Developer: Blue Isle Studios
Publisher: Blue Isle Studios
Platform: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Release Date: August 24, 2016
ESRB: T for Teen
This review is based on the PC version of the game
I went into Valley relatively blind. I“d seen a trailer or two, but didn“t dig around too much. With a fairly boilerplate name, Valley is one of the most inconspicuous adventure titles of the year. That“s a shame, because it“s easily one of the best experiences I“ve had in quite some time. If you have any interest in supernatural sci-fi, world-building lore, evocative soundtracks, and Sonic the Hedgehog, stop reading and grab Valley right now. Still not convinced? Then read on about one of 2016“s early sleeper hits.
Many have described Valley“s opening sequence as a walking simulator. That“s an apt description, but doesn“t hold true for very long. The protagonist (either male or female, depending on your preference) is searching the Rocky Mountains for a mystical artifact called the Lifeseed. The Lifeseed is said to contain untold power, one that could alter the fabric of reality if used. The protagonist, however, isn“t the first to have sought the artifact out. During World War II, the U.S. military attempted to harness the Lifeseed“s power, relying on L.E.A.F. suit-equipped â€œPathfindersâ€ to lead the charge. Before the player can get to the Lifeseed, he or she has to follow suit and strap on an abandoned L.E.A.F. suit.
I mentioned Sonic the Hedgehog for a reason. The L.E.A.F. suit is the closest thing to replicating the immense feeling of speed that the Sonic series is known for. Using the mechanical exosuit, players can run down hills, make death-defying leaps, and shoot beams of life-restoring energy at dying creatures. Everything in Valley is tied to the suit, including the central narrative. Much of the plot occurs well before the player has arrived. Audio logs embedded in the suit pace the story along, drip-feeding story beats as the player moves throughout the titular valley. The narrative is fairly compelling, and I found myself decently enthralled by the conflict between several characters. Though all the people on the island are long-since deceased, the well-acted voice-overs make it feel as though their actions were recent.
The L.E.A.F. suit also has a few extra features, including a grappling hook and magnetic boots. Some of these abilities won“t come into play until late in the game, which is something of a minor disappointment. The end-game platforming stages, including a few thrilling tunnel runs, are a genuine joy to bound around in. Numerous secrets are also littered throughout the environment, so it pays to take the less-trodden path if you want a few convenience upgrades for the suit. Journal entries provide additional backstory, coloring the lore of the forgotten valley.
Death is one of Valley“s central themes, and the L.E.A.F. suit grants some truly unique characteristics. The first is a pseudo-immortality, whereby the suit transfers the user to alternate reality where they didn“t die should he or she meet an untimely end. While the suit allows for quick reality swaps, it comes at the cost of some form of life in the valley. Luckily, the player can replenish the valley“s health by shooting energy at dead trees and animals. If the suit“s energy is running low, just grab a few floating blue orbs or suck the life out of some other creatures. The messaging, clearly, is not so subtle.
The second ability the L.E.A.F. suit provides is the ability to fight off monstrous spirits. These beasts will try to sap you of your energy, and battles become a small test of balancing energy consumed from shooting and energy lost from being hit. There“s even a boss battle later in the game, but the combat is never more than a distraction. It only serves to add variety to the relatively short experience. The platforming and story are clearly the central stars here.
Valley is visually stunning, with gorgeous particle effects and level aesthetics rewarding your investment. The soundtrack is equally strong, standing alongside some of the best music composed in any genre. I“ve heard reports of some object-clipping and players getting stuck on level geometry, but I only encountered this once or twice. The only complaint I have is that checkpoints aren“t frequent enough. Valley can be completed in just a few hours, but having to restart entire areas over is a tad tedious if you need to temporarily quit the game.
Unlike some titles, Valley has a very distinct beginning, middle, and conclusion. While the ending is somewhat dark, the narrative reaches a fitting finale that ties several loose ends. The plot isn“t overly complicated, but it“s nice to see the game pay attention to its own explanations of theoretical physics and the lore of the world. If, by chance, you pick Valley up, I would recommend passing on gathering all of the medallions. The in-game narrative tells you they“ll open up a secret temple, but the rewards are a bit underwhelming. There“s probably a metaphor for greed in there.
Valley is an under-the-radar title that should be anything but. It“s a riveting action-adventure game, bolstered by a strong plot and rich soundtrack. If you have a few hours and a need for speed, surrender yourself to the Lifeseed and see what Valley has to offer. It“s existentialist and spiritual meanderings don“t always land, but it“s a fun ride all the same.
+ The L.E.A.F. suit makes Sonic blush
+ Gorgeous visuals and an amazing soundtrack
+ Great plot and some neat lore
- Some lore is a bit underdeveloped
- Inventory management feels unnecessary at times
Overall Score: 8 (out of 10)
Valley is an under-the-radar title that should be anything but. It“s a riveting action-adventure game, bolstered by a strong plot and rich soundtrack. If you have a few hours and a need for speed, surrender yourself to the Lifeseed and see what Valley has to offer.
Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable code provided by the publisher