Valley Review – Quantum Leap

Cool runnings!

01

Developer: Blue Isle Studios
Publisher: Blue Isle Studios
Format: PC, PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One
Released: August 22, 2016
Copy purchased

At first glance, it could be easy to dismiss Valley as yet another so-called walking simulator, following in the methodical footsteps of such titles as Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. Indeed, its opening minutes feature little more than pretty scenery to gawk at while wandering a linear path.

Valley‘s introductory moments are pleasant enough, but any comparability to Dear Esther‘s like dissipates immediately once one reaches a box with a very special toy inside. This toy is the L.E.A.F suit, a mechanical harness enveloping one’s arms and legs to bestow upon them a range of unique abilities that blend the mechanical and the mystical.

In an instant, the game transforms from a common explorative experience into something I can only describe as the game Sonic the Hedgehog always wanted to be. The L.E.A.F suit uses momentum to build up incredible speeds that, when used in conjunction with upsloping surfaces, lead to magnificent feats of leaping.

Combined with a sweeping, uplifting orchestral soundtrack, Valley is an exhilarating experience. As soon as the suit is donned, the player is encouraged to sprint down hillsides and jump across huge chasms. After mere seconds traversing an incline, a tremendous sense of speed is obtained and the massive vaults they typically end in are breathtaking.

Valley offers a reliable amount of mid-air control, allowing players to move and turn in order to stick the landing – a landing that comes with a heavy thunk as metal legs smack into the ground.

Blue Isle did an incredible job of using audiovisual cues to create a sense of belonging in the world. The weight of the L.E.A.F suit is felt just as much as its speed, creating a tangible feeling of empowerment without needing to stick a gun in anybody’s hand – a refreshing take on power fantasy.

This is not to say, however, that death isn’t a part of Valley. In fact, it’s the game’s most overt theme.

04

As well as granting the user enhanced physical capabilities, the L.E.A.F suit comes with the Godhand – a glove that is capable of both distributing and receiving life energy. By simply aiming and firing, players are able to grant life or take it away from surrounding animals and plants.

Giving life depletes the suit’s energy, while taking it acts as refueling. In addition, bringing dead trees back from the beyond will often result in them dropping golden acorns, a currency used to open special doors that lead to valuable suit upgrades.

While much of Valley is about exploring and taking in the surroundings, there are certainly ways to die. The suit is too heavy for water, and there are creatures lurking in the wilderness with intent to drain the suit before moving onto its wearer. A number of platform sections appear as well, just for an added slice of danger.

Should the player ever die, they’ll respawn nearby at the cost of living things in the surrounding area. Rather than requiring lives or a health bar, the player’s survivability is instead gauged by the valley’s own vitality. The more one dies, the closer to death the valley itself becomes.

Fortunately, the L.E.A.F suit can also be powered by orbs that grow all around the valley, meaning life can be restored without taking it from elsewhere. Players are encouraged to constantly zap bare trees and the occasional deer corpse with life, maintaining the valley’s health in case of their own death.

It’s a clever idea, and the game even goes into the technical details of what it calls “quantum immortality” – rather than simply resurrecting its wearer, the suit slips them into alternate realities where they didn’t die, drawing on surrounding life to make up the balance. Using multiverse theory to explain a basic game mechanic is impressive to say the least, and the need to maintain one’s survivability by ensuring the world itself remains alive is a great narrative hook.

Although the overall concept is great, it’s undermined by the ubiquity of blue orbs. One would have to actively try and kill the valley itself, so easy is it to blast at trees after taking an unwanted tumble and getting your juice back without having to draw from a life source. Not once did I ever actually need to kill something directly, and respawning always granted enough energy to distribute it right back to the nearby trees.

I certainly love what Valley was aiming for, but the idea of a world health meter is more of a gimmick thanks to how negligible death actually is.

03

Nonetheless, encountering dead trees and zapping them back to life remains satisfying throughout the journey, especially when you’re several hundred feet in the air, spinning around and blasting a brittle husk before hitting the ground. I wasted far more time than was necessary wandering around the more expansive areas, hunting down anything dead and stockpiling the acorns that would regularly drop as reward.

There’s also a bit of a twist near the end that at least makes the use of orbs more meaningful than they might at first glance appear. It eases the sense of undone potential, even if it does so in a dark way.

Secrets litter the world, with hidden upgrades that expand the suit’s energy capacity, medallions that can be collected to gain entry to a mysterious pyramid full of loot, and loads of notes explaining more of the story.

Through lore and audio recordings, Valley tells a provocative tale about a military outfit that discovered the titular lowland during World War II and started harnessing its supernatural energies to build weapons. It’s revealed the L.E.A.F suit was designed for Pathfinders – soldiers who explored the environment, collected medallions, and encountered strange creatures called Daemons who still seem to adorably inhabit the place when the player arrives.

The narrative considers the cost of scientific progress, environmental issues, and more personal concepts such as hubris and jealousy, all wrapped together with some high minded physics chatter that I can only assume was well presented because I know jack-all about physics.

Combat makes up a small portion of the adventure, with malevolent dark creatures appearing that require pacification with bursts of life energy. Their attacks drain the suit of power, but pacifying them also requires power, meaning you’re draining your resources whatever you do.

Lengthier combat sequences are where Valley comes close to realizing its idea of balance as players need to maintain energy levels, avoid having them stolen, and expend them all at once. It’s not particularly complicated, especially with those orbs everywhere, but battles with dark creatures (that’s literally what they’re called) make for interesting breaks between running and jumping.

02

During the game’s four-to-five hour adventure, the suit is intermittently fitted with new features such as a grappling hook – sorry, Viper Coil – that can fling players across gaping chasms, and magnetized boots that stick to certain metal surfaces.

By far the best upgrade is the one that grants ludicrous speed boosts while refilling energy whenever the player is running across railway tracks. Sadly, only two segments in the game feature such tracks, but they are by far the absolute best portions of the game.

Few games have ever captured such a palpable and thrilling feeling of acceleration as is witnessed in these sequences.

Blue Isle’s captivating adventure is only notably let down by technical problems. Every now and then, the audio will make brief popping sounds, cutting into the otherwise beautiful music, and there were times – if only a handful – where I’d found myself trapped within environmental details, either having glitched through the floor or fallen into some area I wasn’t supposed to.

In all but one case, I was able to jump and maneuver myself back into the game, but on one occasion I was so thoroughly stuck I had to restart the area. There is no regular checkpointing, either – you restart from the beginning of a chapter, albeit with any items and secrets remaining discovered, which can lead to quite a trek back.

It’s worth noting that I only ever got trapped when exploring way off the beaten path, looking for secrets in places where I guess I wasn’t supposed to. However, the game isn’t particularly good at signposting where you’re not intended to venture. The player’s capabilities are such that it’s possible to scale cliffsides and enter structures that weren’t designed for any interaction, so it pays to take care when hunting for treasure.

05

Despite a few missteps, Valley is an overall rush of an experience. Taking cues from BioShock with some Fern Gully on the side, there are few games that can claim to put players into the metal legs of an interdimensional necromantic freerunner, and be bloody infatuating while it does so.

It boasts an amazing soundtrack, splendid backdrops, and inspiringly propulsive interactions, all of which convince me Valley deserves to be counted as a true sleeper hit of the year.

Also, those Daemons really are the cutest.

8.5/10
Great

Aristatide
Guest
Aristatide

You know, the fun thing is I literally cannot recall where I heard about this, but the moment in your video the life-and-death aspects of the LEAF suit got explained, I suddenly sat up straight and went, “VALLEY! THE ONE WHERE THE VALLEY DIES AS YOU DIE, I’VE HEARD OF THIS!” So they put out some buzz somewhere, I’m just not sure where. (Now the interesting thing is, as the all-caps above might have indicated, I’m actually more excited for this, having connected up to that tiny bit of pre-release coverage I ran into, than I would have been for… Read more »

Mandrake42
Guest
Mandrake42

Wow. This film wasn’t even on my radar at all, but it sounds great.

Unnoticing Senpai
Guest
Unnoticing Senpai

Wow, this actually sounds like a great time. Even if the fail state is unobtainable.

gasmaskangel
Guest
gasmaskangel

Huh, I’ll definitely have to pick this one up then. I really, really like the idea of a game justifying the respawn system through slowly leaching life out of the environment around you. I’ve got a feeling that’s gonna be one of those thing which I wish more games would rip off.

Autumn Heart
Guest
Autumn Heart

It’s really heartening to know that there are still games that are really good, but hidden from hype and notability 🙂

George
Guest
George

Maybe Sega should copy this for their next Sonic game?

*Joking*

Nitrium
Guest
Nitrium

Isn’t detailing the background narrative you would normally have to play the game for a spoiler? I’m sure I’m not alone on this, but kinda like finding out the base story/world lore for myself, but Jim’s kinda blown it for all here. Unless the lore in this review is established in the first 30 minutes or so, I’m not very pleased about it being laid bare as it were.

Via
Guest
Via

I think the game’s length depends a lot on how much time you spend exploring. I’m someone who likes to search every corner of the map before moving on with the objetive, so it took me way more than 4 hours to complete (the fact that I still lack 20 medallions AFTER ALL THAT TIME is quite something). But overall, I had a lot of fun with this game, so thanks for the recommendation Jim! Fun gameplay, an engaging story and pleasant aesthetics. However, it IS true that the LEAF suit might be TOO versatile: I found myself in places… Read more »

nicethugbert
Guest
nicethugbert

Sounds interesting. Hope it comes out on GOG.

LatePocketwatch
Guest
LatePocketwatch

Small editorial critique, regarding clarity, on this line: “…all wrapped together with some high minded physics chatter that I can only assume was well presented because I know jack-all about physics.” Did you intend to say that real world theories seemed well REpresented to a layman or that the chatter seemed internally consistent and skillfully exposited whether or not factually true to real science? This isn’t really a sticking point for me as I love both hard and soft sci fi but you obviously considered it significant enough for a mention in your review, even if was obviously not so… Read more »

altdoom
Guest
altdoom

Great review Jim, gonna pick this one up sometime. Also some side news the turds at Gearbox Software are going to announce a Duke Nukem 3D remake, after having removed the Megaton Edition from Steam. #fuckrandypitchford

Local Content
Guest

I only heard of this game through your video but unfortunately the bits we saw there were definitely the highlights in my opinion. I would say the game is 2 and a half hours, rather than 4-5 and roughly half of that is being inside the cramped industrial facilities, where the features that make the game unique are handicapped by the tight spaces and platforming. Also the design of the game is completely uncohesive, it’s actually pretty entertaining seeing all the different elements that don’t really mesh together, we’ve got strong Fallout vibes at the beginning, Bioshock in the middle,… Read more »

astra
Guest
astra

Jim are you gonna play grow up
I know you liked grow home and grow u is better lo

Chafik Badache
Guest
Chafik Badache

HI Jim! Love the review. I don’t know if this is possible, but it would be cool/useful if you could link to you youtube video from within the review, preferably at the top or bottom. Maybe you could even embed it within the review.

Maybe you’re already doing this and I missed it, in which case I’ll see myself out.

Cheers.

TimRobbins
Guest
TimRobbins

I hope this doesn’t suffer from its horrible name. TB seems to agree, as per his response to it: “SEO motherfuckers, do you speak it?”

James TheBond
Guest
James TheBond

Great review! Watched your Youtube and have to agree. Love the music a lot.

Sperium3000
Guest
Sperium3000

I have literally never heard of this game until now. No one talked about it, I never saw a trailer anywhere. It’s weird.

CaitSeith
Guest
CaitSeith

“…the game even goes into the technical details of what it calls “quantum immortality” – rather than simply resurrecting its wearer, the suit slips them into alternate realities where they didn’t die, drawing on surrounding life to make up the balance.”

I can’t tell if that explanation about how the respawning mechanics fit in the game’s world is brilliant or dumb.

Sray
Guest
Sray

It might have come out to little fanfare, but it seems to steadily be picking up a definite sleeper hit buzz.
I caught your video preview of this after you bonus Jimquisition this week and was immediately intrigued. I’ve been waiting on a few more reviews to come in before I commit to purchasing, but it’s first on my Steam wishlist.

Lewis w
Guest
Lewis w

I’m glad this is on XB1 as well; I shall have to get it one day.

Steven White
Guest
Steven White

Sounds wonderful.
I don’t think I would have minded Sonic the HedgeGod.
Picture it: your enemy is a dude who harvests nature and converts it into mechanical power (does he even still do that?) and you are a guardian being who stops him, but also willfully harvests nature to achieve those ends. Already we’re deeper than Sonic’s narratives dare to go.

Yet again an unrelated team has made an unrelated game that’s spawned more interest in me for a Sonic game that doesn’t exist than Sonic Team could for ones that do.

MJC
Guest
MJC

Oh noez, better than Uncharted 4! Fanboy jimmies rustled in 3… 2… 1…

galactix100
Guest
galactix100

Just picked this up and I’m really enjoying it. I’m not far in but so far it’s what I wish most ‘walking simulators’ were. There’s not a huge amount of game-play and it’s fairly simplistic but it does the job well enough that wandering around and learning more of the story doesn’t become boring.

Cimerians
Guest

Damn another game I need to buy. 😉

Austin Barnes
Guest
Austin Barnes

I’m glad the whole experience seems to have matched your video. It seems delightful in its ability to let you fling yourself around.