Valley is the most recent game from Blue Isle Studios. To be honest, when I saw the store entry for this game, I felt like I had to play it. I read the game’s description and was instantly intrigued. I mean, who wouldn’t think “…utilizing the power to control life and death…” sounds awesome? In fact, that was the second thing that really drew me to the game. The first had to be the idea of “…using the power of the L.E.A.F. suit…”, which is an exoskeleton that allows normal people to perform inhuman feats of agility. Unfortunately, I was ultimately let down by these claims as I attempt to explain why I have such a love/hate relationship with Valley.
Let’s start with the ‘love’ part. First off, the game world looks great and is usually fun to run around. With this, Blue Isle Studios did a decent job of using songs that fit the feeling of the area the player is currently exploring. While exploring, players will be able to run at high speeds (that get higher when going downhill), jump high in the air, and even control the life of trees and animals. The L.E.A.F. suit is awesome in concept and makes for some rather thrilling moments. All of these elements, the visuals, soundtrack, and gameplay, are tied together nicely into a story that I would argue was fairly interesting.
The problem is that for each of those things I ‘love’, there’s an equal/greater aspect that I ‘hate’. To start, the world looks great while leaving a bit to be desired when eagle-eyed players start to look at the finer details of the game. For instance, there are vines in the game, which is all well and good. The problem is that, instead of being relaxed and hanging, these vines are very straight, static, and can be passed through. For me, these vines kept taking me out of the environment because they just weren’t nice to look at. Moving on to sound, I think players will take issue with how little dialogue is actually in the game. Sure, there are countless audio logs from people that aren’t around to speak their lines to you, but this is simply not the same. Having literally everything told to the player through audio logs is simply a bad way to tell a story and, while enforcing the feeling of loneliness, this method failed to fully capture my attention since I only knew characters through a small picture of them and their various logs. This is made into a further issue when players realize just how few people actually left any audio logs.
For every other character in the game, players get notes. These notes are found everywhere and fail on several levels. While at first they provided helpful information and backstory, they quickly began to waste time by telling me about things like a character getting in trouble for building an ice rink. This character is not really important at all and the few notes involving them feel pointless. Not only do notes waste time, they also repeat themselves (and audio logs) a lot. If you’ve read a note that tells you ‘Person A dislikes Person B’, then expect to read another note that doesn’t expand on this but only repeats the same point. There are far too many notes with information that did not manage to build on the lore or any individual character in any meaningful way.
I said before that the game fun to explore and that the L.E.A.F. suit is awesome in concept. While the game manages to be fun while everything is working properly, I found myself frustrated at how many times my character got stuck on a tire on the ground or didn’t grapple across a gap because my reticle wasn’t quite close enough, so I wasted some energy (and died) instead. This isn’t made better when I try to understand how I can control life and death. Spoiler alert, you can bring trees and animals back to life (or kill them) if you don’t want the whole valley to die. Simply put, the gameplay needs a bit of polish so it works more consistently in the world. I may have even overlooked these flaws if there were more to do in the game. But unfortunately running, jumping, and shooting energy is nearly all of the gameplay and it isn’t used in creative enough ways to keep it fun all the way through the story.
Speaking of the story, it simply is too great for our protagonist. What I mean is that without the L.E.A.F. suit, our character would be helpless and could not do any of the things they can in the game. Before any one says that that’s okay because it’s been done in the past, I have to say that similar characters (that are actually good) always have some sort of personality or wit or anything. Our character in Valley simply goes from place to place (albeit in fashion and grace due to the L.E.A.F. suit), using audio logs and notes to basically tell them what to do and where to go. The story itself isn’t so bad, but it’s the lame character that made it so hard for me to get into the game.
In closing I’d like to say, don’t expect much from Valley. There is nothing inherently broken in the game, but there is plenty that could be fixed. Valley is fun (at times), but is simply not polished enough to maintain consistent amounts of said fun.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox One code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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