Words: Daniel Provan
When I say ‘war games’, what comes to mind? The intense, kinetic action of Call of Duty? The massive, open warfare of Battlefield? I bet you don’t think of a puzzle game with the charm of Scribblenauts or a point-and-click strategy game. Well, Ubisoft’s Valiant Hearts: The Great War and 11 Bit Studio’s This War of Mine are just that. Two brilliant games of 2014 that brought a fresh and unique take on war games.
Set in the midst of World War One, Valiant Hearts follows the interconnected story of a group of characters navigating this infamous war. You’ll side-scroll through the battlefields as a soldier, a nurse or even a dog. You’ll solve puzzles and save lives in an endearing art style that subtly underscores the poignancy of Valiant Hearts’ emotional story.
Gameplay in Valiant Hearts is akin to a side-scrolling platformer style, with an emphasis on puzzle-solving rather than reaching the flagpole at the end of the level. You’ll navigate trenches, raging battlefields and destroyed ruined towns, solving simple but intuitive puzzles to expand the story of each playable character and progress to the next level. While the puzzles in each level require some thought and are great for newcomers, they won’t pose a challenge to seasoned puzzle veterans looking for something difficult. Each level also contains a list of hidden items for you to collect, offering some small replay value outside of the game’s fantastic story.
Video games don’t usually tackle World War One, but Valiant Hearts’ character-driven depiction of The Great War is what really makes the game shine. Without giving too much away, Valiant Hearts’ story follows a set of characters all connected and affected by the war. It explores the hardships faced by individuals on both sides of the conflict. Despite the game’s charming art style and quirks, the exploration that the toll of war plays on each of the characters in Valiant Hearts, provides a very real and emotive experience of World War One for players, one that has never truly been captured in video games before.
This War of Mine
On the surface, 2014’s other great war game, This War of Mine, is about as different from Valiant Hearts as you can get. However, the point-and-click survival strategy game, set in an undisclosed modern European war that is This War of Mine excels for the very same reason; gripping character-driven drama.
In This War of Mine, players control a group of citizens struggling to survive the chaos of a war – guiding each character to build appliances and repair their way to safety whilst racing the countdown to the day’s end. The game really comes alive during the nighttime sequences though, as you’ll need to plan the defences of your house and compete with soldiers and bandits to scavenge nearby landmarks for food, supplies and medicine.
There’s no real overarching story to This War of Mine; it is simply to survive. Instead the minutiae of the worsening state of your city and the actions of your characters pave the way for a confronting and personal emotional journey. Amidst the chaos you’ll need to manage your characters’ sleep, moral, wounds and hunger, which ultimately affect the strength of your house and the desperation of your situation. In my playthrough, I lost one member of my house trying to evade bandits and was forced to steal from a defenceless elderly couple because of the dire situation that loss left me in. It’s all these factors that really make this war yours. Underpinned by an atmospheric score and a grungy visual style, This War of Mine takes players on an emotional and confronting exploration of war from a perspective seldom seen.
Valiant Hearts: The Great War is available on Android, iOS, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and Microsoft Windows.
This War of Mine is available on Microsoft Windows, OSX and Linux.
Images: ‘Valiant Hearts: The Great War’ image – © Ubisoft / ‘This War of Mine’ image © 11 Bit Studios