In times of mass conflict, nations turn to technology for innovation in the hopes gaining an upper hand on the enemy. With the setting of World War II as a backdrop, Slender developer Blue Isle Studios’ newest title takes us to the Rocky Mountains to uncover the secrets of a new ultimate weapon.
Blue Isle has completely changed tack here, trading the horror of Slender for a more graphically diverse and narrative-driven type of game. In Valley, you play as an archaeologist in the mid to late-1940s who’s become obsessed in finding the Lifeseed – a mythical object said to rejuvenate the landscape of entire countries or destroy them. While exploring the beautiful Rocky Mountains, our adventurer comes across an abandoned piece of tech, called a L.E.A.F suit, from a company known as Pendulum, who took control of the valley a few years beforehand. Everything changes after encountering this military-grade exoskeleton, as the suit can give life or take it from plants, animals and bound across great distances with ease.
The protagonist’s dialogue echoes through a text-based format, filled with rhetorical questions and subconscious conclusions about the conspiracy of the Lifeseed and Pendulum. This is one of the positive aspects about Valley, as these lingering sentences are well-complemented by audio logs from different stakeholders. When the true nature behind the L.E.A.F suit was revealed, Valley raised questions that certainly piqued my interest. From a lead technician’s pursuit to perfection to the inquisitive concerns of a female employee, these snippets of emotion keep the plot chugging along nicely, where fractures within Pendulum start to appear.
The graphics are beautiful, at times, with several of Pendulum’s research facilities situated within the valley itself. Coupled with a soothing soundtrack and eye-catching views of sunsets and mountain ranges, Valley is a pleasure to play. The playful ambience of birds chirping, leaves rustling in the wind and exhilarating speed from the L.E.A.F suit allows for some peaceful progression. Despite a picturesque draw distance, seeing Valley’s points of interest up close is quite polarising – I’m talking pixelation as well as jagged and unrealistic edges in boulders, hills and other landmarks; it’s like playing through the eyes of someone who’s far-sighted.
The valley has several trials waiting for you in order to progress. From activating ancient towers to activating generators with the L.E.A.F suit’s beam ability, they aren’t difficult by any means; in the face of Valley’s vast scenery, I was rarely left wondering where to go next.
When Valley’s familiar puzzles start to linger like a bad smell, along came a nice, meaty suit upgrade to fix my problems. These game changers introduce new gameplay concepts at just the right moments and allows players the traverse the environments of the valley to great effect. Along with extended hydraulics for a greater vertical jump and the ability to run along walls, my favourite suit enhancement became the ‘swing blade’ – used to catapult myself higher and further thanks to installations by past Pendulum scouting teams.
This upgrade progression may be rewarding but it doesn’t stay with the entirety of the game. The latter half of Valley is plagued by sheer lack of captivating activity, with suit upgrades drying up and long sections of gameplay occurring with no stressful moments and few hostile encounters. For instance, acquiring an upgrade allowing me to finally run on water throws up lots of perks one would assume – like a quick training tutorial for a melee attack or quick-fire sidearm. But, instead, this particular section is filled with flat, uninteresting sections of sprinting between small islands devoid of activity.
There’s also a bit of collecting at play in Valley. Throughout the game, players will stumble across sealed magical doors that can only be opened by the power of special golden acorns. These little guys can be found by giving life to dead trees or by opening Pendulum-labelled crates scattered throughout the world, where each subsequent door needs a larger number of acorns to unlock. Some ‘Acorn Doors’ are tied to Valley’s plot and some are hidden from sight but the rewards beyond the latter were rather lacklustre, for my taste.
Valley has lots of notes – small journal excerpts lying around near almost every point of interest in the game. From civilian outposts, to training camps, to the large Pendulum research facilities, they help connect the dots between certain characters and provide excellent plot filler from the perspectives of L.E.A.F suit pilots – often referred to as Pathfinders.
I didn’t mind being fed more notes left behind by main characters and everyday workers but my issue is with the Medallions I kept finding. There were almost 50 of these objects in my possession upon Valley’s conclusion and I was never directed as to where they could be used, whether through story notes or a bright marker within the world or on my compass. I don’t feel cheated but it is a shame, considering their eventual cultural significance within the game.
For the amount of content on offer, Valley almost runs out of steam. Overall, its 10-hour story is a stimulating adventure despite its final hours being deceptively long. Blue Isle Studios have created a game that delves into a different side of historical fiction, with the ingenious and believable implementation of the L.E.A.F suit ultimately proving its worth as a powerful weapon as well as a highly stimulating mode of travel. There are small things here and there that still needed work but Valley has a worthwhile tale that sparked my sense of adventure and curiosity.
Eerie and Naturally Engaging
Valley may be a little light on gameplay, but the story anchors the game for its entirety.