Valiant Hearts iOS Review: Pretty and Faithful but Boring

Is Valiant Hearts worth the money?

Speaking as a casual and strictly iOS gamer, no. But if you’re a history buff, I’d definitely recommend checking it out (at least the first chapter).

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Valiant Hearts: The Great War takes place during World War I, which is notable if only because you don’t get many games focusing on WWI when WWII was so “glorious.” If anything, it speaks to the zeitgeist of hipsters since WWII is sooo mainstream, but WWI was cool before World Wars were cool. Although, my “hipster theory” falls apart once anyone reading this finds out Ubisoft was behind this — one of the larger video game companies. In any case…

Design and Background

Valiant Hearts is beautiful and stylized in a Dan Paladin (Alien Hominid) sort of way — where it looks like it was made in flash, but meticulously so. I say Dan Paladin, but he might’ve just popularized it since Valiant Hearts‘ art style is probably closer to Ska Studios‘ Charlie Murder.

Anyway, the cartoony nature of the game helps casual gamers like myself get invested since the horrors of war are marginalized. Bear in mind, this doesn’t trivialize the events — hardly! — instead it creates a welcoming atmosphere to tell an important (and under-explored) piece of world history. And it does this very well.

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In every level there are numerous artifacts and easter eggs to find, all of which have short paragraphs and real photographs of events, places, and tools used during the war. Because you can choose to read these or not, it’s voluntarily educational and doesn’t try to cram it down your throat; in other words, if you’re playing the game for the game’s sake, it won’t get in your way, but if you want to learn something, it’s there for you.

The Music

My favorite aspect of the game is the musical score and it’s also the only aspect that made me realize this was made by a larger company. The music helps emphasize the tone of scenes with a piano that damn near breaks your heart. It’s a fascinating experience when the music helps tell the story since there’s no dialogue in each level (but there is a narrator in between). Instead, characters talk in sound bytes and everyone talks in their native tongue so you hear German salutations or American “Thank yous” and so forth.

The Characters and Gameplay

In the first chapter you alternate between Emile (a drafted French soldier) and Freddie (an American). Each have the same basic functions of run, being able to throw things, and attack, but they also have character-specific skills.

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Emile has a dog who you can alternate with to find items in crawl spaces, dig holes, or reach higher levels. In addition, the dog can even distract German soldiers so you can sneak up behind them and clonk them on the head. This makes Emile’s gameplay different as most of his missions are stealth-based.

Meanwhile Freddie is well adept at cutting wires, which isn’t nearly as cool, but it’s also because his missions are much more action-oriented. Between the two of them, there’s a terrific balance between action and puzzle.

The Problem… The Story

The story is not necessarily the problem, but it becomes the problem where money is concerned. The game consists of 4 chapters (I had no idea), and you buy the chapters individually or in a bundle at a discounted cost. The problem is the game is not challenging.

Like Monument ValleyValiant Hearts doesn’t provide any challenges and the puzzles are fairly simple since it’s a linear 2D side-scroller. And this is the second time I mention linear 2D side-scroller as a bad thing and let me clarify why 1) that’s not redundant and 2) why that’s a bad thing for puzzles.

When I think of action and adventure puzzle games, I think of open worlds where you collect pieces and figure out how they fit into each room to progress. Games like Resident Evil or, on the iOS, Broken Age; these games don’t simply provide one room, but a mansion or a spaceship to explore and revisit. When you’re given everything you need in one room, there’s very little challenge to the puzzle since you have everything you need already. Even if the solution isn’t obvious, there’s such a finite number of solutions that you’re bound to get it through trial and error. It may be an opinion, but that’s what I mean by “linear,” since a game like Broken Age is (more or less) a 2D side-scroller, but because there are multiple pathways, it’s not linear, thereby encouraging exploration and forcing you to figure things out on your own.

However, so much of Valiant Hearts relies on its story — their key selling point to get you to buy the rest. Unfortunately, for me to be interested in the story, I need to be invested in the characters and I wasn’t invested enough with what was given to see how this plays out.

I don’t want to say the story is weak, but if Chapter 1 didn’t give me enough, then at $7.99 for the remaining 3 chapters, I wasn’t dying to continue.

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Conclusion

To cite Broken Age again, I wasn’t aware there were multiple chapters to that one either, but with Broken Age, there was so much content with rich characters and a compelling story that I’m actually dying to play Act 2.

Even if they’re technically different genres, both are banking on the story to pull you through and Broken Age succeeds where Valiant Hearts fails. Broken Age actually costs more, but provides enough to satisfy my appetite and leave me wanting more. Valiant Hearts was more like a demo with simply not enough to win me over.

PS. Kudos to the designers! When you select Emile’s dog, the screen becomes monochrome, to signify which character you’re controlling (excellent user experience) while playing off the myth that dogs see in black & white (very smart).

For more iOS reviews, visit Derek Hobson’s Article Archive

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