We had a chance to play through the latest from Blue Isle Studios on the Xbox One. Find out what we thought about the first person action/exploration adventure game in our Valley review, from the studio who brought us Slender: The Arrival. Take a look at the announcement trailer before we get started if you haven’t yet heard of the game.
In Valley, you play as an archaeologist who heads out to the Canadian Rockies in search of a hidden valley, dubbed Area 634 by the military, which contains the mystic Lifeseed. According to legend, the relic is a bringer of death on a global scale. Soon after you arrive in the valley, you find a powerful L.E.A.F. suit (Leap Effortlessly through Air Functionality), an exoskeleton that grants the wearer incredible speed, agility and strength. Once you don the suit, you also realize that it has the power to control both life and death through the use of Amrita energy.
As you progress through the story, you find that the suit requires energy for certain functionality, and while you can harness the required Amrita energy from trees and animals in the valley, doing so enough times will cause the valley to die. Throughout your journey, you are treated to narration from Virginia King — a scientist working in the area — and Andrew Fisher — a researcher who used to work in the valley during a previous military operation to find the Lifeseed. The clues you find are given through this dialogue and notes that you find along the way as you not only try to find the Lifeseed and unlock the secrets of the valley, but also try to figure out what happened during the military operation.
The story plays out nicely and has some interesting lore attached to it, although it would have been nice to have a journal of some sort so that you can go back and re-listen to or re-read some of the notes that you find scattered about over the course of the game. For the most part, the story is a pretty straightforward clue finding mission, and progresses well. It isn’t all soothing exploration though, as you will run across friendly daemons and non-friendly Amrita Swarms and other enemies that require shooting with energy to either placate or destroy them.
From the moment you don the L.E.A.F. suit in Valley, you must balance your energy use and the energy in the valley to avoid killing it. For the most part, this isn’t as difficult as it sounds as there are plenty of energy orbs scattered about, but later on you will need to actively restore trees and animals back to life in order to help the valley stay alive. The L.E.A.F. suit is of course the main gameplay mechanic, and as you progress and find upgrades you’ll be able to run faster, jump higher, swing from hooks, walk on metal walls, and more. Should you die, the L.E.A.F. suit will resurrect you by using nearby energy from the valley, but this will be at the expense of the valley and it will die a little.
There are various doors that you will have to open throughout the game as well, and some require giving energy to a number of specific trees nearby or by cashing in acorns that you find along the way. You’ll find energy in a number of places, including crates which will also give you suit upgrades, acorns, and medallions. Acorns can also be gathered from under trees, and dead trees that you give life back to will sometimes drop acorns as well. Why acorns, I couldn’t tell you — even after the game completion there really was no explanation as to why. The medallions you collect throughout the game are used to open up a Sussurian Pyramid which is a sort of side-quest for the game.
The game played very smoothly on the Xbox One. Running down a hill only to jump and sail through the air over a large chasm or body of water felt almost exhilarating, while having the control to bring dead animals back to life provided a pleasing feeling — giving the game an overall soothing and intriguing feel. There was also some variation in each area, some requiring a bit more puzzle solving and thinking to get through, with others mimicking endless runner type scenarios.
The controls scheme is pretty simple as well. The left trigger causes you to run, while the right trigger gives life back to trees and animals. You’ll also use the right trigger to shoot energy at enemies as mentioned above. The right bumper will take life from trees, animals, and storage containers. The left thumbstick is used for movement, and the right for looking around. Finally, the A button is your jump button, and Y is used to interact with various items throughout the game.
The first playthrough of the game took just over 5 hours, and I’m looking forward to going back and trying to find the rest of the medallions to unlock the rest of the Sussurian Pyramid.
The graphics are fairly well done as well, and it’s mostly scenic. Don’t expect it all to be beautiful scenery though as you enter the dark, stark contrast of the man made Soma and Astra Facilities at various points throughout the game. In fact, I found that the inside areas were too dark in some places, but it didn’t affect gameplay too much as these areas were usually rather small areas that were quickly left behind. The metal and stone interiors offered a stark contrast to the outside valley areas. As for the outside world, it was definitely enjoyable both during the day and night, and the atmosphere of a hidden valley was translated well through the art and graphic direction.
The game interface is pretty low key and doesn’t detract from the experience. The top left of your screen shows the remaining energy left in the valley, your energy levels, and the number of acorns and medallions you currently have. The top center has a navigation bar and finally the top right side displays your current objective.
I was particularly a fan of the style of the loading screen graphics, not only for the tidbits of information they offered but the sketchbook style drawings they included as well.
Featuring a soundtrack by Aakaash Rao of Note by Note Studios, the music and score is bang on and ramps up when it needs to. When in the more beautiful areas of the valley, the music is soothing in most places, getting more frantic when enemies are near, but for the most part it really lends to the soothing exploratory feeling of the game. To say the soundtrack is stellar feels like an understatement. You can listen to it below or hit it up on Google Play Music.
The sound effects are great as well, and the combination of sound effects, music, and graphics make for a truly immersive experience.
Valley is one of the few games in a long time that I’ve wanted to — and looked forward to — finishing as soon as I could. The graphics, story, and sound all work together well to provide a fairly immersive — if short — experience.