Ain’t that just the way? You wait years for a shadow drop and then two come along at once. I know technically around 90 percent of games are shadow dropped when you take into account indies with no marketing budget, but we’re not used to the biggest companies booting their efforts out of the nest in the hopes they might fly. Hot on the heels of Hi-Fi Rush though, Valiant Hearts: Coming Home just launched, and it deserves a lot more attention.
We think of games as having a constantly roaring hype machine behind them, but that isn’t always true. Guardians of the Galaxy and Bayonetta 3 have both been held up as examples from the past two years which received less marketing than you might have expected, and then ended up with fewer sales. Then again, over-advertising can be a thing too. Perhaps learning from Guardians of the Galaxy (or maybe more eager to support a game with Japanese roots than the entirely Western GotG), Square Enix pushed the hell out of Forspoken and the grating advertisements likely put some folks off. It’s a tough balance.
Hi-Fi Rush’s highly successful shadow drop was not just a case of releasing the game and hoping someone sees it. The game was revealed and released at Xbox’s recent showpiece event, and was a clear attempt to rely on a “and it’s available right now!” moment. Game Pass has helped Xbox catch up, but it’s still a distant third place for excitement generated. Pushing its best received game in years out of the door doesn’t just mean it gets the instant impact of a big reveal, it gives you a reason to watch the next Xbox stream, and the next one. We’re already committed to watching every Nintendo Direct, and Xbox needs a similar hook.
Things are very different with Valiant Hearts: Coming Home. Hi-Fi Rush had very little to do with it, aside from showing the contrast between a shadow drop planned deliberately for maximum impact, and one that slips through the cracks through circumstance. Ubisoft is not in a great place right now. Allegedly desperate to be bought out, the company just cancelled several projects for an almost total reliance on behemoths that take several years to make. It also seemed to put the blame for the financial woes at the feet of the workers for quality and delays, leading to internal backlash and strikes. The original Valiant Hearts was praised for its narrative depth and fresh perspective, but was never an Assassin’s Creed level hit. If it weren’t as far along, it likely would have been cancelled.
It’s possible Ubisoft either forgot or did not care enough about the game to spend any marketing budget on it while managing this crisis. It was not sent to reviewers either, and while restricted reviews can point to a lack of quality, none at all just seems like Ubisoft didn’t bother with this one. It’s exclusive to Netflix, which perhaps makes for a harder sell, and may have meant Netflix itself was supposed to handle marketing however it saw fit. Whatever the case, Valiant Hearts: The Great War has always been one of Ubisoft’s most interesting titles, and it’s a shame the sequel is doomed to obscurity.
Both games are visual novels with some interaction and puzzles, which grow more complex as the story whirs on. The stories centre on various characters in the First World War, but try to show a new angle besides the British Tommy in the trenches or the ministers around the table. The Great War starred a German citizen deported from France and a Belgian vet who must become a military nurse. Coming Home features a Black American soldier who must deal with segregation and his brother who begged him not to enlist.
I haven’t played enough of Coming Home to offer a formal review or even compare it to The Great War, given the original is far more intense in the final stretches. But for a medium obsessed with the action and thrills and bloodshed of war, Valiant Hearts’ dedication to seeing the people behind all of that is admirable, and even as smaller games get the door closed on them, it’s wonderful that we got another one – it’s just a shame no one knows about it.
Maybe being on Netflix opens this up to a wider cloud, maybe arriving in such an understated way suits the game itself. But it still feels wrong that a game so unique and so determined to find humanity in us is destined to be ignored again. The first game is regarded as more of a cult hit, but at least that one had a chance. If you still have Netflix after they cancelled all your shows and flip-flopped on password sharing, give Valiant Hearts: Coming Home a chance.
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