A Hop, Skip, And A Jump Away
HIGH The sheer sense of momentum when dashing.
LOW Falling into water repeatedly while jumping between rocks.
WTF The ability to kill and resurrect a deer ad infinitum. For amusement.
Valley is yet another entry in the growing (and unfortunately maligned) genre dubbed ‘walking simulators’. However, it’s probably more accurate to describe it as a running, leaping, and bounding simulator. Although it initially seems to be just another first-person adventure game, the devs use an expert sense of momentum and clever level design to set Valley apart from the crowd.
In Valley, players inhabit the role of an archaeologist who travels to Canada in search of a powerful artifact known as the “Life Seed.” It’s noteworthy that the game allows players to choose their gender, although this ultimately changes little — players don’t see themselves and the protagonist doesn’t speak much. After a brief introduction, players start having washed up on a random shore, lost in the Canadian Rockies.
It doesn’t take long for players to stumble upon a crate containing an experimental exo-suit from World War II. The L.E.A.F (Leap Effortlessly through the Air Functionality) suit allows players to run as fast as a cheetah, leap several stories and, for bizarre reasons, exchange energy with organic life. This suit is the heart of Valley’s experience and the game’s first-person traversal mechanics.
After acquiring the exo-suit, players can easily leg it across the terrain and climb tall towers or tree forts, and it does a great job of rewarding creative player movement. At times, Valley almost feels like a first-person Sonic the Hedgehog.
As they progress, players find upgrades to the suit’s base abilities, such as a double jump or a grappling hook. But, rather than let players choose how to upgrade their suits, the enhancements are instead doled out by the developers at particular moments in order to gradually add variety to the level design. However, this fixed upgrade system gives Valley a linear feeling. The illusion of fluid movement, however spectacular at times, does little to mask the fact that players essentially run down corridors for the majority of play, even if some seem wide and free-ranging.
Unlike the majority of walking sims, Valley has combat. In the latter part of the game, evil spirits continually show up to harass the player. They can be easily dispatched with a few energy blasts, but the encounters detract from an otherwise enjoyable experience. I can only imagine these enemies were included to add a third element to the running and narrative sections, but it just doesn’t work, particularly due to an unnecessary and annoying boss fight near the end of the story. The developers could have easily left combat out of the game entirely and focused more on interesting environmental puzzles.
When the player dies in combat or otherwise, their resurrection is explained as the L.E.A.F. suit’s “Quantum Death” functionality. The caveat to this instant revival is that it’s tied to the vitality of the environment — the energy exchange mentioned earlier.
Every time players die, the world deadens. In order to keep coming back to life, players have to keep the world energized and thriving. This is accomplished by transferring player energy into dead trees and withered plants in the world. If at any time players let the world decay too much, there will no longer be enough ambient energy for them to be resurrected. It’s nonsense, but at least the developers are trying to ground the tropes of the medium within their world.
Since the exo-suit runs on energy, players will need to continually look for ways to stay powered. The easiest is to pick up small blue orbs littered across the landscape. Players can also draw life energy from various animals and plants, including the occasional deer. Over the course of the adventure, players can increase the total amount of power in their suit by collecting energy cells.
Not content to offer just the one collectible, Valley also tasks players with collecting acorns in order to open optional energy-upgrade doorways, and medallions to access the inner chambers of a pyramid. None of these locations are vital to progress, and truth be told, I’m still not sure what treasures await inside that pyramid.
In addition to providing all the major mechanics of play, the L.E.A.F. suit also introduces a backstory involving WWII-era investigations into the Life Seed, complete with tape recordings that feel ripped straight out of BioShock. The similarities don’t stop there. Valley also borrows aesthetics, time period, and narrative elements from that same work. This isn’t a damning accusation, though — just a curious and unavoidable comparison that could have been circumvented through different creative decisions.
Despite a cliché story, unnecessary combat and some borrowed elements, Valley delivers a well-paced, beautifully scored, and engaging first-person adventure. At times it achieves an extraordinary sense of majestic isolation, but more peaks and less valleys would have helped this adventure truly soar.
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Blue Isle Studios. It is currently available on Steam, Xbox One, and PS4. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 5 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T for Teen for violence and blood. Most of the violence is past tense, appearing only in audio form or as blood stains in the environment.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: No sound is necessary to enjoy this game.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
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