Arriving just in time to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, Valiant Hearts focuses on the crossing paths of four people and one dog involved in the conflict. Most of the game play is about getting from one place to another and overcoming obstacles with your wits instead of overwhelming force. You pick up items, stay hidden from guards and command the dog to interact with objects. It's more of a puzzle game, focusing on atmosphere instead of combat.
The animations and character designs are impressive, and the bittersweet music sets an appropriate, reflective mood. Too bad game play isn't all that interesting. Most of the puzzle-solving vocabulary gets learned early, meaning you're often going through the motions to reach an already obvious solution. Distractible guards, cranks with missing levers and barricades in need of some dynamite are common hurdles. Once you learn the basic tricks, you just repeat them over and over.
These components are rarely assembled in any challenging way, which is another issue. A puzzle game doesn't necessarily need deep ability or evolution, but the obstacles should require some thought.
Where Valiant Hearts succeeds is at conveying a human story. War isn't all about rifles and grenades -- soldiers also play cards, do dishes, sleep in bunks and pet dogs. These quiet moments -- along with a wealth of historical background -- show a mundane side of war that we rarely see in games. It may not be challenging or action-packed, but Valiant Hearts provides some thoughtful and sobering looks at what life was like on the front.-- MCT