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.

Bosch
Guest
Bosch

It’s intrigued me that games without fail states have been commonplace through pretty much the entire history of video games, yet only became a routine source of hand-wringing when the phrase “fail state” itself became common currency. I guess having a convenient phrase for the concept suddenly made people view it as much more important than it had been in decades prior.

Unnoticing Senpai
Guest
Unnoticing Senpai
Video games practically originated as arcade machines, on which fail states were required and subsequent games for the longest time were built off of that. And those that weren’t based on arcade principles were based on games people play in real life, all of which have fail states (even solitaire). Games without fail states are hardly something I’d call commonplace (let alone something I’ve even heard of until recently) at the timemevej early point fans click adventure games had actions which resulted in Game Over and later ones have endings which practically are a game over. Nothing to do with… Read more »
Bosch
Guest
Bosch
Text adventures/point-and-click adventures were specifically what I mainly had in mind – especially the former, considering their very long history, and prolific numbers (owing to being relatively easy to code and cheap to produce). The “Treaty of Babel” Interactive Fiction standard for cataloging such games includes a specific designation (“Merciful”) for those in which there are no explicit (ie: not a result of the player simply failing to make further progress) fail-states. The history of such games quite exceeds what it seems you’ve heard of, though their commonality could easily be debated. Reposting this without a link to the Treaty… Read more »
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 🙂

David Gil
Guest
David Gil

Heh, that’s almost where all the good stuff is these days…

George
Guest
George

Maybe Sega should copy this for their next Sonic game?

*Joking*

Johndar
Guest
Johndar

But maybe they should though… or at least take a look at what it’s doing.

Something “witty” here
Guest
Something “witty” here

Sonic The “HedgeGod”?

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.

IRL Alex
Guest

Just finished the game itself. The majority of what Jim mentioned (like 95%) is revealed within the first section.

Nitrium
Guest
Nitrium

Alright, thanks for clearing that up! I know it often comes across pedantic, but I really don’t like having games like this somewhat spoiled in a manner that ruins the element of discovery (usually THE key aspect of games where combat isn’t the focus).

Johndar
Guest
Johndar

I totally get what you mean, I would have felt similarly but I trust Jim enough that I don’t think he would do that. Not really one to spoil games.

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 »
Skalor
Guest
Skalor

I’d say yes, some of the notes lying arund that were left by researches very often explicitely name real world science concepts such as it talks about what place it should have on a periodic table, if it’s an element at all and how it consists of protons, neurons and electrons that act in a specific way (a concept was mentioned that I wasn’t familiar with, I think it had to do with the way it electrons would orbit around the molecule). And to me too that was deffinitely something that stood out.

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 »
The Jünger Ludendorf
Guest
The Jünger Ludendorf
Agreed. In my opinion it was at its best in the wider, open forest area, where you were free to sprint and leap around like a prancing lamb tripping on drugs. Unfortunately, after an hour or so the game likes to put you in grey-brown, underlit and cramped industrial buildings and military bases. The only really enjoyable bit after that was the rail track, and thats mostly because it temporarily breaks you free from much of the environment and lets you stampede down the road, through the winding corners and leaping over great crevasses. The life-system could have been done… Read more »
The Jünger Ludendorf
Guest
The Jünger Ludendorf
As a sidenote on the story: The way they used audio-logs to convey it rather bugged me at times. Basically, you find a bunch of logs at one or two points in the game, But your character only activates these one-by-one on set points in the levels. This ensures that you get the story gradually and dont have to hunt for it, but its weird that the Player Character wouldn’t just play them all at once (since they contain very useful information on the valley, the military operation there, and how everything is connected). At one point you mess with… Read more »
Local Content
Guest

Yeah, I quite like the audio feed system (especially compared to how every other indie game does it) but the even weirder part about the bit where the warning not to blow everything up plays too late is that we’re told the LEAF suit “automatically plays audio information as it is needed”, That means that the mystical suit that controls the forces of life and death itself, as well as (spoilers?) allows interdimensional travel, can’t tell the best time to inform you something’s gonna explode super hard is *before* the wearer messes with it not 5 minutes after.

The Jünger Ludendorf
Guest
The Jünger Ludendorf

To be fair: it’s an AI from the 1940’s. Their computing power was measured in cubic meters back then.

Also, i’m pretty sure the player character just activates the audio-logs?
Thats what the animation before it looks like anyway.

astra
Guest
astra

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

Local Content
Guest

Excellent game, almost up there with Katamari for me, but those endings were just so anticlimactic.

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.

RaenS
Guest
RaenS

As a physicist, I can tell you that it’s dumb. It completely misuses the meaning of the word “quantum,” which is basically a synonym for “discrete.” The term “parallel immortality” would be more accurate.

Ralph Malein
Guest
Ralph Malein
Also speaking as a physicist, quantum immortality (while not accurately presented here) is the correct term to use, as it would be a consequence of an Everettian many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. It’s seen as a possible consequence of the “quantum suicide” thought experiment, where you put yourself in the Schrodinger’s cat box. Quantum immortality claims that your consciousness (somehow) follows the path through the branching worlds where the radioactive element never decays, so you never experience the poison being released and thus never die. However, this may not be the experience of an outside observer, as their consciousness may… Read more »
RaenS
Guest
RaenS

I still disagree with using the term “quantum” here. Just because it’s associated with quantum mechanics doesn’t mean that immortality is quantized. Quantum mechanics has its name from the realization that quantities we thought were continuous are not. Schrödinger’s cat is an explanation of the idea of superposition of states, not every aspect of QM.

Animion
Guest
Animion

… Also as a physicist, I definitely agree with you here that it isn’t the right term in a pure sense, but ‘quantum immortality’ is an already established term.
Issues of traditional rust aside, using QI instead of a more accurate description is appropriate for the audience as both ‘vague+interesting physics word’ and as a search term for further investigation.

Mom's Basement Dweller
Guest
Mom's Basement Dweller

I’m pretty sure all y’all “physicists” with your fancy words are merely spouting steaming piles of gobbledygook out of all of your orifices in a feeble attempt to sound inquisitive and profound.

At least, that’s what I tell myself to sleep at night.

If only my mom didn’t drink when I was but a meager fetus…

Alexi Mikhailov
Guest
Alexi Mikhailov

The term quantum came from the discrete nature of energy levels in particles, but it’s now used as a catch-all word for ‘relating to quantum mechanics’ which I think is fine. If they’re invoking Everett then using quantum makes sense as Many Worlds is an interpretation of quantum mechanics.

Ralph Malein
Guest
Ralph Malein

Take it up with the people who named these concepts. Besides, quantum computers don’t rely solely on quantisation, they rely on effects like superpositions and entanglement, which are uniquely properties of QM. I’m not saying that you’re wrong that there’s a better name that doesn’t erroneously directly link quantisation to a proposed consequence of superposition, but since superposition occurs only as a consequence of the formalism of QM, I don’t have any problem with calling stuff “quantum”.

twigcollins
Guest
twigcollins

Are there seriously two physicists among the Jimquisition literati? That’s pretty cool.

Jim Sterling
Guest

This thread is amazing.

Erich Fromm Hell
Guest

It’s flying over my head faster than the guy in Valley, but God bless the quantum physics. An exciting new frontier to be sure.

CaitSeith
Guest
CaitSeith

It’s nice to read arguments that doesn’t involve going after each other’s throat once in a while.

Jonas Håkansson
Guest
Jonas Håkansson

At least three.

Bosch
Guest
Bosch

One of the hosts of Game Grumps has multiple physics papers published under his belt. It’s a funny world.

Chris N
Guest
Chris N
It seems to me to be a fallacy to apply Schrödinger’s thought experiment to this–it was expressly designed to illustrate the fallacy in applying quantum mechanics to macroscopic systems. The problem is not that *we’re* observing the cat; the problem is that the *cat* is observing the state of the box and therefore collapses any possible superposition–therefore, it’s either alive or dead (not both!) before we even think to open the box. Beyond this, you’re neglecting all the other possible causes of death–old age, malnutrition from being in a closed box, lack of good critical content like that provided by… Read more »
Alexi Mikhailov
Guest
Alexi Mikhailov

Copenhagen used to be the generally accepted one, but more recent polls of physicists have put it below 50%. Honestly though, it’s kinda silly to talk about one being more accepted because nobody has proposed a means of testing the different interpretations of quantum mechanics, so we’re just speculating. Physicists just pick the one they like the most on a philosophical level.

Ralph Malein
Guest
Ralph Malein
I might be wrong (and a lot of actual physicists basically don’t care) but I think that many-worlds is more popular than Copenhagen. Many-worlds is a consequence of taking macroscopic superposition seriously: a state in superposition becomes rapidly entangle with the rest of the universe, and as the entanglement gets larger, it rapidly decoheres into a superposition of two Hilbert states of the entire universe that don’t interact with each other. The problem becomes why we only experience one world – why does our conscious experience follow only one path through the infinity of branching worlds rather than any other?… Read more »
Alexi Mikhailov
Guest
Alexi Mikhailov

That still wouldn’t work. Whether you lived or died you wouldn’t be able to make any observations about other universes branching off. Everett’s theory is fascinating, but untestable.

Ralph Malein
Guest
Ralph Malein

That’s why it’s not a theory, it’s an interpretation, and it’s not really classed as physics, and more philosophy of physics. None of the interpretations of QM are testable. I find many-worlds more compelling because it doesn’t depend on things like wavefunction collapse or making observation primitive.

Alexi Mikhailov
Guest
Alexi Mikhailov

You’ve hit the nail right on the head. I once tried to get Tony Leggett, a Nobel Lauriate who favors the Copenhagen interpretation to give me a concrete definition of what constitutes an observation in quantum mechanics, i.e. what does it take for a wave function to collapse. I can’t remember exactly what he said, but I remember finding it very unsatisfying.

Local Content
Guest

The inventor’s explanation of it includes the phrase “I’ve done it, I’ve found Schrodinger’s cat” so… yeah.

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.

Victoriajgordon3
Guest
Victoriajgordon3

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MJC
Guest
MJC

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

Keyes
Guest
Keyes

No, it’s literally exactly the same as Uncharted 4.

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.

goodbyejojo
Guest
goodbyejojo

this one actually is a running simulator 😉

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.

The Jünger Ludendorf
Guest
The Jünger Ludendorf

And it is!
Until you go inside abandoned underground industrial complexes. Then you occasionally fling yourself around the one specific way the game demands of you, and mostly just jog around in the dark.