Feature Article

Valiant Hearts: A Game About War, Not a War Game

Dulce et decorum est.

"We wanted to do a game about the war but not a war game, so that's why you don't kill people. The war kills them, but you don't kill them." That's what lead designer Julian Chevalier said when I asked him about the concept behind Valiant Hearts: The Great War, Ubisoft's upcoming game about World War I.

When I played Valiant Hearts recently at a preview event, I saw that the game wastes no time in putting a human face on war, focusing not on military strategy and the motivations of huge political powers but on how the machinations of those powers impacted the lives of ordinary people. The game starts as Karl, a German who has been living in France with his wife and newborn child, is forcibly separated from his family when the war breaks out. Back in Germany, Karl is conscripted into the German army, while his wife's father, Emile, is forced to enlist on the French side; Valiant Hearts isn't a story of good versus evil, but of regular people swept up in a conflict that is beyond their control.

The gameplay also tries to communicate the ordinary nature of the characters. This is not a power fantasy, and Emile is not a formidable killing machine. He's older, and fittingly, he struggles just to hoist himself over small obstacles. Another character, Anna, is a French nurse who, as Chevalier told me, "really wants to help people, and when I say people, I mean all people." Playing as her on a grim battlefield, I helped French and German soldiers alike. The game doesn't shy away from acknowledging the horrors of war, and as Anna, I had to amputate one poor soldier's arm, but the game didn't show the act itself, and the art style prevents such moments from being too soul-crushing. Chevalier said that the team wanted a visual style that would make the game's subject matter approachable for players of all ages.

Valiant Hearts also makes time for moments of sweetness and exuberance. A cute dog helps you solve many of the game's simple puzzles, and when he lies on his back and Emile rubs his belly, it may bring a smile to your face despite the devastation the characters have experienced. And in one inspired sequence, Anna drives through the bustling streets of Paris as you navigate obstacles that appear in rhythm with the music. It's a joyous moment.

Anna can't save everyone.

Clearly Chevalier doesn't want you to be overcome with despair as you play Valiant Hearts, but he also doesn't want to paint a rosy picture of what was a horrible event. The game, he said, gets "darker and darker, because we wanted to match what the people felt at this time. In France, for instance, when the war started, they weren't happy, but they thought the war would only last a short time, and then they started to be in the trenches, to be stuck in the mud." Things became increasingly horrific as the war progressed, and I saw Valiant Hearts depict the Second Battle of Ypres, which was the first major use of poison gas by Germany.

Valiant Hearts joins This War of Mine as a game that aims to depict war not as an explosive, action-packed spectacle, but as a tragic event that tears ordinary lives asunder, and I'm glad to see games that are attempting to tell stories about war that strive not to empower you, but to make you feel like you're just doing what little you can in a situation that's much bigger than you are. Valiant Hearts will be released on June 25 for the Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, and PC.

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Discussion

31 comments
drwhoiscool
drwhoiscool

Interesting Idea, until one of 3 characters was from the United States.  Not to be a D. ick, but they were in it offensively the last 8 months, kind of hard to capture what the game is going for when none of the civilians were impacted & soldiers faught for less then 1 year.  How about the Belgiums who tried to stay neutral & weren't treated as so, or the unpopular Russians who Lost & had to surrender?  How about the Australians or Canadians Who didn't know why they had to fight, or had no Idea what it was all about till years later, but were in it immediately because they were part of the British Empire?  Still, might pick itup. 

metallinatus
metallinatus

The idea behind this game kinda reminds me of Iron Maiden's The Aftermath....

Great band, great song.

j1965
j1965

cool will pick upfor ps4.

Vengentz
Vengentz

Another one on my to get list for 2014.

DefconRave
DefconRave

Games set in WW1 are extremely rare so I'm glad this games is introducing this period of history to younger gamers. The fact it explores the impact of the war on the characters and not the killing is even better.


Imo WW1 set the stage for alot of the wars/social issues we have today, its a really important period in history and should be explored more (not just focus on WW2).

Pawfalcon
Pawfalcon

Remember seeing this a while back and being interested. Completely slipped my mind so nice to see its going to be released soon. Like a commenter already mentioned, gotta appreciate a new take on old subjects.

themc_7
themc_7

This definitely looks like an interesting game. I'd like to see more. Will this be an Arcade or a full title?

geniobastardo
geniobastardo

This article reminds me of "History of Nazis in games" episode of The Point by Danny. 
Really, this is what we need. We need to change our perspective of WAR.

warriors30
warriors30

I haven't played a war game (WW1, WW2) for quite a while now, because I was getting tired of this whole era...but this game seems to bring a completely new interesting perspective to the genre, and I like the art style, so I will definitely keep an eye on this one.

Thanks, Carolyn.

Coren_Larken
Coren_Larken

Really am looking forward to this game, especially after thoroughly enjoying Child of Light. Thanks for the preview, Carolyn.

The feeling this gives me is very similar to when I watched the film "A Very Long Engagement" by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, starring Audrey Tautou. Definitely worth a watch, if you're looking for something like this.

benleslie5
benleslie5 moderator

Heard about this game over a week looking forward to hearing more info about it before it gets released

Brando008
Brando008

Wow, this and Child of Light are definitely my top games to play when I get home this July. Games that deeply make you think or feel, and that resonate with you afterwards are the jewels of the video game industry IMO

Gallowhand
Gallowhand

I'm looking forward to Valiant Hearts, probably because both sides of my family have a connection to that war, where a couple of my great uncles died, and others fought and survived.  Uncovering that facet of my family history was fascinating yet saddening at the same time.

I know that one of my uncles met a woman in France during the conflict and they married at the end of the war.  So the premise of this game tugs at my heart-strings.

It's good to see games exploring that conflict in a more meaningful way.

ThePowerOfHAT
ThePowerOfHAT

It's funny.  Back in the early- to mid-90's, PC's were all the rage, and schools were starting to get these brand new computer rooms.  Every one of those computers had games like The Oregon Trail, Math Blaster, Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing, Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego, and a ton of other "educational" games that were fun but also surprisingly effective as teaching tools.  Sure, some of the computers also had Wolfenstein 3D installed, or Galactix, and everyone knew that the coolest thing to do in The Oregon Trail was to go hunting, but even back then, people knew that you could LEARN something from a game and still enjoy it.  Hell, Wolf 3D was my first introduction to WW2; as a 7-year-old, it was eye-opening.

Things are different now.  As widely accepted as video games are today, the vocal backlash of certain people against violence in games seems to have given rise to this preconception (even amongst most gamers) that video games are inherently violent.  It's led gamers to expect any game with the "educational" descriptor to be some half-assed community-sponsored attempt at getting people to learn about addition or the Bible or the dangers of video game violence.

That's not to say that that's what most educational games really are.  Regardless, there's this general sense of unease about the idea of people trying to shove a learning experience into something that most people do for fun.

Just something to think about.

Veenox
Veenox

Now I really want that game.

olddadgamer
olddadgamer

Hey Carolyn, if you're listening, as you sometimes do, when they say it's for all ages do they really mean it?  Lesson wise, sounds great for kids, but contentwise seems a little much.  What's your take?

freedom01
freedom01 moderator

this game sounds interesting, will keep an eye out on this game

Hurvl
Hurvl

@geniobastardo"War, huh, yeah. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing" That's a kind of song I would choose for this game.

warriors30
warriors30

@Brando008  Child of Light is among the most beautiful games I've ever seen. I hope you'll enjoy it.

carolynmichelle
carolynmichelle moderator staff

@olddadgamer I think some children might be too young for the subject matter--things like gas attacks and dying soldiers are sort of inherently heavy subjects, no matter how you dress them up--but I'd say the presentation does everything it can to make this a game that adults and children (maybe starting at around age ten or so?) can all get something out of.

ThePowerOfHAT
ThePowerOfHAT

@carolynmichelle @olddadgamer It's hard for me to have a good understanding of what is or isn't appropriate subject matter for young children.  As early as six years old, The Oregon Trail had me losing virtual family members left and right to dysentery, drowning, snake bites, and all sorts of other generally terrible things.  I wrote epitaphs for characters named after my brother, sister, and parents.

Maybe I just didn't understand it well enough at the time, or maybe the visuals and music just didn't convey the emotional weight of the events as well as games can today.  Still, I can't help but wonder if the notion of what is or isn't appropriate subject matter in games for kids these days is something that people wouldn't have given a second thought about twenty years ago.

I've got a five-year-old stepdaughter.  I don't think she's ever even heard the word "typhoid".

olddadgamer
olddadgamer

@carolynmichelle @ThePowerOfHATYup.  This.  I have three kids, and they're very different people.  I don't think there's one magic age.  Always good to get a sense of what a game/book/movie/show has in it, how its portrayed, and then make the call based on your kid.  


At least with things aimed at kids, or "all ages."  I mean, things aimed at adults are aimed at adults.  I must admit, I was kinda surprised that this game wasn't aimed solely at adults.  Curious to hear/see more, as my kid is a mature seven, but seven all the same.  Grey area, seems, on this one.

howiex89
howiex89

@carolynmichelle @ThePowerOfHAT  I remember the book War Game based on WW1 think I was about 10 at the time (By Michael Foreman). For some reason this reminds me of that book. Anyway kids are better then we think for this kind of stuff. Might be worth a personal playthru first though. 

carolynmichelle
carolynmichelle moderator staff

@ThePowerOfHAT You might be right. I definitely saw some pretty grim movies when I was young. To be honest, I don't really have a good sense of what is "age appropriate" for kids. Some kids seem capable of handling more than others, and I wouldn't presume to tell anyone what's appropriate for their children.