Welcome to Mechanically Beautiful, where we look into the widely debated topic of whether or not video games are considered art. I’m here to say that yes, I do believe video games are a form of art. If you are not a believer of this idea, then maybe these articles will change your mind. But even if they don’t, you will get a chance to hear about and maybe look into some beautiful games in the industry. Today, I look at the World War 1 based platform puzzle game by Ubisoft called “Valiant Hearts.”
“Valiant Hearts” is a smaller game made by Ubisoft that feels very indie, like “Child of Light” or “Outlands”. You play as a couple different characters in the heat of World War 1, or The Great War, as it is also called. Each character has a different take on what is going on in the war and they are all different nationalities. This game is very heart wrenching and really gives you the feel of the brutality behind war. As a huge fan of history I absolutely love this aspect but as Ubisoft has shown before they also can have a very nice artistic side to their games. This game is a great example.
Right when the game starts up, in the menu you can see the unique style of the graphics. I find it very hard to pinpoint a style to compare it to, really. It is definitely a cartoon style, but there is a bit more to it. The edges are hard and jagged. Characters physics are very boxy and rough looking. I would have to say it looks like very high quality, flash animation with a inspiration taken from cartoon, like “Ben 10.” The two big things to look at though are the style of the characters and the look of the scenery.
There are four major characters, as well as the trusty dog, Walt, who helps out the characters at different times. The characters are Emile, Anna, Freddie and Karl. Emile is an old, burly, French farmer who was dragged into the war against his will. He is forced to fight with the French army, but he is also looking for Karl, who is his son-in-law and was taken into the German army. Emile is a large muscular man with gray hair and a full gray beard. His skin is a light gray tone to show he is a old and weary man. Emile always wears blue and white to show he is with the French army, but also to remind you that he was just a simple farm hand. Anna is one of the younger of four characters and the only girl. She is a nurse hand from Belgium who doesn’t really take a direct side at any point. She helps anyone she can. Her outfit is simple and plan. This look gives you the impression that she is just part of the quite nurses that served in the war. The medical units and helpers were often forgotten during this time, so she doesn’t do any actions that are loud and stand out and her clothing is very toned down. She wears a simple off white blouse and baggy green pants. Her hair is always tied up into a bun and is a light brown color. She is always seen carrying a medical satchel and back pack. Her entire character is a symbol of a simple person, just doing the work she has to do. Freddie is the black American, who entered the war with the French as an engineer. He
enlisted because he wanted to take revenge on the German who killed his wife. He is the darkest of the characters and has features that make him appear to be black, like his goatee and bald head. He is the toughest looking character with the most motive to be in the war. He wears a white tank top with a tan vest and belt over top. He has rust colored pants that are covered in dirt and mud. He has a composure and feel to him that makes you really feel like he is determined for his revenge and to help win the war. Karl is the last of the characters. Karl is Emile’s son-in-law and father of Emile’s grandson. Due to being a German living in France, Karl was dragged away and drafted into the German army. Karl is young and looks very full of energy and life at the start of the game. He along with Anna often looks like he is smiling and hopeful. Karl is the only blonde character which may be in reference to the aryan German race although this game is World War 1 so it is hard to say. He is seen wearing a German soldier uniform for most of the game. It is the usual dark green color with some gold metal on the signature pointed metal helmet. He is one of the less muscular looking character, as he is younger than Freddie or Emile, but he can always handle himself.
There are some things though that tie all the characters together. All of the characters have large shoulders and bodies that have very square shapes to them. The most obvious thing is that you can’t see the eyes of any of the characters. The only eyes every seen are that of the dog Walt. The faces of all the characters are also very flat edged around the chin area giving a look of almost not fully human. There also no realistic skin colors in this game. Everyone is a tone of gray, white, or black. I think this is a symbol of the damage that the war did to everyone involved and also that the first World War was overshadowed by the second.
This game is very bleak and hits the heart pretty hard. This is all very much shown in the visual design of the levels. Many of the levels are running through dirt trenches and wooden blockades that have been made. Weapons often are seen all over in the background as you run over the hard dirt. There are some levels that do not take place in the war areas and you can see more sign of life and color in these areas. As the game progresses, the setting actually gets more and more grim. You start running through areas where dead bodies riddle the ground and signs of violence are everywhere. There is a point toward the end of the game where you must run over fallen comrades. This is all pretty in a sad kind of way. The symbolism and story telling of history are very strong in the design of each of the levels.
This game is an amazing piece of work made by Ubisoft. It’s nice to know that Ubisoft can still make amazing games and create beautiful work. It’s hard to get over the fact they keep pushing out things like “Assassins Creed” and “Just Dance.” When they try though, Ubisoft really can make some great pieces of art and interesting story based games. I think anyone with a love of beautiful game and history, like myself, should give this game a try.