Before I tell you about my experience with Valley, let’s just get one thing straight: this is not a horror game. Just because it was made by Blue Isle Studios, the creators behind Slender: The Arrival, doesn’t mean that this title is about scaring you. Instead it features government projects, dying trees, bouts of joy and periods of tedium.
Playing as a nameless, faceless protagonist, the gender of which you can choose, the game is set on a valley in the Rocky Mountains. You are there to find something called the Lifeseed, which, of course, has the power to cause great earthly destruction.
Arriving on the valley via canoe, you crash near an old military jeep and a chest. The chest contains a L.E.A.F suit, a metal-legged exoskeleton that you climb into without hesitation. A former government initiative used back in WWII, the L.E.A.F suit allows you to run and jump at great lengths across the terrain. Later upgrades include the ability to swing on certain structures and walk on metal sheets.
The L.E.A.F suit also has another function. With it, you can give life to dying landscapes and animals around you, which I had to do on several occasions to ensure my progression was safe.
Because in Valley, when you die, the land around you dies too. It doesn’t revive when you do — the more you die, the more it decays into dust. In an annoying, but brilliant feature, you have to start over from the beginning of the stage if the whole thing dries up. At the same time, you need some of that pristine nature to keep your suit energy levels up. L.E.A.F.’s got to eat, after all.
The concept is brilliant: you have to juggle the fate of the valley, as well as your own. There are plenty of energy orbs throughout the valley, which means the mechanic is somewhat underused — the point would’ve been better made if I had to hurt for it.
The most exciting part of Valley is traversing the tougher areas. Whether you’re swinging over large bits of unkind water to get to the other side of the valley or busting your way through a cracked floor, Valley excels when you’re asked to push the L.E.A.F suit to its limits.
Sometimes though, the game asks you to take a slower approach, and that’s when tedium sets in. One section, set in an atmospheric research facility, renders the the L.E.A.F suit all but pointless, demanding instead that I explore and soak up story details. It was a nice thought, but it didn’t work, since I wasn’t exactly compelled by the plot at this point. Instead, I wanted to get out and jump around like a fool, you know, the whole point of having a super-powered suit to begin with.
The plot didn’t grab my attention. While certain aspects intrigued me, I didn’t feel the need to see what happened at the end of the game. I didn’t feel a connection with the person I was meant to, and one moment I’m sure I was supposed to be disturbed by didn’t phase me.
Valley certainly has its charms. I loved my time with the L.E.A.F suit and I adored the musical score, but the story — and the way it sometimes took me away from what I loved most about the game — was frustrating. It’s worth a peek for its world and superhuman traversal, but it’s never a good look when a narrative-focused game can’t pull off its own story.
Original article first appeared on ZAM on 24/08/2016