Joystiq Top 10 of 2014: Valiant Hearts: The Great War

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Joystiq Top 10 of 2014: Valiant Hearts: The Great War
ATTENTION: The year 2014 has concluded its temporal self-destruct sequence. If you are among the escapees, please join us in salvaging and preserving the best games from the irradiated chrono-debris.

War is a common theme throughout video games, usually granting you a trigger to pull and later reminding you of the true cost of battle. Ubisoft Montpellier's approach to one of history's deadliest conflicts in Valiant Hearts: The Great War eludes those narrative methods, instead spinning an endearing tale about a period of sustained malice and sorrow.

Set during the events of World War 1, Valiant Hearts' four playable humans (and one canine) get swept in the waves of global catastrophe practically by circumstance. The side-scrolling adventure game begins with the German-born Karl stripped from his family in France, then injected into the side of conflict opposite that of his father-in-law, Emile. As the world around them collapses, they meet the Belgian medic, Anna, who is drawn in for the good of others, and the voluntarily enlisted American, Freddie, who has a personal mission at heart.

The mostly silent characters cross paths frequently, their individual stories of desperate survival blending to a point of crucial unification. I sympathize with Emile's drastic, climactic final decisions the same way I do with Karl's misunderstood purposes; regardless of their nation of birth, Valiant Hearts' heroes seek a better life for those around them. "The character of a man cannot be defined by the flag he waves," Valiant Hearts might as well lecture, as it forms unbreakable bonds between those characters with various upbringing, some fighting to survive side-by-side and others offering assistance to others without hesitation.

It only helps to also have the lovable, innocent connective device in a dog named Walt, who accompanies the other four characters as a loyal helper through their journeys. Walt drags war victims out from rubble, crawls through passages to obtain impossible-to-reach key items and, of course, rolls over for the occasional belly rub. The dog knows how to pick good people, as its loyalty mirrors the admirable motivations of the other four heroes.

Of the many possible takeaways from Valiant Hearts, its ability to deliver a strong message about global warfare without resorting to obvious, deafening "war is bad" demonstrations speaks volumes of Ubisoft Montpellier's careful design choices. Valiant Hearts' message is one about the unfair and lethal consequence of war on innocent, seemingly innocuous lives, but the game also dabbles in absurdities. In a way, war is weird – just like dodging incoming bombs in a musically synced car chase is weird, or how defeating an enemy zeppelin with a busted pipe organ is weird. Valiant Hearts deems that the best solution to a difficult problem isn't found down the iron sights, but by throwing rocks at trees and offering bottles of wine to others.

Valiant Hearts eschews gunfire in favor of problem solving, and even in light of its tank and cannon sequences, the game challenges its characters to live more than simply destroy. Even as its traditional item-hunting-style adventure game puzzles wear thin, numerous educational entries in the game's menus remain intriguing, nailing some of the realities of the first World War. Those dark truths scar each of the game's characters as they observe countless atrocities, making Valiant Hearts' soft-spoken message all the clearer as the credits roll for the fortunate player holding the controller.
[Image: Ubisoft]

Joystiq is highlighting its 10 favorite games of 2014 throughout the week. Keep reading for more top selections and every writer's personal picks in Best of the Rest roundups.

The list so far:​​
  1. Valiant Hearts: The Great War
  2. Mario Kart 8
  3. Far Cry 4
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Joystiq Top 10 of 2014: Valiant Hearts: The Great War