In a perfect world, war would only be experienced through artful forms of entertainment. Valiant Hearts: The Great War tells the story of four fictional lives brought together by the hardships and horrors of World War I. The puzzles in this 2D adventure are made up, but the historical events they revolve around are all too real. Once you start to sympathize with how awful the realities of WWI combat were, it's hard to call Valiant Hearts "fun". But its storytelling, aesthetic, and steady pacing make this a war story worth enduring.
Our heroes--the aging Frenchman Emile, brash American soldier Freddie, compassionate Belgian medic Anna, and reluctant German trooper Karl--cross paths in four main chapters, woven into many of the major battles and invasions that took place in Europe between 1914 and 1918. Joining each of them at various points in the story is Walt, a loyal Doberman Pinscher who helps you save lives and solve puzzles. Their stories are all compelling and cleverly intertwined, but switching between protagonists doesn't feel very significant, with minimal changes to the types of puzzles you're solving. Fortunately, their different circumstances--like marching towards the front lines, languishing in POW camps, or being in the thick of battle--change up the stakes and scenery enough to keep you hooked despite the samey gameplay.
You can think of Valiant Hearts as an accessible adventure game set in a 2D world. It's a cinch to play with a controller, as there are no bulky inventories or layered dialogue trees to navigate. Your objectives are conveyed through pictograms and visual cues, and the only in-game dialogue comes in the form of barely audible quips, spoken in each characters' native language, that convey emotion through tone rather than actual conversation. The minimalist design makes Valiant Hearts' struggles feel pleasantly intuitive, in that any age or type of gamer can pick it up and enjoy it.