Review of Valiant Hearts

As all of the lists of the Best Games of 2014 appeared this December, we were surprised to see the game Valiant Hearts mentioned so often.  We had seen the game before but it was one of those games we never found time for when it premiered earlier this year.  It was described as a side-scrolling adventure title taking place during World War I with four playable characters.  All of this is true, but it really hides how impressive this title is.  If you like adventure games and meaningful gaming experiences, this is not a title to miss.

Valiant Hearts tells the story of four characters (well, four people and a dog) who get swept up into the first years of World War I. Most of the levels are puzzle-solving in which you roam an environment picking up items and solving simple (but satisfying) puzzles, similar to Stick It To The Man. Between puzzle levels, there are levels devoted to battlefield combat in which you primarily dodge enemy fire, stealth levels where you sneak enemy soldiers, and driving levels (which are seriously always a lot of fun). The cartoony graphics are great but the music (particularly in the driving levels) is top notch, incorporating classical music in an exciting way that we haven’t seen since Earthworm Jim.

The game is a great length (four chapters with about seven levels each). Even better, the designers included a hint system if you get stuck and has a quick respawn if you get killed (this is helpful in some later sequences when the action heats up). I found myself really caring about the characters as well. The story of conscripted German family man Karl; his father-in-law, the gruff, Jean-Valjean wannabe Emile; Emile’s BFF, the vengeance seeking badass Freddie; the fast-driving nurse Anna; and Walt the dog. Each of the characters has their own arc in the game and, as the game mentions, not all of these characters survive the story (SPOILERS but don’t worry about the dog END SPOILERS).

While several of the games levels are fun, the game’s final level is its most impressive. You participate in a hopeless raid against the Germans’ fortified position. Initially, you charge with three fellow soldiers while other soldiers charge in the foreground and background. As you cross the battlefield, your environment increasingly consists of fallen comrades until you find yourself hiding behind and scrambling over stacks and stacks of corpses of fellow soldiers. If you attempt to retreat, your commanding officer immediately kills you, forcing you forward into the increasingly suicidal battlefield. The level captures perfectly the horrors of war that the game has emphasized throughout the story. That level is one of the best levels we’ve seen in a long time.

Okay, so let’s break down our final score for our Review of Valiant Hearts.

GRAPHICS: 90

The graphics are pretty great but where the game really excels is in its music. From the opening lyrical tones to the high energy Flight of the Bumblebee rendition while you flee a persistent tank, the game looks and sounds impressive.

GAMEPLAY: 85

The basic puzzle solving was fun but we particularly loved the variety of levels the game threw at us to keep things interesting. There are some frustrating sections but they are pretty brief and the quick respawning keeps frustration minimal.

REPLAYABILITY: 70

Replayability is where Valiant Hearts loses a few points. The compelling story doesn’t quite warrant a second playthrough. The programmers have hidden some objects throughout the levels for completionists, but most of us will be done when the credits roll.

OVERALL: 83

If you like these new adventure titles (like Stick It To The Man), then you should absolutely check out Valiant Hearts. At $15, it’s a steal; if you see it for less than that, it’s a must buy.
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