Valiant Hearts: The Great War review

Valiant Hearts The Great War is one of this year's most moving video games

Reasons to buy
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    Gorgeous visuals

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    Poignant story

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    War treated with respect

Reasons to avoid
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    Gloomy atmosphere

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    Easy puzzles

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    War is hell

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Valiant Hearts: The Great War is a poignant and moving game that takes an unblinking look at the tragic events in the First World War

Valiant Hearts: The Great War is something of an odd beast. Not only is this a game set during a World War in which the player hardly ever fires a weapon, it's a character-driven story that treats its grisly backdrop with more than a modicum of respect.

In video games the backdrop of war - any war - is used mostly to give players a weapon and targets to shoot at. Valiant Hearts differs from many stories set in conflict - like Wolfenstein: The New Order or the Call Of Duty series - in that it conveys the genuine sense of loss and brutality that were visited on everyone affected by the Great War.

Valiant Hearts The Great War: Plot

The game's story begins as the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand heralds the start of the First World War. Karl, a German living in France with his wife and child is forced to return home and join the German war effort. At the same time, Karlí' father-in-law, Emile, is conscripted into the French army.

It's a poignant beginning which dovetails into one of the overriding themes in Valiant Hearts; war is a hellish and destructive force in the lives of many people and participants seldom have much control over events in their lives once they're thrust into the thick of things.

While the plot contains some moments of beauty and one or two sections of light-hearted comedy, a lot of Valiant Hearts is shot through with an impending sense of dread.

Whether players find themselves picking through corpses in the trenches, helping victims trapped in buildings or charging futilely at machine gun fire, Valiant Hearts puts the very human cost of the war at the centre of its narrative.

Valiant Hearts The Great War: Gameplay

Throughout the game, players will control both Emile and Karl, as well as a hardy Belgian nurse named Anna and a barrel-chested American volunteer named Freddie.

Interestingly, for a game set during a war, Valiant Hearts is mostly puzzle-based. There are one or two instances where the player will be required to hurl a grenade or bop an enemy solider on the head from behind, but for the most part, Valiant Hearts presents players with conundrums that impede their progression through the levels.

The puzzles vary in terms of difficulty, but they're never hard enough to break up the game's rhythm to any annoying extent. Some involve pulling levers and pullies, while others involve timed runs and well-aimed projectiles.

Compellingly, a lot of the tasks in Valiant Hearts involve helping people; some levels are built around the simple premise of aiding soldiers on the battlefield - regardless of which uniform they're wearing - and rescuing civilians trapped in bombed out buildings.

Valiant Hearts The Great War: Presentation

The visuals in Valiant Hearts work hard to sell the player on the story; while the graphics look cartoon-like, they're both atmospheric and beautiful to behold.

The characters communicate in grunts and sound-bytes and the way their eyes are always hidden from view by their hair lends weight to the idea that the war is grinding them down.

The environments lend mood to each level; a joyous presentation of Paris just before the war starts conveys a mood of hope while a level set in the trenches looks and feels like the artist's interpretation of hell.

The score is equally on point with driving percussion and threatening brass and strings when the player is thrust into the action and mournful piano underpinning the story's most sombre moments. Any player whose throat doesn't ball up upon hearing the music accompanying the story's final few minutes has a heart made of stone.

Valiant Hearts The Great War: Verdict

So Valiant Hearts is something of a triumph. It's a beautiful game that's compelling and fun to play, but it also has something worthwhile to say about the cost of war.

It's rare that a video game can take a subject matter as delicate as the First World War and use it for more than a set-up for sustained shooting. Players, in spite of themselves, may likely come to care about the four protagonists in Valiant Hearts, and that very human connection makes this game worth picking up.

Valiant Hearts The Great War release date: Out now

Valiant Hearts The Great War price: £11.99 (download only)

Nick Cowen

Nick Cowen studied Classical Civilisations and English at the University of Witwatersrand and joined T3 as Editor at Large, writing about subjects including video games, gaming hardware, gadgets and consoles. You'll also find plenty of content by Nick on about video game industry events and shows.