E3 2014 Valiant Hearts: The Great War Preview: They better not kill the dog

Last night was the first chance I had to actually go hands-on with Valiant Hearts: The Great War, Ubisoft’s upcoming (releasing June 25) game set during World War I.

Through a unique hand-drawn art style — powered by the UbiArt Framework (the same engine that powered Child of Light and Rayman Origins) — and puzzle gameplay, Ubisoft is attempting to share the experience of World War I with a younger generation who may not be as familiar with the deadly conflict, also known as the "Great War."  It’s "the story of 5 crossed destinies and a broken love in a world torn apart. All of them will try to survive the horror of the trenches following their faithful canine companion."

Yesterday, I played two separate parts of the game. The first was actually the same demo my co-worker Lance played at PAX East. Rather than rehash what happened, just head over here to read it.

The second part of my demo was actually a little further into the game. It featured Ana, the female field medic, frantically searching for her father after his zeppelin crashed behind enemy lines. Of course, she’s accompanied by Walt, the adorable canine companion that follows each of the game’s characters throughout the game. Seriously, they better not kill the dog.

I played about 15 minutes of the game and already formed a pretty solid connection with not only the characters I played as, but the dog as well. Petting Walt’s head and scratching his belly after he helped me solve a puzzle tugged at my emotional heart strings, especially since I’m missing my puppy right now.

Valiant Hearts

The majority of the gameplay as Ana involved stealth mechanics. I had to wait until enemy soldiers had their back toward me and then I would sneak into a bush to hide. Eventually, I found the crashed zeppelin and had to solve a fairly simplistic series of puzzles to free Karl who was trapped under the debris. It involved pulling levers, using Walt to reach otherwise unobtainable objects, and things of that nature.

After that, it switched me to controlling Emil and Freddie who were originally following Ana, but couldn’t keep up. Again, they were accompanied by Walt. Many of the puzzles, which were pretty easy to figure out, involved switching between the two characters, using Walt as a way to determine who I was controlling. I could send Walt from the foreground to the background, and depending on which plane he was on was the character I was controlling. Again, puzzles consisted of levers, hiding from soldiers, and using objects I find to clear paths in the environment.

Most of the puzzles I encountered were pretty easy to solve, but that could be because I was still fairly early in the game. There’s also a fairly generous hint system that lets you know what your next step in solving the puzzle should be, so that helped as well. The big takeaway that I had from my 15-or-so minutes with Valiant Hearts: The Great War is that the focus is more on storytelling and narrative, really giving you a sense of the horror of World War I. It’s pretty amazing really, that in my limited time with the game I managed to form a connection with each of the characters I played with. Powerful storytelling, indeed.

Valiant Hearts is not really about trying to stump you with difficult puzzles, though I’m sure they could become more difficult as the game progresses. Throughout my demo I found collectibles that not only provided backstory, but history lessons as well. Valiant Hearts is a game, but it’s also an important message to younger generations.

But seriously, don’t kill the dog.