Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Valley Review (XONE)

Valley is a first-person platforming game where you explore a gorgeous hidden valley in the Rocky Mountains in search of a mysterious artifact known as the Life Seed, an item that has the power of life and death.  The story is fascinating and surprising and the platforming gameplay is some of the best ever in a FPS game.  With fantastic presentation and great feeling gameplay, Valley is a real treat.  See our full review for more details.

Game Details

  • Publisher: Blue Isle Studios
  • Developer: Blue Isle Studios
  • ESRB Rating: “T” for Teen
  • Genre: FPS Adventure
  • Pros: Nice visuals; great sound; fascinating story; great platforming gameplay
  • Cons:  Life and death mechanic not used much; too many indoor areas
  • MSRP: $20

As mentioned above, the story in Valley is focused on the search for a mysterious item called the Life Seed in a hidden valley high in the Rocky Mountains.  Your character isn’t the first person to search this particular valley, however, as you find an abandoned U.S. government facility where they had already discovered the Life Seed and were trying to turn it into a weapon during the 1940’s. 

The government has long since abandoned the facility, but you find the remnants of their experiments and equipment scattered throughout the valley as well as notes and audio logs from the people working at the site.  The weapon they were trying to build was truly horrifying and one of the researchers was caught while trying to sabotage it.  You take up their mission 70-odd years later to destroy the facility once and for all so the weapon can never fall into the wrong hands.

The most important thing you find early on is a device called L.E.A.F. – Leap Effortlessly through Air Functionality – that lets you run at high speeds and jump over great distances.  It also allows you to control life and death by absorbing or shooting out life energy.  The valley’s health is directly tied to your own, so if you die a lot then the plants and animals in the valley will die off as well.  You can use life energy – acquired either by finding orbs scattered all over the place or by absorbing it directly from plants and animals – to bring dead trees or animals back to life in order to heal the valley.

I don’t really feel like the whole “life and death” aspect was really utilized all that well, however.  You pretty much never have to absorb life energy from plants or animals because the energy orbs are so plentiful, so there is rarely – if ever – an occasion where you have to sacrifice the valley itself for your own sake, which it seems was the intention of the mechanic in the first place.  You do have lots and lots and lots of opportunities to give life, on the other hand, to dead trees and the occasional dead deer, which you need to do to keep the valley healthy (if the valley dies, you die), but the energy is so plentiful that the mechanic loses impact very quickly.   

One gameplay aspect that doesn’t disappoint, however, is the movement and platforming.  Platforming is usually awful in first-person games, but it feels great in Valley.  The L.E.A.F. device lets you run fast and jump over canyons and you have a stunning amount of precision in every movement you make.  You find upgrades that let you double jump, run on water, or use an energy beam to slingshot around on special grapple points, and it all feels absolutely wonderful and gives the game a lot of gameplay variety.  I really can’t stress enough how good the platforming is here. 

For the most part, Valley is a straightforward and linear experience as you’re just trying to get from point A to point B to reach your next objective, but there are a lot of secrets hidden around for you to find.  There are hidden upgrades or item caches in boxes tucked into seemingly every corner, so taking some time to explore is generally worth the time.  More specifically, there is a mysterious pyramid you stumble upon late in the game that requires a large number of special items to open, so being thorough so you have enough items at that point is advised.  Of course, you do have the ability to re-visit areas of the game simply by warping to them via the map screen, so if you need to come back later that is an option.

There is some mild combat once in a while where you have to shoot energy at enemies, but there actually isn’t too much of it.  These sections play out like any FPS game, but they’re easy and you don’t have any variety to your attacks.  There is also a single boss fight towards the end as well.

My only other complaint besides the life and death mechanic being sort of lame is that you spend far too much time inside buildings or underground and not nearly enough time outside in the valley itself.  The game is at its absolute best when you’re running and jumping around outside in the gorgeous valley and you don’t get to see it enough for my tastes.  Don’t get me wrong, the gameplay is the same and still good whether you’re inside or outside, but I’d just rather be running through nature instead of drab gray and brown interiors.

The presentation in Valley is fantastic both in visuals and sound.  The outdoor areas are lush and colorful and the lighting effects – you spend a whole day and night exploring so the time changes – really make everything look great.  Interiors don’t look quite as nice, but special effects for fire and other things are well done.  The sound is also noteworthy thanks to solid voice acting and a great soundtrack that perfectly fits the tone of whatever you're doing. 

All in all, Valley is a great action / exploration game that I can easily recommend.  It only takes a little over 3-hours or so to beat, but there is some replay value as you can go back to previous areas to find more secrets.  At $20 it is also somewhat spendy, but it is a great experience overall that is totally worth it.  Valley is simply great.  Buy it.
Disclosure: A review code was provided by the publisher.