Valiant Hearts: Coming Home - A Welcome Arrival
iOS, Android (via Netflix)
Valiant Hearts, the 2014 puzzle adventure game from Ubisoft’s Montpellier team was universally adored for the incredibly powerful and deeply resonant tale that was told of four figures amidst the hell of World War I. The brilliant combination of wonderful storytelling and a UbiArt engine that realised the plot and the horrors of war in astoundingly beautiful ways has demanded a follow up for many years, and yet, like many other titles developed in the UbiArt engine, Ubisoft was not forthcoming with a sequel – until now. The seemingly unlikely partnership between Ubisoft, Old Skull Games and Netflix has resulted an equally unlikely outcome – Valiant Hearts returns with the mobile exclusive, Valiant Hearts: Going Home – and this heart took a battering from start to finish, for all the right reasons.
In 1917 the Americans finally became embroiled in the great war. It was an enormous turning point in the conflict, and one that prompts the return of key faces from the original game, Freddie, the American soldier who had been thrust into the war early, joining the French following the death of his wife at the hands of the German forces in 2014, and Anna, the Belgian nurse,who had already been through hell to try and save her father from the Germans who had him captive, to return to our screens once again. The war rages and brings new faces into the fray as well, James, Freddie’s younger brother who he’d rather not see enter the war, but has done so in-spite of his brother’s hopes, Ernst, a German diver who gets caught up in the Battle Of Jutland as is consequently pulled between all sides of the conflict. Finally there is the quirky RAF pilot George, whose exploits form a critical part of the war, outing spies, and making surviving incredible flight paths to do what needs to be done. The stories of each member of the cast intermingles with the paths of others in a whole manner of urgent, heartfelt, or complicated ways throughout the 19 chapter, 3 act, 2.5hour long experience.
The narrative pulls no punches, placing the player in uncomfortable situations immediately as you have to navigate the racial segragation that plagues the world at that time. Where any new white member of the fight was issued with their weapon, James would soon be the recipient of a broom, with his and his fellow African-American peers being thought of as nothing more than worthy of cleaning up after the rest. You’ll also find yourself in a frantic sequence as Anna where you’re desperately trying to mend injured soldiers, removing schrapnel from their bodies, and stemming the flow of blood, not knowing if you’re going to keep everyone alive. Even Ernst’s difficult position as he tries to evade the war despite it constantly enveloping him leaves the player feeling sympathy for the plight that he’s in.
Where the game puts you in difficult situations emotionally, it fails to do some in a gameplay sense. Whether it is patching up the fallen troops, to moving George’s plane around the screen to dodge incoming bullet-fire, Valiant Hearts: Coming Home doesn’t present players with any particularly extravagant, nor complicated or difficult gameplay sequences to navigate. Other sequences, are simply 2D-plane equivalents of George’s flights, as James or Freddie side-scroll across a battlefield, avoiding falling shells, and just like the aforementioned sequences – it’s far too easy to progress through. War isn’t easy though, war is brutal, war is hard, and while that is conveyed through the plot, the gameplay fails to do the same.
The UbiArt engine, hasn’t aged despite it not featuring in a notable video game for the core audience since Valiant Hearts’ last outing. The way the locations pop off the palm-sized screen as the player-controlled character moves from point A to B smoothly. The animation is exemplary, and the vibrant use of colour, despite the often dour environment that you’re in is impressive. Voice acting and the game’s musical backing, underscore the deeply emotive narrative, elevating the tale a even further.
While Valiant Hearts: Coming Home tells a deeply moving tale, one that is likely to speak to every player who tries it, regardless of their background, the game is held back by excessively simple gameplay, which is in part a limitation of its host platform, but equally it is a product of poor design decisions throughout development. You’ll shed a tear through the narrative, but also due to the gameplay opportunities that are not taken.