Welcome to Easter Eggs, where the TA Team shines the spotlight on games that many gamers might have missed, perhaps hidden away behind the millionth copy of Call of Duty or FIFA. Much like a gamer who finds an Easter Egg hidden away in a game and proceeds to trumpet it from the highest hills and forums, the TA Team is going to be featuring these Easter Egg games on the front page for all to see.
The world is obsessed with World War II. Whether it’s the extensive list of novels and nonfiction pieces, the movies and HBO shows (Band of Brothers and The Pacific), or the mountain of first-person shooter and real-time strategy games, every angle of the conflict seems to have been covered time and again. However, there seems to be a significant drop off in interest when it comes to World War I. This precursor conflict wasn't any less important in terms of its ramifications on world politics at its conclusion, but it seems to be overshadowed by the war it was supposed to prevent. With video games in particular, we rarely seem to see any new games placed in this era.
In the past, the question of how to properly replicate World War I into video games may have left developers stumped for an answer. In 2014, however, Ubisoft Montpellier hit the nail on the head with Valiant Hearts: The Great War. Focusing on a more heartfelt and personal story of the individual people that war affects, Valiant Hearts was one of the most memorable games of the past year.
Ubisoft Montpellier went all in while developing Valiant Hearts to ensure that they hit the mark. While the game's narrative is fictional, the setting is based on the real events and locations of World War I. Much of the game is inspired by letters and items from those who were directly involved. The development team even recruited the community to send them digitized copies of postcards, letters, pictures, and other relics as well as any stories that went along with them. The work surely paid off, as Valiant Hearts is easily one of the top games that strives for a more personal tone in a game based on warfare
The game runs on the UbiArt Framework engine. Utilized by other notables like Rayman Origins and Child of Light, UbiArt is designed to allow artists to encompass a high level of detail without sacrificing the seamless gameplay. It was a smashing success in Valiant Hearts. The open fields of France, the desolate city ruins, and the absolutely ruthless trenches of the Somme and Verdun are brought to life in a beautiful artistic form that feels so fitting for what the game is. Both the foreground and background are filled with details specific to their environments, and change fittingly as the game progresses.
Valiant Hearts is a side-scrolling puzzle adventure, whose goal is to provide the player with a deeper experience than "kill all the bad guys." What is so endearing about the game is that it doesn't focus on the "action" of war. While plenty of the game does take place during battles, there isn't a Michael Bay level attachment to guns, explosions and unrealistic heroics. It is about five normal people from all walks of life, who go through experiences that are anything but normal. Very early in the game, a young family is separated as a cause of the declaration of war, and much of the journey's subplot follows the hope of a reunion. In that sense the game explores the reality that war often has a large impact on civilian life as well.
As a puzzle game, Valiant Hearts is able to provide players with a sense of "challenge" without taking away from the importance of the narrative. Many of the puzzles are simple in nature, and don't get complicated enough to make you want to rip your hair out. Most of the time the player controls one of the five playable characters, but as their stories begin to intertwine, you can change control when necessary. While one character has the ability to dig underground, another possesses wire cutters to cut through barbed wire emplacements. Then, of course, is the lovable dog companion, who is useful for obtaining items in hard to reach places.
What's remarkable about the tone that Valiant Hearts is able to accomplish, is that there is very little dialogue throughout the game. The only exception is the narration between levels, which explains the historical progression of the war, and personal letters sent to loved ones. Aside from that, characters only communicate at times through short sound bytes. Whether it's a grunt, or perhaps a sigh of relief, the player is left to understand the emotions of characters through their body language mixed with the situation the character is in. The results are pretty extraordinary with just how efficient the whole system works, and there are several times where it is likely that the player will feel a mix of resentment and sadness for some of the senseless atrocities that take place.
Players will also notice that the game's art direction begins to express a change in mood throughout the game. While it may not be as gruesome as perhaps a Triple-A game would portray, the harshness and somberness of the situation is reflected as the war progresses. Sunny, open battlefields dissolve into dark and gloomy atmospheres, with disheveled landscapes from all of the artillery bombardments. Many soldiers from every army began to desert their posts as the war dragged on into the later years. The changing tone of the game's illustrations proves to be an excellent representation of the hopeless feeling that must have been shared.
With a game that trails away with its own fictional story, but still has historical importance, it's necessary to fill in the details somewhere. Ubisoft Montpellier accomplished this with the game's collectibles, which were created thanks to the submission of the wartime artifacts. As you play through the game, the collectibles that you discover provide historical information on the item and explain its significance to the war. These also included personal letters sent home from soldiers, which further helps to capture the tone that soldiers carried in the beginning of the conflict as opposed to years later.
Valiant Hearts' achievement list is fairly straightforward and not too grueling to complete. Eight of the game's twenty achievements are story related, while four are attached to gathering the game's collectibles. Fortunately, the collectibles aren't pointless filler, and actually provide interesting information. The few achievements that can be missed during a normal playthrough can be revisited by going back to the chapter, and generally are not too difficult to unlock. Overall, there is about a 36% completion rate, so with a little commitment the game should not be difficult to complete.
Despite the fact that the game is available on both platforms, there are still relatively few gamers who have played the game. At the time of writing, 10,150 gamers have started the game on the Xbox One, while only a mere 2,080 have started it on the Xbox 360. Not to mention that some of these numbers may be the same players who double dipped for the extra Gamerscore. The game has been very well received by the TA community, with scores of 4.4 and 4.5 on the One and 360 respectively.
Valiant Hearts is currently $14.99 on both the Xbox One and Xbox 360 marketplaces. However, the game has had price drops in the past, with a 33% drop ($10.04) back in September 2014, and a subsequent discount of 50% ($7.49) during Black Friday. For its current price, I would certainly recommend picking up the game, but for those who are a little hesitant to do so right now, you probably won't have to wait too long for another discount.
Valiant Hearts is what the war genre in video games has truly needed. Becoming so oversaturated with over-the-top, run-and-gun games, Ubisoft Montpellier's puzzle game has provided a push in the right direction. Instead of focusing on the "action" of war, Valiant Hearts is a reflection of the horrors of war, and how it has the potential to rip families apart as a result. The developers should further be commended for their commitment of how much historical content that they included into the game, and how they did so in a way that's enjoyable. If you are a fan of puzzle games, and like the sound of a more heartfelt telling of World War I, then I highly suggest checking out Valiant Hearts.
If there's a game you'd like to see featured in Easter Eggs, be sure to let us know in the comments!
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