Valley is the newest game from Blue Isle Studios. They are a rather untested company, with Slender: The Arrival, being their only other major release. After hearing little about it I found myself being drawn to Valley based on a trailer that launched close to release. The marketing for the game was, almost completely non existent, which shows in the many people asking, “What game is this?”. I hate to call myself an easy sale, but I truly am. One good trailer is usually enough to sell me on something, and Valley had that.
It promised a game with a beautiful Valley, open exploration, and a story that challenged technology vs nature, and how far is too far. For the most part Valley lives up to those promises, almost entirely in fact. The game offered something pretty simply yet beautiful, so with managing to live up to that why did I still struggle to enjoy it?
Valley starts rather plainly, you listen to a voicemail your character received. Your “friend” explains that you are crazy to go to Colorado in search of the life seed, because after all it doesn’t exist. He then compliments your bravery and sense of adventure. Flash and your character has gotten in a wreck and is stranded in the Rockies. It is not the most convincing opening, in fact it feels a little lazy, however that is quickly forgotten when you actually get into “The Valley”. It is a beautiful place, and consistently the thing this game does right. Your setting is filled with atmosphere. The music matches perfectly with everything you do. Calm and serene when you are simply looking at the beautiful landscape. Fast and joyful when you are jumping around and exploring. Dark and foreboding when things get dark and foreboding. It’s easy to forgive the lack of explanation as to why your character or anyone else has ever come to this valley because it’s such an easy place to enjoy.
As you explore you discover a L.E.A.F. suit. This grants you many abilities, including running faster, jumping higher, and the ability to come back to life. The suit was part of a government experiment that was apparently taking place in the valley during WW2. As you progress forward looking for the life seed that brought you there, you listen to a number of recordings that help uncover the secrets of the valley and what happened there.
You also are taught that everything about the valley is a balance. You die and can come back only because something else dies for you. You need energy, but getting it can cost of the lives of the trees and animals around you. This theme is there from start to finish. When you die you see a life meter for the valley itself be affected. It makes a rather large impact, dying only to return and see more death around you lingers. The consequences for failing in this game feel so much worse because it is not your characters life that is really changed by this.
The rest of the story unfolds with less than perfect pacing. You are sometimes given an overload of information, and sometimes given far too little. The recordings often leave more questions than answers. Beyond just that, a few of them feel forced in to quickly give explanation to something that might otherwise not fit at all in the context of the game. For instance it will be fairly far into the game before you see your first real “enemy”, all explanation for them is rushed and most of it makes little sense. On the reverse of that you are overwhelmed with papers, recordings, and thoughts of your main character asking the question of whether or not the army’s presence is killing the valley. You will stumble on the answer to that question and then still be hit over the head with it. This awkward pacing kind of undercuts what is otherwise a really well thought out story. It’s something we’ve seen before, a fight for a place and one man’s obsession with power. It might be a cliché, but it is because it’s something we can enjoy.
The other major issue is the gameplay itself. Valley has such a good idea. Put you in the suit, give you powers, then let you explore a beautiful location. The problem is the controls are clunky, and sometimes just outright don’t work. You spend more time fighting your character than actually enjoying the fast, free form, experience you are supposed to have. You will be presented with areas where you are simply supposed to run, you build speed and it’s pretty impressive. The problem being every time you turn with the course your character will completely run off track, slowing these moments down. There are also slingshots which when they work are a true moment of high flying and movement, the problem is they almost never work. Major sections of exploration are dependent on these slingshots and they become frustrating and annoying. Beyond that even just walking can feel like you are fighting your character.
What’s the problem you might ask? I’ve been known to like games with questionable gameplay before. The problem is that exploring the valley is a central part of the game. Being in this beautiful setting, discovering it at your own pace, and really immersing yourself in the experience is what is supposed to make this game what it is. Failure to do so leaves you feeling disconnected and unable to truly enjoy what is offered.
In spite of all my complaints I really want to love this game. It’s beautiful soundtrack, solid story, and the beauty of the valley itself. All of this pulls me to really want to enjoy this experience, which makes the disappointments only stand out more.
Valley is not a bad game. However, what easily could have been something truly amazing knocks itself down to simply good because of it’s issues. The pacing in the story could have even been ignored if the controls and gameplay had only been tightened up. It is unfortunate that I cannot praise the game more, and simply say look for it to be on sale at some point.