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Valiant Hearts: The Great War (Xbox One)
MSRP: $14.99
Number of Players: 1
Developer: Ubisoft Montpelier
Publisher: Ubisoft

Rating:
****
out of
*****

Inspired by letters written during World War I, Valiant Hearts: The Great War is split into four chapters that follow the course of the war. Starting with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the game follows the stories of four people: Emile, a Frenchman; Karl, his German son-in-law; Anna, a Belgian nurse, and Freddie, an American volunteer soldier.

As the game opens, France begins to deport Germans from the country. Karl is forced to leave his French wife, Marie, and newborn child, Victor, and is drafted into the army upon his return to Germany. Emile is drafted into the French army and also must leave Marie. Their paths cross not only with each other but also with the aforementioned Anna and Freddie.

To introduce the player to the game mechanics, Emile enters basic training and learns the basic moves and item interactions that are implemented throughout the game. As the game progresses, the player is tasked with solving puzzles by variously moving objects, throwing items such as grenades, dynamite, and bottles, and using the melee attack to hit things -- sometimes people and sometimes not. Later on, the player will need to dodge gunfire or drive vehicles to move through the mostly side-scrolling levels.

Most of the characters in the story have a particular skill that drives their sections of the story. Emile, for example, is excellent with a shovel, so his levels highlight digging. Freddie is handy with a pair of wire-cutters. Anna heals wounded characters with timed button pushing events. Karl doesn't have any special skill but his puzzles tend to be a bit more complicated than the other characters.

Valiant Hearts features 2D graphics rendered in UbiSoft's Framework engine and it resembles hand drawn animation. Coupled with the game's emotional storyline, a heart-wrenching, piano-based soundtrack highlights the emotional impact of war on the lives of individuals. Even though humor is sprinkled throughout the game, the overall tone of the game is pretty heavy. That's not to say Valiant Hearts is depressing - far from it. War-based games tend to overlook the amount of anguish that their characters face. Valiant Hearts just makes you care enough about its characters that you feel bad when bad things happen to them.

Valiant Hearts is not a particularly long game. I made it through in about 8 hours. The puzzles are just hard enough to be challenging and just challenging enough to make you want to get to the next one. That also helps the player follow the story because there isn't any point where you'll get so frustrated that you want to quit. Hints are delivered at timed intervals, so if there is a section that gives you trouble, you'll eventually get some help from the game if you need it.

Gamers looking for a change of pace from the usual glut of first-person shooter, RPG, or sports videogames usually find their pickings very slim. Valiant Hearts: The Great War is a welcome respite from typical gaming fare.

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