Some games, some books, some movies, give each one of us experiences so deep that we feel change stirring deep inside us. For me, Valiant Hearts The Great War was a life-changing game.
We see war games all the time, the shooting, the missions, the rescuing, I like to call them games about the machanics of war. But, what if there was a more human game of war? What if there was a game that was not about the shooting, but about the dead, and the feelings? Valiant Hearts is such a game.
What is behind Valiant Hearts?
Valiant Hearts is brought to us by Ubisoft Montpellier, the responsibles for titles such as Rayman, ZombiU and Assassin's Creed Unity. The game is an attempt of making an indie game culture-wise that is not indie game by definition.
The game goes back to 1914, when the paths of Karl, deported to Germany and separated from her wife and son, Emile, Karl's father-in-law, Freddie, an American seeking revenge on the infamous Baron Von Dorf, Anna, a Belgian student looking for the kidnapped father, and Walt, a military Dog Medic, cross by fate in the hardships of war.
Having such a wide range of characters gives the designers the options to cover a wide variety of feelings, each of these characters represents a standard soldier with its virtues and flaws. Emile is the one at the service of the rest, giving everything up so that his companions may live and return home; Karl is deseperately trying to return home to his wife and child, apparently not really caring about the greater conflict of war in order to go home; Freddie is angry and wants revenge, having lost everything to war, his goal is to wipe the people reponsible for his disgraces from the face of the earth regardless of his safety; Anna is not trying to escape war, but joining it to protect her father, who was abducted by the German military; and Walt is the depiction of innocence, taking care of everyone no matter their aliegeance.
Valiant Hearts The Great War also relies on solid, historical facts, and goes as far as teaching the player about them all and showing true history lessons in the pause menu as the game progresses, the player can choose to read these or not, but they truly put the player in context.
The mechanics and ambient of feelings
Playing Valiant Hearts is a very insightful experience that, like all experiences, happens in the player's mind. The art is reminiscent of a gray, far-away time, the music and sound effects are all deeply melancholic, from the general's screams to Walt's barking, it completely surrounds the player in a deeply human, sad situation.
It is, all in all, an ambient game, ambient games are those who design the envoronment to generate particular feelings in a player, in Valiant Hearts, the feelings were of loss, sacrifice, horror, hope and melancholy.
The mechanics are also deeply inmersive, consisting of puzzles that the player has to think and solve, taking the time to check the scenary to look for clues to solve puzzles is exactly what is needed in terms of integrating mechanics to ambient scenarios.
Not everything in Valiant Hearts is perfect, some animations are untimed, or they overlap existing assets, for instance when Emile kneeled down to pat Walt, he would always stand in front of Walt when the patting animation kciked in even if he was previously standing behind it. In an asset intensive game where the players attention is completely absorbed into the environment and characters, this is an experience-breaking mistake.
Even more, there are a few experience-breaking C:\Users\mariateresa\Pictures\Uplay\Valiant Heartsugs easy to reproduce, Anna's parts are cloned and she gives medical aid to thin air, all in all it is a very unstable game in terms of bugs. But even so, it is still a wonderfully amazing game that I recommend to every fan of indie game and of meaningful experiences through games. It is also an example to follow in the matter of story telling, but that is content of another post.
A sad goodbye
It was one of those games that you both want and don't want to finish, I couldn't wipe off the feeling that I was slowly dying and being dragged into war if I kept playing, yet I couldn't not continue playing.
I stopped being myself, and I started being a desperate husband, a helpful father, a revengeful widow and a worried daughter, I cried and laughed and felt hopeless and hopeful.