Every so often you get a game or an experience that pulls on your memory strings. The torque of that pull may determine whether you see that experience as an evolution, an homage, or a rip-off.
Valley is First-Person perspective game nestled somewhere in between the first two. It has its own strategy but builds on the past to catapult itself into a worthy experience.
The story as understood takes place on a secluded location somewhere in the Rocky Mountains, where the main character in the game (whose gender can be chosen at the onset) accidentally stumbles onto a covert World War II era project.
For the main character, this was supposed to be a relic hunt for something called the LifeSeed– a mythological artifact that has been rumored to have the power to destroy planets. Instead the susequent events unfold a story of a dark military operation and the individuals responsible for unleashing its effects on the immediate landscape.
Extensive details emerge through scattered audio messages, but the crux of the game’s experience falls on the one left over piece of equipment known as the L.E.A.F. (Leap Effortlessly through Air Functionality) suit. Not the smoothest acronym, but you get the idea. The history told is that of a group of suit operators of the L.E.A.F. suits, known as Pathfinders who are working in conjunction with archeologists and scientists to discover the uses for the LifeSeed energy.
The main point of the L.E.A.F. suit really amounts to a limb exoskeletal structure which allows the player to leap further, run faster and tether themselves to certain heightened points for added exploration and traversion. If you’ve played Bioshock Infinite you’ll remember that last part of the mechanic.
In fact, Valley seems to really pull from the steam-punk aesthetic that the Bioshock series touched on. It’s a genre that doesn’t get as much shine in gaming, but when it does it’s a welcome shift from the norm.
Where Valley mixes its twist on the suit’s abilities with the story and its background is where things get interesting. So back to the Lifeseed. It’s draw for those who sought it seemed to have been its ability to give and take life, a dangerous weapon to be sure.
The element of manipulating life and death is also built into the suit. The mechanic is rather simple but it ties in to how you’ll micro-manage your own survival. Water in the world is your foe, falling into it will push you to the great beyond, but you will be recycled back into the land of the living at the cost of nature’s own health (more on that in a bit).
Running, double jumping, extinguishing foes, all of it will require energy. This energy can only be replaced by either collecting energy orbs, which are often found in the world or gathered after defeating enemies, or through collecting tanks.
It’s a balancing act between staying alive and keeping the environment healthy. Explained more simply, the suit allows you to gather life-force from the environment. Trees, vines, animals are all fair game, but in a function of equivalent exchange each gain of life or energy, diminishes the environment’s chances of survival. And of course once the environment goes…game over.
To this point you’ve managed the basics, the idea now is to head through this world and discover what really happened here.
Light puzzles and upgrades can be found throughout the world’s 9 areas. In terms of upgrades, you’ll mostly find expansions to the amount of energy levels stored in the suit as well as a few core upgrades involving the grappling ability, a double-jump feature as well as water running.
Along your way you’ll encounter enemies, which tend to stand as the weaker points of the experience. For the most part they’re these floating amoebous creatures known as Amrita Swarms who will hurl projectiles at you. Firing energy at these creatures will not destroy them but pacify them to float in the air as blue energy sources at which point they’ll leave you alone.
It’s also worth pointing out that you can pull energy from these creatures but once depleted of energy, expect them to revert back to hostile mode. There are variations of these creatures around the world, but for the most part they’re not too much of a hassle.
Valley isn’t a typical shooter per say, it doesn’t showcase run-and-gun as its primary feature. The story, the exploration and the environment are more of a focal point. So it’d be a mistake to think you’re going into a strict FPS experience with this game.
By most gaming standards, Valley is a short game. Eight to ten hours, maybe a bit more if you’re being completely thorough. But within that span it packs a good punch in that short time that most Triple-A titles lack in their bloated 40-50 hour time spans. It feels like a good introduction to a world.
There are elements that will leave you wanting. A more varied set of enemies would be nice (maybe adding a few more boss encounters). A pace more consistent with the highlighted features of the suit would be great. The moments that stick to memory about Valley are those moments zooming on high powered tracks, floating through vast skies and landing with the force of nature at your back. All of it make Valley a ride worth taking despite a few bumps here and there.