Have a heart... of war.
May is the month for E3 predictions for us at GameRevolution, and the Ubisoft press conference, as it does on yearly basis, forces us to remind ourselves of what the developer has on the horizon. One of the highlights is Valiant Hearts: The Great War, which at first glance might seem like a Japanese strategy RPG based on World War I, something on the lines of Valkyria Chronicles. Or something like that.
But it's actually a logic puzzle adventure based on real-life letters written during the war with a story centered around four strangers helping a young German soldier return to his love. Not what you were expecting, huh? During the start of the war in the summer of 1914, the French government mandates that all Germans must leave the country, separating husband Karl from his wife and her father Emile. While Karl is forced into the German military, Emile is conscripted into the French army, leading to a literal conflict of interest.
It's tough to pinpoint the exact nature of Valiant Hearts, a strength in its own right as almost every other title can be dissected too easily. The opening title screen features a squat soldier and his dog amidst a war-torn countryside with smoke bellowing in the background, but the painterly background and soft classical music undercut the seriousness of it all. As grim as the subject matter becomes, the game never forgets to ease the tension with a sense of humor.
The first layer of the gameplay is embedded as a traditional side-scrolling adventure, with your character moving over obstacles, climbing ladders, picking up objects like grenades, and lobbing them to manipulate the environment and advance into enemy territory. A healthy portion of the puzzles are about timing, dodging machine gun fire and knocking out guards by hitting them in the back of the head, while the other portion is about choosing the right object for an interaction and wrapping your had around Limbo-like puzzles with crates and pull-switches.
While the story is narrated in between levels, objectives are denoted by picture cues, mainly by other soldiers who want you to dig through trenches as Emile, activate levers as a medic rottweiler who Emile finds in a camp, plant TNT as the American demolitions expert Freddie, or patch their wounds as the medic Anna through a nifty rhythm game. It doesn't take a genius to figure out what you need to advance to the next section, but if the game detects that you haven't made much progress, its hint system will automatically activate.
At the same time, the plot roots itself around actual events during the war, and the developers have consulted Mission Centenaire 14-18, a French public interest group that commemorates the First World War. Every level comes with a list of historical factoids as well as opportunities to grab collectible objects strewn throughout the environment that reveal further insights into the conflict. But before the numerous reports of casualties, disease, and trench warfare become too overbearing, the game occasionally throws in light-hearted, Looney Tunes-like mini-games, like controlling a jalopy as it evades gunfire and rockets to the tune of Jacques Offenback's Hollengalopp.
With an intriguing premise and an offbeat approach to World War I, Ubisoft's Valiant Hearts: The Great War will release June 25 for $14.99 for PS4 (the platform I tested it on), Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360, and PC.