The Valley is a first-person game about exploring a valley, funnily enough. Your character -apparently some Indiana Jones wannabe type – sets off in a canoe to find The Lifeseed. It turns out the protagonist isn’t actually good at canoeing and ends up washed on the shores of some mysterious valley, which just so happens to be the home of The Lifeseed. A little further on they find an army proto-type for the LEAF suit. It doesn’t really matter what a LEAF suit actually is because all you need to know is it gives your character the ability to run super fast and jump super far. Nice, nice, nice.
The first thing to say about this game is that it is beautiful. Seriously, seriously beautiful. My screenshots really don’t do it justice. 2016 has been a really good year for breathtaking games, and The Valley could be up there with them. The idyllic setting has dramatic skies, gorgeous mountain ranges, incredible detail. It’s one of those games that I think I will go back to, just to wander around the landscape. Looking at this game is pure joy.
The second thing to say about this game is that the movement is also pure joy. The running and jumping feels so smooth and so powerful. The best moments in this game are when the landscape gives you steep downward slopes and huge gorges to jump. I image this game may appeal to speed-runners for this reason, but everyone should reveal in this movement dream. And given the huge open spaces of The Valley, when you first start playing the game it’s perfect, like a beautiful song you don’t want to end.
Sadly the song does end, and both these great features are taken away, at least to some extend. Quite early on the environment charges from the expansive beauty of the valley, to the dark, metal confines of army built structures. Say good-bye to all that scenic beauty and say hello to boring darkness. And while there are still some platforms to jump between, it doesn’t feel quite as freeing as it did before.
To be fair to the game, I think this sudden shift is purposeful, to create a sharp dichotomy between outside and inside, nature and man. Humankind’s treatment of the environment is a strong theme in the game, so on one hand I understand why the game moves the player away from the beauty and freedom into the army base. However, as a player I felt really disappointed by this. Had I known I wouldn’t have been outside for the whole game, I would have taken more time in early chapters to explore more (luckily though the game offers easy chapter traversing from the get go).
The narrative itself was okay: not dreadful but it didn’t make too much of an impression on me. It relies on reading pieces of paper found lying around, which is a personal pet peeve of mine. Especially since the content of some of these pieces of paper were quite repetitive or didn’t add much to my understanding of the world. However, I did enjoying reading snippets about one worker who really liked making puns. Thankfully, the game doesn’t rely entirely on reading – much of the narrative is told through tapes of a researcher played through the LEAF suit. Why her tapes got into my suit, or why she recorded certain things (keeping this spoiler free) didn’t make much sense to me, but whatever. Listening meant that I could still run about while learning about the valley. Towards the end, certain plot points were kind of rushed over. I felt I never really understand much about the valley’s inhabitants and monsters, and their significance in the army’s research. Perhaps I missed that piece of paper.
Speaking of monsters, the game weirdly shifts into a monster shooter type thing about halfway through. What was worse than this sudden change was that it was mostly underwhelming. In the build up, the valley could seem spooky at times: huge human heads carved from stone and myths of cannibal giants made me a little nervous. But when the monsters appeared looking like sheet ghosts with antlers and flashlights, I was let down. This game suffers somewhat once the man behind the curtain is revealed, so to speak.
The game does have a very interesting system of health – the LEAF suit can hold a certain amount of energy and when it is depleted you die. Except due to the science of the LEAF suit you are brought straight back to life, but at the expense of the surrounding valley. So along with your own health/energy bar, you also have the valley’s health. Your energy is also used for more than just health: bringing plants or animals back to life, starting electrical equipment, fighting enemies. Energy can be replenished by blue orbs found around the valley, or by taking it from plants and animals – which affects the overall health of the valley. In theory this is a really cool system which could force you to balance and manage your power in order to protect the valley. In reality my valley’s health never dipped anywhere lower than two leaves from full health. With lots of upgrades, plenty of blue orbs and little that actually causes you to die, I was left feeling this system didn’t really play much of a part in my game. Which is a shame, because I think it could have given a new layer to the game, and would have really helped emphasis the themes.
Overall I really liked this game. I had a lot of fun playing it, especially in the outdoor portions and did I mention it looked pretty as? I think I will probably go back and re-play some sections of it too – the way it felt running around is too good not to. It’s not a perfect game, and it won’t be my game of the year, but at £15 it’s worth a definitely worth a shot.