Without a doubt, one of the best games I've ever played. The graphic style is cartoony but the story and theme are deep and touching. The puzzles were great, gameplay was fun... and all the while, the story moved you. I don't even know how to really recommend this game other than: play it. It's an amazing experience.
If you've played the game and you're here to read other people's thoughts, read on. Otherwise, be warned, there are **SPOILERS** from here on out.
-REVIEW WITH SPOILERS-
Valiant Hearts is now among my top games. I'm not going to say it's a perfect game: it's not. But for me it was an amazing experience.
The graphics of the game might turn some people off... You know, the people who want realism all the time and want life-like HD textures. Well, VH is one of those games that prove realism isn't everything. I loved the art style of this game. It does what it needs to do: It's attractive, appealing, yet clear. It artistic enough to be pretty and illustrate what's going on but simple enough to keep the focus on the story.
Same with the game play. It's not overly difficult but entertaining enough to keep you playing and interested; and simple enough to keep the focus on the story. Most puzzles in the game are fairly straight forward. Yet I still got that little feeling of accomplishment as I solved them and moved forward.
The more action packed parts of the game also served their function well. There is obviously no emulating the feel of actually being in the battle field and having bombs raining down on you nor is that the game's purpose. It strives to ride that balance between showing the player a bit of chaos and still keeping it fun. For me, it achieved that balance. The digging part with Emile near the end is a great example. It was hectic with the cacophony of explosions in your ear, new bombs appearing out of no where, and realizing that you need to go as fast as you can or you're not going to make it. I failed a couple times... and that's when you have a little voice in the back of your mind saying, "You get another chance but this kind of stuff really happened to real people and they only got one try. Failure was fatal." Fatalities of war... so easily accepted by the "higher powers" yet so devastating on an individual level.
The story of the game is really its best part. Each character shows the different kinds of people in the war: farmers and fathers who wanted nothing to do with the war; the nurses who had a never ending job to do; and the people with real anger in their hearts. The plot wasn't ground breaking. It had lots of cliches and was a little predictable but that wasn't necessarily a bad thing for me. I feel like these people's stories were meant to be a little more wide angled and "general" because that's who they represent... people like them in general. It's predictable and cliche to us precisely because the kind of stuff that's happened to them in the game have really happened in real life and we've already heard so much about it.
I feel like the little touches the devs put in really helped this game feel like a piece of art. It was a very good decision on their part to have the player decide whether Emile kills that officer or not. Clearly, there was no real choice. We can all recognize that it would be wrong to send out a man into certain death for no reason like the officer did. The fact that you're the one pressing that button makes you feel complicit in Emile's action. I used to be against that kind of thinking for video games really... and I still am for the most part. If I have to kill some guy to progress in a game, I'm generally NOT going to feel bad about it. It's a GAME. But the fact that the situation they created here evoked a feeling of helplessness out of me speaks volumes. That's what art does; it evokes emotion.
Don't even get me started on the end. You may or may not have noticed from the video but it is the player who has to walk Emile all the way out to the shooting post. YOU are the one marching Emile to his death and there's absolutely no choice about it. The decision has been made already by those in power. I tried to hide it in the video but I'll be honest here: I cried. It's why I didn't really give any good analysis in the credits. I was still trying to deal with the emotions. It wasn't sad just because Emile died. It was sad because it was so unfair. He didn't mean to kill the officer; he just wanted to stop another man from being killed. It was also doubly emotional because I pressed that button to make Emile do that. I didn't even need to see whether the game wouldn't let me progress without doing that. I knew what I had to do, and I did. I expected it only to knock him out but that's what Emile thought too. And so, Emile has to die.
It was also an interesting contrast of endings. On one hand you're happy that Karl is reunited with his family... then they throw Emile's death at you. You watch the credits thinking it's over but then you see Freddy, clearly about to participate in further battles. There's no end to these war stories. They go on and on.