Welcome to the world of Valley, a small little game that really makes you think. You are an archaeologist that sets out on an expedition for the Lifeseed, an ancient artifact that has the power to shatter the whole world into fragments. When you stumble into the Canadian portion of the Rocky Mountains, you find a World War 2 era research facility that was working to weaponize the Lifeseed. You use a L.E.A.F. (Leap Effortlessly through Air Functionality) suit to explore the valley and uncover what was going on in the Pendulum facilities.
Normally, this isn’t my type of game, and I absolutely hate games that are told by voiceovers. So when I say that I actually liked this game, know that I mean it as a high honor. The game isn’t the prettiest ever created, and that could be attributed slightly to it running off of Unity, but it has a compelling story that made me truly care for the characters. As an example, the story is told by Virginia King, an anthropologist that was brought in to study the ancient civilization that had worshipped the Lifeseed, through the audio logs she and her adversary left behind. The audio logs aren’t hidden around the map, but rather given straight to you and loaded whenever the proper point is reached, preventing any confusion to the chronology of events as you travel through the game world.
These audio logs are really interesting and the dialogue is superbly written. The characters have clearly defined motives, which you can discern with just the occasional narration. This captures the story perfectly and allows for an organic experience that doesn’t feel like it’s played by cardboard cutouts.
Unfortunately, the written articles you find around the world are a little less genuine and tend to repeat lines that you were told at the beginning of the game. This was a little annoying as I thought I might get rewarded with an expositional revelation, but instead get reminded that there were Mesoamerican tribes that built colossal statues. It really killed the sense of mystery when the story tapers off and it doesn’t give all the pieces, or enough pieces for me to make connections. It really feels like the developers had the amazing track of a story, figured out the medium for telling the story, and then couldn’t quite stick the landing. I just wish there was a finality to it all, and wouldn’t have even minded if it came out as a newspaper article at the end of the credits.
Aside from my gripes to the story, the game has an interactiveness that sets it apart from the “walking-simulator” category. It has a nice momentum system that allows for a decent amount of puzzle solving as you try to traverse the rocky and decrepit landscape of The Valley. You get upgrades for your L.E.A.F. suit that allow you to traverse throughout the map, but they come in a linear fashion and there isn’t much of a reason to go exploring the linear world of Valley. The upgrades come in when they are needed and are used in simple fashion afterwards, and that shows the indecisiveness of this game.
At one point it’s solely about getting the story across and having a nice time in conveying said message, but then it soon swaps into you having to fight off Amarite Swarms that will require some of your energy, a really trivial task that quickly loses its edge. Blue Isle Studios should have decided to either go solely story with explorative function, or solely gameplay with occasional story plugged in as you go about your time fighting off the creatures throughout the Valley. It’s why story rich games like Valley need to pick a side, because the gameplay can make the story sluggish and perforated, but the story can take away from the gameplay and make it seem like a long loading time to get to the next audio log.
That being said, this game is not a long story by any account. It took me less than three hours to complete the whole story and I was left a little less than fully satisfied. I was content with the story, but I wanted that final capstone that locks it all into place and leaves me feeling like I should mourn the end of a tale. This game leaves it off like you’re going to have dinner dates later on, but end up with both of you being too busy for another soirée. And for the price of the game, I just wish it gave that payoff. Without it, Valley feels like it’s skimping out and leaving you to pay the check.
In the end, Valley is a game for a specific crowd. It’s for the people who want a story and want to scour every grimy corner of the game in order to squeeze that last ounce of story out. It has an exceptional story, but it definitely is a dessert that doesn’t last long enough, and leaves you wanting just that final taste that will leave you with a full stomach and a happier mood. The structure is indecisive, but it does both parts well enough to not be too detrimental to the others. The writing for the notes could use a bit of work, and the explanation of the game world is in need of expanding.
Valley is however a good game for those who want a casual story experience, if they don’t mind the price tag.