STAFF REVIEW of Valley (Xbox One)


Monday, September 19, 2016.
by Adam Dileva

Valley Box art Better known for the studio that brought gamers Slender: The Arrival, Blue Isle Studios has released their newest title on Xbox One, Valley. While it’s a somewhat short game, clocking in at just around 4 hours, Valley can be beautiful when at its best. While it may be short in length, there are times that it makes this up in beauty and fluidity, but only in small sections when perfect conditions and mechanics are in play. During the rest of the journey though it can be somewhat dull for reasons that I’ll delve into shortly.

Your journey begins with your character exploring a cave in the Canadian Rockies after crashing in a canoe. You emerge into another world that’s seemingly been long forgotten. Beauty is the first word that comes to mind, as you are surrounded by lush vegetation and trees, wildlife, and sunrays that envelop the whole land. You stumble across a crate that contains a metal exoskeleton titled the L.E.A.F. suit (Leap Effortlessly through Air Functionality). From this point on you can run at incredible speeds (at least downhill) and jump across chasms effortlessly. The L.E.A.F. suit also empowers you to manipulate life and death, introduced in a 50’s style projector movie, reminiscent of something you’d see in Bioshock.

As the story unfolds, you’re in search of the Lifeseed, a mysterious power source that is capable of unfathomable power. Interestingly, aside from some wildlife, the whole valley seems devoid of any sentient life, which is beautiful in some ways, but when you find scattered notes littered throughout the land, you come to understand there were people here before. But why are they gone and where did they go? That’s up to you to solve during your travels.

Given that the whole narrative is told through audio logs and notes, it’s hard to become invested into the characters and reasoning since you don’t ever interact with anyone directly. While the narrative isn’t told very well, since much of the lore won’t even be found unless you’re trying to actively seek it all, it is an intriguing story once you start to piece together the events of what previously happened, and why no one is left.


Once you dawn the L.E.A.F. suit your real journey begins, as you’re taught to constantly run, rarely slowing down from that point onward. You begin by running down a path, gaining speed as you go, before leaping across a cliff. Eventually you'll get the hang of the controls, allowing you to run between trees and other objects at a quick pace, which feels great when you’re at top speed. For how beautiful the world is, it feels as though you never get a chance to appreciate it since you’re constantly moving forward at a quick speed. You’ll learn new abilities as you progress, but movement and fluidity is a constant for the majority of Valley’s experience.

There are times where it’s as if some of the layout wasn’t planned ahead of time, and when you attempt to take corners quickly at top speed it simply doesn’t work as you’ll almost always hit something or slow down much more than intended. It’s as if you’re unable to keep up with your own momentum at times and there are even a handful of giant leaps you must take only to find yourself land awkwardly into a tree or hitting a rock, as if it was placed in the middle of your path on purpose. While you can slightly adjust your movement in mid-air, only to a small degree, there will be times where you’ll attempt to avoid landing in front of an object but you're unable to.

While the first bit of the game takes place in the beautiful outdoors with sprawling vistas, there’s a good chunk of the game that forces you indoors, hampering much of your quick movement. In these bunkers you’ll be traversing through vents and small walkways, but you generally never get the speed that you’ve become accustomed to up to this point. It is here that Valley loses a lot of its charm in these claustrophobic stages and tends to feel like a completely different, and dull, game.

There is one saving grace in these areas though, and it is a couple of sections where you get to run at an even faster than normal speed on some on-rail like areas. These sections, while far too few, are incredibly fun and exciting as you run at crazy speeds, having to jump across massive gaps off of broken bridges. Sadly, there’s only two of these sections in the whole game, arguably the coolest moments in all of Valley, and they left me wanting more.


Eventually you'll upgrade your L.E.A.F. suit allowing you to use a grapple hook on specific points, which opens up your momentum and fluidity in specific areas. While these hooks can be fun when used properly, and it feels almost like you’re Spider-Man swinging around, you need to make sure you let go at the right moment or you’ll lose all your momentum and fall. Near the later sections of the game you’ll also gain the ability to walk along metallic surfaces, which will have you walking sideways, or completely upside down, at times.

Your L.E.A.F. suit needs energy though, as that is what’s used to do almost everything from shooting, double jumps, grapple hooks, and more. You refill energy by collecting blue orbs scattered throughout the land, and there’s almost always enough nearby that you’ll ever be completely out of energy. While it’s interesting that you have the power to give or take life, it never feels fully realized, as you only really use it to power up devices, or to give/take life from trees or wildlife. Sure bringing a dead tree or fallen deer back to life is heartwarming the first few times, but after that there’s little reason to do so, unless you always want your suits energy to be full.

What’s really interesting about the energy of your L.E.A.F. suit though is that it’s all tied to your abilities and health, as well as to the “life” of the valley. Instead of having a set number of lives for when you fall into water (which “kills” you since the suit is so heavy) or a pit, you and the valley are tied together in some way (this is explained later in the game).

If you happen to die the valley brings you back to life, but at the expense of its own health, represented by a branch with leaves in the upper left corner near your own energy. Die too many times in a row and the valley will die, then it’s truly game over, but don’t concern yourself with this, as I was able to complete Valley without ever coming close to the valley fading away. This is because to refill the valley's health you simply have to give life back to dead trees, animals, and other objects, and since there’s always more than enough energy orbs around at all times, this is very easy to do.


The only issue I had with the energy sharing mechanic is that if you are using a lot of your energy to shoot the enemies you encounter, you’re also depleting your own life bar at the same time. For some reason dying tended to take random amounts of the valley’s life away whenever I did die, instead of a same preset amount every time. I don’t know if this is intended, or a bug, but it seemed that the amount of life the valley would lose whenever I drowned or fell to my death was not consistent.

Combat is present in Valley, and at first it’s simply against some glowing bee-like swarms that shoot at you, but eventually you’ll also face some ghost-like creatures, and that’s it; only two enemy types in the game, neither of which are challenging, and only take 2 or 3 shots to defeat. The combat sections are weak, and while many of them can be avoided by simply running past them it feels almost as an unnecessary addition. Strafing out of the way and returning fire is all it takes to defeat any enemy, and their slow projectiles are simple to avoid. Save for a boss fight near the end, there’s absolutely no variety to combat, and if you shoot them before they notice you you can easily defeat all enemies without them even reacting.

There are some secrets and collectibles to find throughout the game world, and doing so will net you some extra upgrades. There are certain doors that take a set number of acorns to open (yes, acorns), so while you’re supposed to always be running forward there are rewards for those that want to explore as well. There are even special medallions that can be found, but you won’t know what they are for until the near end of the game. While some might simply write Valley off as a walking (well, running) simulator, there’s some great beauty to be had, especially some of the overlooking landscapes where you can see the Northern Lights above. Running and jumping at full speed, or utilizing the hook properly, feels absolutely great, but for every few moment of fun you have, there’s another that either slows you down or forces you to traverse indoors instead.

For a game that centers on life and death, it’s odd that there’s virtually no life within its world that you actually care about. Because of this it’s hard to become truly invested in it, and the constant ‘stop and go’ doesn’t help when you’re trying to keep momentum and fluidity constant. While there are some reasons for some to play through more than once, and find all of the secrets, I found that I was content after seeing the credits roll. Regardless of all its shortcomings though, I’m glad I experienced Valley and got to explore its intriguing world. Even though the game hits a few bumps along the adventure, the final few sections of the game, save for the combat, are very much worth experiencing. At the end of the day you'll become accepting of its' shortcomings and realize that there is a decent game in this indie title.





Overall: 7.5 / 10
Gameplay: 7.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.5 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10

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