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Valley

Score: 88%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Blue Isle Studios
Developer: Blue Isle Studios
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Platformer/ Action/ Platformer (3D)

Graphics & Sound:

Valley invites us to take a break from open worlds and try out 3D platforming, with a twist. To compare this to the typical platforming title doesnít at all do Valley justice. The concept here is king, and storytelling is the primary focus. To that end, youíre dropped into a lush world that you can explore, filled with magic, mystery, and clues left behind in the form of written notes and audio diaries. The retro setting and the dark, moody style is reminiscent of beloved games like Bioshock and Fallout without seeming at all like a copycat.

The sound and music design deserves special mention. Not only does the soundtrack to Valley perfectly match your surroundings, it ebbs and flows throughout the game in response to your movement. Action sequences will trigger more rousing music, such as battles, but there are also segments of the game where youíre simply exercising your powers. The game constantly uses audio to draw your focus to strange and wonderful aspects of your surroundings. As just one example, the booming bass sound that you hear when hitting the ground after a massive leap never gets old.


Gameplay:

While the setting of Valley begs comparison to other games that explore a retro setting, it actually takes place in modern times. You play as an explorer who lands in strange territory while chasing down what amounts to a myth. Almost immediately, you discover a piece of equipment that gives you the ability to run at a superhuman speed, also granting you the power to give or take life. Now wait a minute, right? One power sounds like standard mechsuit stuff, while the other sounds like pure magic. If it seems a bit jarring, thatís kind of the point. Itís a clear case of the military attempting to harness powers they donít fully understand.

The story progression uncovers the details behind the creation of the magical supersuit, through notes and audio diaries left behind. Balance of power is the key to fully mastering the gameís mechanics, in keeping with the suitís ability to animate dead things and draw magical energy out of the valley itself. If youíre wondering why youíd give up precious energy to restore objects, itís tied to your own ability to reanimate. You never actually die in Valley, you just draw a bit of health from your surroundings and keep going. If you think this sounds incredible, youíll love the host of other abilities added to the suit as you gather upgrades. Itís all in service to unraveling the gameís secrets and uncovering the story behind the valley.


Difficulty:

Thereís a bit of Portal in the way that Valley gradually teaches players how to handle the suit and its powers. In the beginning, you only have the ability to run fast, which doesnít allow for very sophisticated puzzles. Running and jumping is Platforming 101, and the controls are solid, so the early stages of Valley will feel familiar and good. Using the suitís energy exchange power doesnít play a big role in puzzles at first, it just serves as an insurance policy for when you fall into water or off a cliff.

Later levels introduce new abilities, and the puzzles become more complex. Enemies go from nonexistent to plentiful and active, and the areas you explore get bigger. The difficulty ramps up so slowly that youíre barely aware of it, until you step back later in the game and realize youíre in God Mode compared to the puny running and jumping you had at your disposal early on. The puzzles amount mostly to opening doors, so thereís nothing to prevent you from enjoying the story and all the eye candy.


Game Mechanics:

Controls in Valley are kept simple enough, with running mapped to a trigger button while jumping and actions live on the face buttons. The energy exchange happens with an alternate trigger and shoulder button, and youíll be doing this often, so even though it doesnít seem intuitive at first, it becomes second nature. Save points arenít clearly defined, but the game does autosave to prevent you from losing too much progress.

We found Valley to be a surprisingly great experience, something we came to without much more than the expectation of a good 3D action game. Thereís actually a ton of depth and atmosphere here that takes the forefront, making up for what isnít actually an action-packed game. Whether you rush through or take your time to explore and find every hidden object and read all the story notes, Valley offers a unique style of play that youíll remember long after you see the final credits roll.


-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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