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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (381)

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Star Trek: Bridge Crew 3.5/5
King's Quest: The Compl... 3/5
Strange Brigade 4/5
Metro Exodus 3.5/5
Evoland Legendary Editi... 4.5/5
Evoland 2 4.5/5
Burokku Girls 2/5
Finding Paradise 4.5/5
To the Moon 4/5
Marvel: Ultimate Allian... 2.5/5
Valley 4/5
Satellite Reign 3/5
The Fall of Gods 3.5/5
Even the Ocean 3.5/5
Asterix & Obelix XXL 2:... 3/5
Valkyria Chronicles 4 5/5
Ninja Gaiden ( Shadow W... 1/5
Super Mario Land 2.5/5
The Messenger 3.5/5
Super Mario Land 2: 6 G... 2/5
Super Mario Maker 2 3/5
Pillars of Eternity II:... 4/5
Sundered 3/5
Iconoclasts 3/5
Divinity: Original Sin 2 4.5/5

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Valley   PC (Steam) 

A Beautiful Parable    4/5 stars

“Valley” is the first solo endeavor by Canadian Indie developer, Blue Isle Studios, who had previously collaborated on a ‘Slender Man’ Horror game with Parsec Productions, and has subsequently released a Fantasy Sandbox game in “Citadel: Forged with Fire” and a Quidditch rip-off in “Broomstick League.” Having no interest in Slender Man or Horror in general, I had never heard of Blue Isle before, and “Valley” was anywhere but on my radar. However, thanks to the Steam Discovery Queue, I chanced to have this game placed in front of me, and liked what I saw enough to give it a shot. Chalk up one point for the Steam Discovery Queue!

Presentation
“Valley” is an independently developed 3D polygonal game assembled in the Unity Engine. Unity is a very hit-and-miss foundation upon which to build a game, but fortunately, Blue Isle managed to land far more hits with “Valley” than misses. The game features huge, open environments, all of which look incredibly good, with lots of attention to detail, high quality textures and smooth polygons, and extremely talented use of 3D space. There are very few living things in “Valley,” and, sadly, the character models and animations for animals are the lowest point in the game’s visual presentation, with low-polygon counts and dumb scripting that causes them to run into cliff faces. During the postgame, when the player is allowed to freely run around looking for secrets, other cracks start to appear in “Valley’s” immaculate façade as well, with insufficient use of blocking volumes to keep players from going where they shouldn’t and seeing through the game world’s geometry.

Audio in “Valley” is spectacular, with excellent mood-enhancing use of music and ambient sounds. The soundtrack is one of the better efforts I’ve heard in any game, let alone an Indie game, lately. There are very few lines of dialog in the game, but they are fully voiced by a competent crew of unknowns.

Technically, “Valley” is rock solid. It supports Xinput natively, and is one of the few first-person games I’ve played in the last decade that felt good with a generic Xinput controller. There are no bugs to speak of (aside from the previously mentioned lack of blocking volumes to hem-in postgame explorers), and the game never crashed, though it does, thanks to the Unity Engine, have some framerate and performance issues that can be remedied by fiddling with the settings.

Story
Our anonymous hero/heroine is a young, budding archaeologist with an obsessive interest in a mythological object known as the Life Seed. Following their investigative leads, our protagonist heads to a remote valley in the Rocky Mountains in order to search for the ruins of an ancient American civilization that worshipped the Life Seed. Of course, not only does our protagonist find this lost civilization, but discovers that the U.S. military had discovered it in the 1940s, and had setup a secret research facility to explore the titular valley’s mysterious energies.

What follows is an engagingly-written, thought-provoking, and quite original tale addressing concepts such as environmentalism, life after death, and weapons of mass destruction. None of these themes come across as heavy-handed or rehashed, but have received a fresh spin that makes the whole narrative gel into an eminently enjoyable experience.

“Valley” is a bit on the short side, though, clocking in at roughly 10 hours to see the ending and another 5 hours or so to scour the game with a guide in search of secrets. The pacing is quite good, though, and nothing in the plot ever feels overly rushed or overly drawn-out.

Gameplay
“Valley” clearly takes inspiration from many other games that came before it, with obvious inspiration coming from diverse IPs such as ‘BioShock,’ ‘Portal,’ and ‘Sonic the Hedgehog.’ Ultimately, though, “Valley” feels unique enough to be its own thing. “Valley” is, to compartmentalize it, a first-person Adventure game with Walking Simulator vibes, blended together with the navigation of first-person puzzles and platforming, and some very (very) light shooting.

At the start of the game, our protagonist acquires a piece of sci-fi 1940s technology called the L.E.A.F. suit, which is, essentially, a lower-body exoskeleton that allows the wearer to run really fast, leap great distances, and fall from great heights, regardless of their basic physical capabilities outside the suit. The L.E.A.F. suit also employs a mysterious, metaphysical component called the God Hand, which allows the wearer to extract or deposit ‘life energy’ as they so choose. This energy serves as the player’s primary resource throughout the game, with their energy meter used to power various L.E.A.F. suit add-ons (like a double jump and grappling hook), launch projectiles at the game’s relatively small number of hostiles, and take hits from those same hostiles.

The way “Valley” treats life and dead is singularly unique in the world of videogaming. While the player’s energy acts as both a resource and a health meter, falling into bottomless pits or into water (the L.E.A.F. suit is primarily made of metal, so it sinks) causes instantaneous death. However, the L.E.A.F. suit also features a quantum metaphysical method of avoiding death, which treats the protagonist as though they had never died, but at the expense of nearby flora and fauna. The overall health of the titular valley itself is, therefore, also a resource for the player to keep an eye on, represented by a green, multi-fronded leaf, which turns incrementally gray each time the player dies. Reviving damaged flora and fauna using the God Hand, conversely, restores green segments to this leaf meter. I don’t know what happens if the entire valley dies (there’s an achievement for completing the game without ever having that happen, and 99% of players who completed the game did so without killing the valley), but it’s got to be bad.

The vast majority of the gameplay in “Valley,” though, consists of first-person exploration with an even mix of parkour and platforming. Most puzzles and obstacles in the game can be overcome by running down a slope, building up a head of momentum, and leaping gloriously through the air. There is, of course, plenty of variety to keep this one concept from getting stale, with plenty of trespassing in abandoned facilities through ductwork and delving into ancient ruins and whatnot. For those who insist on being “challenged,” “Valley” offers nothing, with a shallow learning curve and little-to-nothing in the way of manual difficulty. Instead, it is a moody, atmospheric game that begs to be “experienced” rather than “beaten.”

There are, as previously mentioned, a significant amount of hidden secrets scattered throughout the game that provide some engagement and challenge beyond the core experience. The main difficulty with finding all the secrets, though, is the fact that the game has no map and gives only vague hints about how many hidden things are in each previously-cleared region. These hidden goodies are all various L.E.A.F. suit upgrades, from energy capacitors to special (non-essential) upgrades that remove the energy cost of using certain skills.

Overall
“Valley” is, easily, one of the better Indie games I’ve played lately. With its excellent fusion of narrative and gameplay, not to mention its gorgeous presentation, it’s more of an experience than a mere game. Unfortunately, the short length and the fact that the gameplay doesn’t really have a chance to fully explore its own concepts before it’s all over prevents Blue Isle’s first solo outing from scoring higher. Still, it’s a unique experience that I highly recommend to everyone.

Presentation: 4.5/5
Story: 4/5
Gameplay: 4/5
Overall (not an average): 4/5

 

 


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