Valiant Hearts: Coming Home Review

Valiant Hearts: Coming Home header artwork

It took Ubisoft nine years, but they finally gave us a sequel to Valiant Hearts: The Great War. Debuting on Netflix Games last year, Valiant Hearts: Coming Home has now been released on everything a video game can be released on in 2024. Finally I can at last finish the narrative adventure that so moved me back in 2014.

The original Valiant Hearts followed the adventures of four civilians as they become inescapably drawn into the First World War. Coming Home continues the tale of some of the surviving characters, as well as some new faces. It also maintains the same gameplay mechanics as the original, whilst developing the themes of friendship and sacrifice that made its precursor so memorable. As such, the visuals are of the same charming and deeply evocative 2D cartoon style that proved so striking in Valiant Hearts: The Great War. Rather than dialogue, conversations with NPCs are carried out by pictograms in speech bubbles.

It’s a credit to the animation and strong characterisation that every emotional beat can easily be interpreted and understood. Indeed, the lack of dialogue results in a simple efficiency of communication that cuts through unwarranted exposition and fluff to get to the heart of the matter: the relationships between people. It’s easy to become fully engaged with the exploits of Freddie, James, Anna, George, and Ernst, as they attempt to extricate themselves from the barded-wire-wrapped mess that was The Great War. The storyline is, as you would expect of a Valiant Hearts game, both moving and tragic, exploring complex themes of racial segregation in the military, racism, and intolerance, so you’d better get those tissues ready as the narrative hurtles along to its uncompromisingly downbeat ending.

Valiant Hearts: Coming Home boat level

Less effective is the gameplay itself. Intended to be accessible fodder for mobile gamers, the actual game side of Valiant Hearts: Coming Home can too often be entirely ignorable. Most levels see the player character run from left to right, solving some very gentle puzzles along the way. These amount to little more than finding an item and returning it. Occasionally you can call upon the help of Walt the dog, but the promise of more compelling puzzles is never fulfilled.

Worse still, despite each level being very short, some manage to grow tedious and quickly overstay their brief welcome. One level sees James running backward and forward across the same trench, grabbing ammo to return to his fellow soldiers. Nothing much of note happens aside from this and the entire level comes across as superfluous padding. Equally disappointing is a stealth-inspired stage that proves to be a wearisome chore. These levels suggest a developer desperately trying to drag the game’s run time beyond three hours – they don’t succeed.

Valiant Hearts: Coming Home plane

That’s a real shame, because when Valiant Hears: Coming Home isn’t concerned with extending its run time there are flashes of gameplay brilliance. Flying a biplane to classical music, exploring a submerged ship, and performing surgical procedures all prove to be compelling experiences. If only there was more of these moments and fewer mini-fetch quests then this sequel would be the complete package. It’s really up to the narrative to carry this experience, and it manages to do just that.

Summary
What Valiant Hearts: Coming Home lacks in engaging gameplay, it more than makes up for in story and characterisation, and on these specific terms it is an unprecedented success. With a historical authenticity that would make many AAA games green with envy, the developer tells a brave and deeply moving tale with seeming ease. Valiant Hearts: Coming Home certainly doesn’t pull its punches, and is all the better for it.
Good
  • Lovely 2D cartoon visuals
  • Powerful storytelling and engaging characters
  • Impressive level of historical authenticity
Bad
  • A short game that feels padded out
  • Many gameplay mechanics are underexplored
  • Stealth level is not good
7

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