The Valley May Protect You, But She Asks Something in Return
Let’s face the facts. This little gaming habit we enjoy so much can be a violent pastime. Between swords and rocket launchers and zombies and fatalities, most of us have seen enough pixelated bloodshed to make Quentin Tarantino blush. Games are violent and messy, and we like it that way. But what if a game came along that flipped the formula on its head? What if instead of taking life, you had the power to restore it?
In Valley, players venture into the Rocky Mountains on an archaeological quest to find the mythical Life Seed. The game combines elements from many different genres, from walking-simulator to first-person platformer, with a few dashes of exploration and first-person shooting. Minutes into the adventure, the protagonist stumbles upon a L.E.A.F suit, which makes use of advanced robotics in order to give the player an array of powers, including the ability to alter the life-force of plants and animals.
The L.E.A.F. suit—which stands for Leap Effortlessly through Air Functionality—allows players to jump and run at a superhuman level. Despite being the most laughable acronym this side of Get Rid Of Slimy girlS, the suit is a lot of fun to play with and allows you to traverse the environment quickly and effortlessly. More astoundingly, the suit allows you to bring dead trees and animals back to life by firing a ball of energy from your hand. Reviving the dead helps to keep the valley in good health, which is important because each time you die, the valley suffers along with you.
The early game involves a lot of running through fields and leaping over bodies of water. The physics instill a great sense of speed and momentum into each of your actions, adding a measure of joy to the free-running, but the core gameplay is overly simple and highly linear. There aren’t really obstacles to avoid, so the only challenge involves making sure you’re lined up correctly with ramps and landing zones. It’s not introspective or slow enough to be a walking-simulator, and it’s not precise enough to use the term “platformer” without misleading the reader.
As the game progresses, you gain new powers, such as a double-jump and a grappling hook, which allow you to traverse more parts of the environment. These abilities open up exploration, allowing you to find hidden items and reach greater heights. The pathfinding aspect of the game is rewarding and intuitive. Valley trusts you to find your own way up mountains and rooftops, assisting you with solid game design that is rarely confusing or misleading.
Valley isn’t all about hopping, running, and exploring. There are times when enemies will appear to hinder your progress. There are only a few types, mostly formless masses of evil energy that must be pacified. They sway and fire upon you at distance and can be dispatched with a few shots of your life energy. The battles play out much like any first-person shooter and require the familiar skills of dodging and circle-strafing. Later enemies take on a slightly different appearance but behave similarly. The fights are simple and even kind of fun but at times feel ill-placed. By the end of the game, enemies become so common that they fundamentally change how you approach new areas. The battles aren’t bad at all and can, in fact, offer an enjoyable challenge, but their heavy presence in the late game might surprise and even alienate some players.
If there’s a unifying problem with Valley, it’s the game’s lack of identity. It’s okay for games to cross genres and do multiple things, but each of Valley’s mechanics plays like a half-commitment. The shooting is simplistic, the platforming is easy, and even the novel ability to bring things back to life is limited in scope. There are a few moments that are slower and more contemplative, but these are bogged down by a derivative story.
As you explore Valley’s many environments, you come across the remnants of a mid-20th century military operation. Here you discover various files and documents relating to the construction of a super-weapon, and the mad scientist in charge of the project. This story takes a few twists and turns but very little that constitutes inspired storytelling. Despite this, the writing is sometimes thoughtful and creative, touching upon some interesting technological concepts and the environmental ethics behind certain activities.
Valley is an attractive game, with wide green vistas and calm blue waters. There are moments of awe as you turn the corner to see ancient statues and old buildings set upon a sprawling mountainside. The graphics are not a technical marvel, but the artistry is great, specifically in the outdoor regions. Music is similarly well-integrated, presented cinematically, with each song carefully selected to match the context of the situation. The soundtrack is excellently composed, filled with beautiful tracks that elicit a wide range of emotions.
Valley is a game of strong fundamentals that is mired by the execution of its grander ideas. Though it never comes together into a cohesive whole, it sometimes rises above the sum of its parts. I enjoyed playing it despite its issues, and I believe that Blue Isle Studios has a wonderful game in their future. Valley is not a wonderful game, but it houses some wonderful concepts and offers its share of memorable moments.