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Valiant Hearts / Soldats Inconnus: Ubisoft's WWI game


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To commemorate the start of WWI, Ubi released Valiant Hearts yesterday on Steam, to coincide with the murder of Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo 100 years ago.

 

For a vastly underrepresented part of history in games, I felt this was a good effort on the part of Ubi Montpellier, if a little repetitive in gameplay and with a bit too much backtracking in puzzles for my liking.

History buff, and genealogist, it was still fun to revisit this period in history. If you've lost family in the Great War, it's safe to say where they died will be represented in this game (western front). The Battle of the Labyrinth, in Neuville Saint Vaast was where my great grand father was wounded for instance.

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They did their research well. Pretty sure the characters are fictional but of course the events are very real. They partnered with a few historical departments of various organisations, and are sponsored by a recent documentary that aired on TV and is widely recognized as the best ever made on that time period

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It's interesting to see a game tackle an overlooked era, WWI.

 

Unfortunately, most modern/pop art (TV, movies, games) focus on portraying WWII so it's refreshing to see someone go the extra length with exploring the WWI scene to shed some light on its events and pay tributes to the fallen ones.

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That remembers me the time i was visiting some friends in lorraine, and they made me visit all the historical war sites of ww1 around verdun. (they are haunted by that war in their region)

 

You have verdun and all the war monuments, artillery forts, douaumont ossuary etc which are well kept in a glorious military orderly fashion (which is really not my thing) basically a middle ground between sadness and a glorious history well written by changing blood and flesh to stone.

 

But the most impressive place they made me visit was the éparges, it's basically the name of a village beside a hill with a dominating view above the plains the french and the germans were fighting for in order to put strategic artillery positions on top of it. (lorraine is very flat)

 

They fought for around 3 months on top of this little hill and dug trenches on both sides of it, the front line ones separated by the terrain levelling were basically 50 meters from each other. Pretty sure you could talk to the guy in the trench in front of you. And for the whole 3 months the french and german artiellery batteries were completely drowning the place under shells.

 

So to advance and take the trenches of the enemy, they had to blow them up. Basically you had engineers digging tunnels from their trench to under the trench of the enemy and detonate as most explosives as they could throwing high in the air earth and humans alike; then they would launch an assault on the gigantic crater the explosives left, fortify it with sandbags/barbed wire and hold it from counter attacks. It's absolutely demential. 12000 people died on top of that hill.

 

What is interesting there is that basically since it's a forested hill now, not much has been changed and was left somewhat intact and abandoned. In the middle of the forest you can still see what's left of the sinuous trenches, mossy bunkers, or a piece of rusty metal going out of the ground full of bullet holes.  (although they had to remove all the non detonated shells and mines, not sure how many guys are still there fertilizing the forest under several layers of laboured earth though)

 

But i can assure you, we were alone in the forest and it is really spine chilling to be standing on top of all that. I swear if you concentrate enough in the forest silence you can hear ghosts.

 

 

very informative post, thanks for sharing.

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That's really not how i would have do it, especially the artistic direction which is super nice but... not suited let's say. But i'm not in the dev team shoes so... However it's a good effort to see something like this i think.

 

That remembers me the time i was visiting some friends in lorraine...

 

I don't know if it is this specific location, but there is a level in the game talking about this strategy to blow up ennemy trenches.

 

About the game itself I really liked it.

I think the art direction is ok, it might look like it does not suit the theme, but I don't agree. The game is also meant to teach people about history (You have real life photographs and explanation about each locations in the game, and some short story about each collectible in the game). While the game looks a bit childish for us, I think it is perfect to tell the story to the younger audience. The characters look a bit fun, but the dark story behind is still serious.

 

It remembers me a bit of how my father decided to make me read the small comic books 'Maus' to learn about WWII. While Maus is still more serious/hard than Valiant Hearts, I really like how it makes the information more accessible and also better to provoke empathy for the characters. (Which is a lot less easy to get through a history book for example)

If you haven't read Maus, it is not too late, great book, even for adults.

 

Edit: Also the soundtrack is great. For those interested: 1 - 2 - 3 - 4

Edited by ng.aniki
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My bad for not having said it earlier : in reality, the artistic direction is perfectly suited, because this is what the developers wanted it to be. And really it's just my personal opinion.

 

It's very tricky. Somehow WW1 is still a subject somehow alive in our society, at least for what i know, in France; for various reasons, which could be political, cultural or familial. We may have known a member of our family who lived this war, or still feel its consequences on our current familial context. And thus i guess, somehow all share an intimate relationship with that period of history.

 

I do also like and approve the pacifistic take of it (although nowadays that would be difficult to advocate the contrary).

 

So with that said, what i don't like about the artistic direction of the game is not that I find it to be too "childish" (why not?); but really, too "pleasant". It's pleasant because it's aligned on a melancholic / heroic / meaningful vibe (which is very relevant in the game soundtrack) and do its best to bring empathic passions into the audience by the extensive use of pathos. It puts on scene these virtuous / candid / martyr but still fiercely courageous figures; the real heroes, resolute and just victims of the madness of men.

 

I think it should be the absolute contrary, if you would treat war artistically, the form should not be "pleasant" but absolutely "unpleasant". Unpleasant in unharmonious, metallic, white, nihilistic, rotten, absurd ways. Not trying to make the chords of lyricism resonate (rather make them resonate falsely) but expose war as you would throw blood and intestines on a white table. Not to create empathy but to create trauma, fear and disgust. Expose ugliness rather than making the beautiful passions resonate. Well at least that's my opinion.

 

To simplify really, i would adapt the first chapter on WW1 of Céline, "Journey to the end of the night".

 

And Maus is indeed really cool !

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I can only imagine that while shit was happening in trenches somewhere over yonder, my family at the time was drinking vodka and generally tending to the crops at hand like it was the 18th century. Because Poland was backwards and all..

wat

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