A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Valiant Hearts: The Great War is a downloadable game about the First World War that's available on the PS3, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and Windows PCs.. It tells a fictional story about a small group of Allies working together to help one another survive, but it's filled with accurate historical facts and details about the conflict, including vivid accounts of major battles, stories about the suffering of civilians, and descriptions of dozens of authentic and interesting war artifacts. The characters don't often engage in direct combat, preferring instead to spend their time solving contextual puzzles within the environment. But parents should know that players will see fields of dead and bloodied soldiers, hear the screams and moans of wounded combatants, and spend a good deal of time tending to people who've suffered grave injuries. It's all in direct service of the moving narrative and to help players appreciate the scale and horror of the conflict, but it's extremely emotionally affecting.
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What's it about?
Set during the First World War, VALIANT HEARTS: THE GREAT WAR tells the fictional tale of a group of Allied friends trying to survive on the front line. Player-controlled combat plays a relatively minor role in the form of occasional grenade tosses and ladle conks on German helmets. The focus instead is placed on contextual puzzles found within the game's side-scrolling world. Playing as a Belgian nurse tending to wounded soldiers, players must find sources of water and create a makeshift crutch to help patients. As a French conscript, players interact with valves and levers to move objects, rescue trapped civilians, and find ways to trade for goods in the trenches. Whenever a dog is present, players can use him to scoot through narrow openings to retrieve important objects necessary to progress, such as broken switch handles and sticks of dynamite. Through it all, players will read emotionally stirring historical accounts, diary entries, and item descriptions that provide true-to-life facts and insights about a war that claimed more than 11 million lives. The Nintendo Switch version includes touch controls, as well as a comic book: Valiant Hearts: Dogs of War, which tells the story of Walt, the dog in the game, and his litter mate Cassie at the start of the war. Players will not only discover how Walt joined the war effort, but the impact on the canine and his heartbreaking heroism with other soldiers.
Is it any good?
Valiant Hearts: The Great War is that rare game that educates as it entertains. Stuffed between its enjoyable (and not overly challenging) contextual puzzles is a mix of interesting details about the war. Some of these come in the form of important dates and cold hard facts, such as casualty statistics. Other informational tidbits are more emotional, including letters to and from the front lines and details regarding the first soldiers ever to suffer gas attacks. More, still, explain how the war revolutionized the world, from the invention of safety razors to the promotion of women's rights. Particularly noteworthy is the Nintendo Switch version, which includes a comic book that gives you more context around Walt the dog. If you're an animal lover, you'll be touched by this story of the dog and his litter mate Cassie as they are suddenly drafted into the war effort, and what happens to the young pups. Similarly, the touch controls, which can be a bit iffy, especially when it comes to throwing grenades, do manage to pull you closer into the gameplay by interacting with the screen instead of relying solely on button presses. It's a small change, but an effective one for the story.
Even if players elect to skip over the historical details (which is entirely possible), they'll undoubtedly be moved -- perhaps to tears -- by the story of a group of friends who risk their lives to help not only one another but also the civilians they encounter, including wounded men on the battlefield, women trapped in destroyed houses, and children crying in city streets clouded by plumes of green gas. It may be emotionally draining, but the characters and their story through this warfare is great enough to keep players going. If nothing else, they'll come away not only with an inkling of the horrors of the Great War but also the courage of those who lived and died in it. And if a game can do that, it has to be doing something right.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the impact of violence in a game like Valiant Hearts. Can violence serve a purpose in games? Can it be edifying rather than simply gratuitous and for the sake of entertainment?
World War I is sometimes overshadowed by World War II, but it resulted in some 11 million deaths and remains one of the darkest chapters of human history. Do you know whether anyone in your family participated? Does your family have any artifacts from the Great War? What have you learned from them?
- Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Windows, Xbox 360, Xbox One
- Subjects: Social Studies: global awareness, history, timelines
- Skills: Thinking & Reasoning: solving puzzles
Emotional Development: empathy, perspective taking
- Price: $19.99
- Pricing structure: Paid
- Available online? Available online
- Developer: UbiSoft
- Release date: November 8, 2018
- Genre: Puzzle
- Topics: History
- ESRB rating: T for Violence, Blood, Use of Alcohol and Tobacco
- Last updated: November 11, 2020
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