Valley is one of those games that just feels right. The wonders this game manages to produce in such a short time are nothing less than exceptional. In my measly four hours of play time, I managed to complete the main storyline, explore freely, and gather enough secrets to sate my appetite. Pacing, graphics, voice acting and music, exploration; all very well executed, and somehow Blue Isle Studios managed to blend them together seamlessly.
The pacing, while not something I typically notice in games, really jumped out at me. The game is sold as a high-flying exploratory game in a beautiful environment. I was excited to try it out for myself. Then, the game started, and my character landed in the middle of a lush, Canadian mountainous region, off on the hunt for the “Lifeseed”, a mystical artifact that resurfaces every few thousand years. I walked down the path at a meandering pace, enjoying the sights and sounds of the wilderness and nature around me. But then I crested a hill, and saw how much farther I had to walk. I longed for a sprint button, but there was none to be found. This was going to be a long journey.
I pressed on, eventually reaching an old box of military hardware: an exosuit! I put it on, and the audio recorder crackled to life, giving me my first introduction to the main voice in the game. Additionally, my walk speed increased noticeably, and I could now sprint! Awesome! My traversal time was shortened dramatically. Seconds later, a hill was introduced, showing me that sprinting down a slope would make my run speed and momentum increase dramatically. Then, the first jump appeared. I sprinted down the hill, up a small lip, and leapt to cross a river. My jaw dropped. I sailed through the air effortlessly, for a good 10 seconds, flying far and taking in the landscape around me. It was a wonderful feeling, one that the game consistently delivers on. Around two-thirds of the way through the game, I had already accumulated 20 minutes of airtime, during a four hour play through. Simultaneously beautiful, and insane.
The entirety of Valley is presented like this example. I was regularly surprised with new gadgets to add to my suits repertoire, which changed the way I viewed the rules of the game itself, adding new and interesting ways to overcome obstacles, including the power to absorb and imbue life to the world around you, and explore the environment. It allows for a fuller appreciation of Valley’s graphical fidelity.
Graphically, Valley is gorgeous. The environments are fully fleshed out, with varieties of trees, grass, rocks, hills, water effects, mysterious woodland sprites, and animals. It heightens the theme of nature as wonder, and serves a wonderful role as juxtaposition against the “evil” that corrupts the land. As you progress in the story, more and more dead trees and critters you run across. Using your suits powers, you can imbue life into these objects, restoring them to life, which feels wondrous to be able to do, but also helps you mechanically. The more life around you, the more “lives” your character has. Every time you die, your suit absorbs energy from the living world around you, sacrificing their energy to restore you to life. Exploring a visually dead section of Valley is terrifying not only because of so much death around you, but also because your character will not come back if you die again.
The game mechanics are reinforced by the visuals. A crucial, often overlooked prompt that greatly improves game immersion; a concept is so strong that it received its own paragraph.
Valley’s story is 90% driven through voice acting and music, and luckily Blue Isle Studios put a lot of time and effort into making both of these aspects exceedingly strong. The voice overs all come from tapes slotted into your suit, and depict the long-past world of the 1940’s. The woman who does the voice acting for the primary character, sounds so incredibly genuine, and manages to mirror the wonder and excitement that the player experiences early on in the game, and continuously answers questions you may find yourself asking after viewing some breathtaking scene, or curious stone statue. The music is also very appropriate for the scenes you find yourself in, and most songs mirror the beauty of the natural world around you. I was entranced for the majority of my playthrough.
Exploration is very fun and interesting, and is also required to progress the main storyline. But the world is so open and vast, that it leaves you able to jump around all the nooks and crannies to your hearts content. But this leads me to what is, in my opinion, the game’s one pitfall. While exploring, you can find medallions, which are collectables required to open a secret pyramid later on in the game. The storyline tells you that they were a test for military squads, using the same suits you’re using, to see which team could get the most. Turning training into competition. One would expect that you would find these medallions dangling from a tree branch way up in the air, or off a precarious cliff that you’d need to leap off of, then grapple hook to safety. But no. Most of these medallions are hidden behind rocks on the ground. You don’t really need to use your suit to gather them, which is a really big missed opportunity. By turning this into a challenge for the player, you could dramatically increase player interactivity and puzzle solving, leading to a stronger gameplay experience.
In conclusion, Valley is an incredible experience that I highly suggest that anyone interested in simple but effective game design, or anyone looking to dive into a short but fulfilling gaming experience, pick this game up and give it a go. The developers deserve to be rewarded for making such a breathtaking experience. Now if only it will be released for VR...
Valley: Hales of Bay rating
Jonathan - 9 out of 10
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