rsquo;t fleshed out enough to truly garner sympathy.

Canadians will appreciate a well-portrayed battle of Vimy Ridge, complete with Canadian troops fighting alongside you, and some collectables such as Canadian coins that hit a personal connection. It&rsquo;s actually one of the best parts of the game, a part that may well have me recommend the game despite its flaws.

There are a few classic gaming sins that really drag down the experience. The classic adventure game problem of trial and error to find the right place and create the right effect is present. Also, deaths are rampant. While I understand stepping in the way of a shell or gunfire will kill you, the game has a bad habit of placing you in scenarios that are more trial-and-error than I would have liked.

Things just feel too detached in <em>Valiant Hearts. </em>The game tries for&nbsp; poignant, speechless drama, yet has what I can only describe as a German supervillain in a ridiculous super-zeppelin. The game tries to be accessible, yet has some logic in its puzzles that only people into gaming would comprehend. The narrator laments the death toll of a battle, yet death is sanitized.

You can play as a field medic, but instead of, say, a contextual movement of the control stick to place a bandage on a patient, you simply do a <em>Guitar Hero </em>minigame. There&rsquo;s actually a part where you cut off a man&rsquo;s limb with a saw. Instead of depicting the harshness of having to care for a patient during the war, it&rsquo;s simply a few button presses. A missed opportunity, basically.

<em>Valiant Hearts </em>is ultimately a game that tries to achieve its potential. It has its moments and is still easily the best game for those looking for a game depiction of war that does not resort to gunplay, and it&rsquo;s sure to be a critical darling. But at its current asking price of $15, it&rsquo;s just too flawed and insubstantial. Your gaming budget is better spent on more poignant, indie games, such as <em>Limbo </em>or <em>Transistor. </em>If you catch <em>Valiant Hearts </em>on sale, or you really dig the concept of a gunless WWI, it may be worth your while. It has good things to show you if you bear through its flaws.


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