As the second console game from Slender: The Arrival developers Blue Isle Studios, Valley ditches jump scares for exploration. But can it do for adventure games what Slender did for horror?
Valley casts you as an unnamed protagonist in search of a mythical "life seed" in the Canadian Rockies. Before the game starts, you can choose whether your character is male or female, though this has no impact on the gameplay other than the grunting noises you make when jumping and falling. In the opening cut scene, you crash your canoe while out on an expedition and find yourself washed up in an uncharted region populated by ancient ruins and a World War II military base. You soon come across a crate containing a L.E.A.F. suit (which stands for Leap Effortlessly through Air Functionality). As its name suggests, it allows you to run at tremendous speeds and jump huge distances. With this newfound mobility, you set off to try and uncover the mysteries of the valley.
The most immediate joy from playing Valley is controlling your character in the L.E.A.F. suit. You get a real sense of speed while running, especially when going downhill at top speed. Jump when you're going full tilt and you'll soar through the air hundreds of feet off the ground. It reminded me of falling or flying dreams I've had and occasionally I'd even feel a slight lurch in my stomach when looking down at the landscape gliding past far below me. The sound design really adds to the experience, too. Whizzing through the air, you'll hear the wind whip violently around your ears. Crash through a tree and you'll be engulfed by the rustles of its twigs and leaves. Finally, you'll slam into the ground with a satisfying thud, shaking the earth and controller, too. It'd be amazing to play in VR.
Unsurprisingly, such a powerful suit requires a lot of energy to operate. There are a few different ways of acquiring it. You can pick up glowing orbs you find around the valley, but you're also able to drain the life force of trees or animals to replenish yourself. This should be done with caution, however, as it has a negative effect on the valley's ecosystem. Kill too many trees or animals and your health goes down. A better approach is to conserve your energy consumption and use some of it to restore the trees. This refills your life bar and has the added bonus of providing you with magical acorns that can open otherwise inaccessible doors. The doors usually lead to a new upgrade for your suit, or other special items like medallions that can be used to open the entrance of an ancient temple.
One negative aspect the suit has is that you can't go in water while wearing it. If you even so much as dip your toe in one of the many rivers or lakes, you'll die and respawn back on the bank next to it with a reduction in your health. The reason given for this is that your suit is very heavy, so presumably you'd die from drowning if you fell in deep water while wearing it. However, repeatedly dying just from a little water touching your feet feels rather nonsensical and a bit silly. On the other hand, you do acquire upgrades for your suit as you progress such as a double-jump which makes getting around even easier and allows you to avoid hazards better.
The most noticeable downside of Valley (at least on the console versions) is the poor graphics. The textures are pretty low-res and there's a large amount of pop-in, especially in the expansive outdoor environments. There are some nice elements and effects to the visuals here and there, but ultimately they're below-par for current-gen consoles. In a game where exploring the environment plays such a large role, it's a bit of an immersion-breaker. Much more impressive is the soundtrack which is varied in its style, switching between upbeat folk music during running sections and eerie ambience when creeping through abandoned buildings and tunnels.
Unfortunately, there are quite a few bugs as well. Sometimes, you'll clip through solid objects or get trapped momentarily in the scenery. Other times, animals will run through walls or get stuck. Occasionally, I also wasn't able to pick up acorns despite standing on top of them. The subtitles don't work either. Whenever an audio log plays, it just reads "Parse error" instead of displaying the text. This can be especially annoying because the music can sometimes drown out the speech, meaning you have to pause the game every time a recording plays to adjust the volume levels. I asked Blue Isle Studios about this problem and they said they'll look into it.
Another issue is that there's no mid-level save system. Whenever you load up the game, it will start you back at the beginning of the level you left off on. All your progress vis-à-vis collectibles is saved, but you'll have to spend several minutes running back to where you last were before you can continue. A checkpoint system would have been a lot more user friendly.
Despite its rough edges (and it does have quite a lot), Valley is still a very worthwhile experience. Leaping around in the L.E.A.F. suit is loads of fun, particularly once you get some of its later upgrades, and the story and setting are intriguing and involving. Most players will probably breeze through it in around six to eight hours, but there's a good deal of extra playtime if you want to find its secrets.
- + Leaping around in the L.E.A.F. suit is thrilling and enjoyable
- + Beautiful soundtrack
- + Interesting story and setting
- - Poor graphics with lots of pop-in
- - Multiple bugs
- - No mid-level save system