Version Reviewed: 1.0.1
App Reviewed on: iPhone 5
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Humanity has loads of awful wars to tuck under its belt, but few were as grimy or bloody as the First World War. Appropriately referred to as "The Great War" during its tortured four-year lifespan, the conflict still dredges up images of trenches, sucking mud, lung-searing gas, and a bizarre clash of old war (horse-mounted cavalries) versus new war (machine guns, tanks).
The First World War isn't a period of time to be taken lightly or disrespected, but thankfully Valiant Hearts: The Great War by Ubisoft and Future Games of London treats its subject matter solemnly. The story driving this stark-looking puzzle/action game is packed with emotion, and its characters stick with the player long after the app is shut ff. Players are never asked to judge - only to observe the ongoing events. There are even history lessons galore, courtesy of succinct but informative in-game summaries and item collections.
Of course, players have to solve puzzles too, which factor into one of Valiant Hearts' few stumbling blocks. Getting pulled away from the story - and the war itself - by repetitive puzzle scenarios is jarring.
Valiant Hearts' action shifts between the game's cast of characters, all of whom are required to use both their noggins and their brawn to overcome the game's many obstacles. Almost all of these roadblocks relate to the war somehow - from tangles of barbed wire to machine gun nests to machines that spew chlorine gas. There are even rhythm game segments that require players to steer the heroes' vehicle away from German bombardment, timed with classical music. These are as bizarre as they sound. They try hard to match the urgency of the war, but ultimately come off as kind of comic - something the game obviously isn't going for.
Death is inevitable in Valiant Hearts, whether from bullets, gas, or not moving fast enough during a timed sequence. Checkpoints are frequent, making the player's repeated ends more of an inconvenience than anything. Although the story's impact is lessened a bit when the soldiers get shot and re-spawn half a dozen times.
If this all sounds like nitpicking, well, that's because it is. Valiant Hearts works hard to deliver realism, and for the most part it succeeds at making players feel the raw emotional wounds that come with a war and its inevitable separations. So when players witness a moving cinematic and are then immediately asked to believe in Walt's Lassie-like acts of doggy heroism and brilliance, sometimes it's a tough ration to swallow.
Don't be deterred from playing Valiant Hearts, though. Despite the few bullet-holes in its hull, it does a great job of combining storytelling and puzzle-solving with an engaging history lesson.
There are four episodes, each of which costs $3.99 USD (barring the first, which costs $4.99). Players that discover they don't have the stomach for the war can go AWOL without getting court-martialed. That's a pretty good deal.