Valley Review: Faster, Stronger
Kalvin Martinez / Nov 9th, 2016 No Comments
Bioshock left a huge mark on first-person games. It transformed storytelling in the genre, and many games have tried to replicate this model. Most — excluding Bioshock Infinite — have been unsuccessful. Balancing aesthetic, story and gameplay has always been a tightrope walk.
Valley manages to walk the line successfully, resulting in one of the best first-person narratives since the Bioshock series. While Valley keeps its narrative at the forefront, it never forgets to make gameplay fun and engaging.
Son of the Nuclear A-Bomb
In Valley, you’re a graduate student taking your summer to go on adventure. While some may go check out the sights of a foreign country, you’re determined to prove the existence of a mythical object in the Canadian Rockies.
The trip doesn’t go as expected, and you end up crashed upon the shore in a desolate cave with ominous cave paintings. Even though your best laid plans are dashed, it turns out to be serendipitous because you end up emerging from the cave into a majestic valley with lush, verdant greenery. Could this be where the “Lifeseed” resides?
After exploring the valley a bit, you happen upon a crashed WWII supply truck and a large supply crate. Inside the crate is the experimental L.E.A.F. Suit, which grants you tremendous power. This discovery changes your entire adventure.
As you explore the valley, you come across glowing blue orbs and odd green creatures called daemons. With the L.E.A.F. Suit, you also discover audio tapes from the people behind the technology and what they were doing in the valley. It turns out the valley was the site for an experimental WWII weapons project, but what did this project have to do with the “Lifeseed” and the mysterious orbs around the valley?
The narrative in Valley is told through different audio tapes you discover as you explore the valley. As you get deeper into the valley, you get closer to the truth of what happened all those years ago after the war broke out in Europe.
The story is told through two main perspectives: Virginia King and Andrew Fisher. Fisher and King are two diametrically opposed sides with differing views on how to treat the valley. Both perspectives help fill in the gaps on what actually happened to the valley in the years between then and now. These dueling voices keep you guessing at what the truth is.
Voice logs work exceptionally well here because the momentum of the gameplay is never broken up by narrative. Everything keeps moving forward as the story is told at a good clip. The pacing is extremely important because story bits never reveal too much ahead of time. As you make discoveries within the valley, the audio logs help elaborate and deepen your understanding. You are given enough information to start to sort of suss out what went down and what the valley is. That is until the final moments of the game, when huge revelations come quickly and completely change what you thought you knew.
Valley’s gameplay revolves entirely around the wonders of the L.E.A.F. Suit found at the beginning of the game. Thanks to the suit, you are given remarkable abilities, such as the ability to run extremely fast and leap high into the air. Both running and jumping work in tandem, so the more momentum you build up, the faster you run and higher you can jump.
The level design is set up to allow you to perform some rather incredible feats of speed and acrobatics. Running and jumping beyond normal human abilities is one of the purest joys of the game.
The L.E.A.F. Suit is a remarkable invention. Besides augmenting your speed and vertical leap, you gain additional upgrades for the suit as you explore the valley. All of these upgrades continue to reinforce the core momentum-based gameplay, like the grappling hook upgrade that lets you swing from special junction points to gain additional hang time in the air and reach new platforms.
Other upgrades are more fun. For example, you can gain the ability to stick to magnetic walls and run across water. The vast array of abilities the suit gives you is awe inspiring.
As crazy as it is to run across water, the most successful gameplay moments in the game come from an upgrade that allows you to run extremely fast across magnetic railings. As fast as the L.E.A.F. Suit makes you, the upgrade turns you into a blur. These tracks have some of the best level design in the game as well. There are a ton of sharp, neck-breaking turns and tricky jumps. The hang time you get from jumping at these speeds is dazzling.
This is also when the music and gameplay work together in a beautiful way. Playing the game for these moments alone are worth it.
All of this is without mentioning the whole controlling life and death aspect of the L.E.A.F. Suit. Perhaps most spectacularly with the suit, you have the power to take life and give it back. In a dramatic scene early on in the game, you end up learning your control over life and death with a dead deer that you miraculously bring back to life.
It is a shocking act at first, but by playing the game, it becomes second nature to determine the fate of living objects around you. This is partly because every time you die, you’re restored to a reality where you didn’t die, usually the point before you beefed it. That is one of the tremendous powers of the L.E.A.F. Suit.
Unfortunately, resurrection comes at a price. The energy needed to restore your life draws from the valley around you, resulting in a starker, more desolate valley the more you die. To pay back what you took, you’ll need to restore life, mainly to trees. It is a cool mechanic that has actual consequences for your own inadequacies besides losing game progress.
Later in the game, the same energy you use to restore life is used to fight clusters of amrita swarms. Further into the game, these become malevolent spirits that are even more aggressive and harder to purify. This combat element of the game is a bit wonky and often feels incongruous to what makes the game engaging. It doesn’t ruin the experience, but the lack of enemy diversity results in more nuisances than actual antagonists.
Valley is full of triumphant moments in both storytelling and gameplay. The game never loses momentum, continually building until its climatic conclusion. There are times when the game will stun you with wonder.
Valley was reviewed on PlayStation 4 using a code for the game provided by the developer.
tags: Blue Isle Studios , ps4 review , review , Valley , valley review