A wargame with real heart
REVIEWED: Valiant Hearts, The Great War; Guacamelee, Super Turbo Championship Edition; PixelJunk Shooter Ultimate
VALIANT HEARTS: THE GREAT WAR
PS4/XOne/PS3/X360/PC (download only)
FORGET Call of Duty, this is a war game that lives up to its name. Exactly 100 years after the start of World War I (AKA the Great War), the developers bravely try to connect us with the horrors, the emotions, the camaraderie of 1914.
You will not slaughter thousands of faceless, nameless soldiers. You will not collect dozens of outlandish weapons and unfeasible amounts of ammo. You will not keep score of headshots and trinkets at the end of each level.
Instead, through almost wordless narration and expressive animation, you follow four people (and a dog) through an interlinked tale at the outbreak of the war, starting in France. There’s the reluctant French conscript, the peaceful German boy called back to his homeland to serve, the rich Belgian girl who joins the war effort and the angry American who signs up for the Foreign Legion.
The interesting cast are brought life in an understated comic-book style, the narrative unfolding around light puzzles, a smidgen of stealth and a few curious action sequences.
There’s little to set the pulse racing. Instead, Valiant Hearts engages with your brain. If it trowels on the sincerity a bit too much, it’s still far more compelling than the tired clichés of most shooters.
Perhaps many players will find it too worthy – the copious historical notes do not integrate well with the main game. But its beautiful art and deftly sketched characters capture the inhumanity of war better than CoD ever could.
XOne/PS4/PS3/Wii U/X360 (download only)
A JOYOUS flurry of colour and violence, Guacamelee returns for the next-gen consoles with its combat tweaked and some new missions added.
Otherwise, it’s the same riotously crazy cocktail of tequila-influenced visuals, raucous soundtrack and furious brawling that proved so entertaining in 2013.
Never mind the very silly back-story about an undead wrestler summoned to save the world, revel instead in the vibrant cartoon worlds and the surprising depth of the fighting moves.
Unashamedly a Metroid-inspired title, the levels are strewn with gated-off areas that become available only after your abilities are upgraded via progress in the game. Guacamelee also toys with a dual-world set-up that enables your wrestler to swap between the lands of the living and the dead. The interplay of the worlds creates a new layer of puzzles amid the mayhem but it picks up steam only in the latter half of the game.
It’s a brawler that never requires you to think too much and its innovation begins to run dry towards the end but it’s impossible to play Guacamelee without a smile on your face.
PS4/PS Vita (download only)
RETRO-FITTING the PixelJunk Shooter outings from 2009 and 2011 with a high-def makeover, Ultimate offers a hefty serving of 2D cave action in one good-value package.
Riffing on an arcade theme as old as the hills (rescue scientists, collect jewels, shoot baddies), PSU is meticulously well constructed in its meshing of geological systems.
Your ship can play pools of water off fiery pits of lava, detonate pockets of gas to expose new paths or melt ice chunks with fire. Later, your craft gains the ability to change its hull strength and weakness, creating new puzzles as you explore the deepest recesses of the caves.
It may be a case of tarting up an existing idea in a new set of duds but PSU shows that some games never go out of fashion.