Developed by Blue Isle Studios, Valley is a game teeming with life and atmosphere as it pulls you along to tell a story, and yet not unlike a summer movie where it is incredibly enjoyable, there is little left to hook you once you are done. The game is played in the first person and set in the Canadian Rockies as our hero begins a quest to find the mythical and elusive Lifeseed, a natural phenomena that has the ability to command life and death. From the opening moments you instantly get a feel for the gorgeous outdoors, the fantastic soundtrack, and unfortunately, that ends up being as much as the game has to offer.
Early on you will discover the device for your key mechanics of exploration, the L.E.A.F. suit, an old prototype exo suit used during the war for exploration and potential combat. You’ll begin to unravel the truth of the Valley and why the military was here at all through recordings and letters left behind. The dialogue and text for the game is all incredibly well written and I don’t feel they get enough recognition for both the voice acting and the ability to convey the era these characters are from. The L.E.A.F. suit allows you to sprint and jump at incredible distances, especially when running downhill. As you progress through the game you’ll unlock new attachments to further enhance your exploration. While the world itself is fairly large when in the open, there is no driving force encouraging me to explore despite hidden collectibles and various items to find off the beaten path. The game also lacks a useful map for navigation, instead relying entirely on a compass bar at the top of the screen.
It’s also curious how your means of resurrection – the ability to grant and take life through your exo suit – is glossed over without explanation and indeed as the concept is delivered to you it seems the technology was made before they even found the Lifeseed in the first place. Due to this technology, death while wearing the suit will cause you to come back to life at the cost of the life of the forest and creatures around you, of which you can expend energy to restore them. The mechanic is unique in concept but in execution from a purely mechanical aspect it could have been replaced with anything. It is not until very late in the game when you find out the truth about the orbs collected to power the suit that it makes sense and it feels like it could have been a heavier bombshell to drop through careful hints.
Into The Valley of Exploration
Most of the game will be spent exploring and using your various upgrades to get around. There are a finite number of enemy encounters in which you simply pelt them with life energy to make them vanish. Valley also has unfortunately filled itself with interesting lore and surroundings almost worthy of Lovecraftian abnormality, and yet it fails to deliver on a satisfying conclusion. The narrative we do get is fun in that sort of campy-movie-everything-will-be-okay sort of way. It would make a great movie to watch but nothing quite cerebral enough to talk about the next day. It’s a feel-good experience and one I can get behind because it’s an enjoyable journey to be a part of. Of course part of the encompassing experience is the breathtaking audio which seems to fill even the barren valley with life. Every note in every instance feels perfect and helps bring the game to life, however for whatever reason you must endure long stretches of silence between each of these delicately composed masterpieces. I can understand making the player earn these moments or using silence to convey solitude but when the music is this good you need to give us more.
Valley first launched back in 2016 and I had missed out on it back then. Bringing something like this to the Switch is a great idea because I can take it with me and enjoy playing almost anywhere. That being said, this new port has two issues that managed to frustrate me to no end: lighting and lag. Whenever I was out in the open I needed to drastically decrease the lighting, as the picturesque sunset often blinded me into the point of not being able to see the land. On the other hand, as soon as I entered a cave or building I needed to set my brightness to maximum to even know where I was going. I also double checked my settings on my TV and the Switch in handheld to make sure I didn’t wash anything out by accident but it simply is that intense. When it comes to lag, while I have no comparison from the original launch, Valley had nearly constant framerate issues throughout. It was never enough to be game breaking, but enough to notice it was struggling.
Valley is an enjoyable experience that tells a comfortable narrative through brilliant music, exemplary writing, and a creative setting. It doesn’t quite hit all the notes of what we ought to know for a satisfying ending and it is, unfortunately, plagued by a lack of map, lighting issues, and terrible frame-rate drops. Locomotion in the L.E.A.F. suit is often the most fun you’ll have in the game and it is wonderful to be able to take such a simple and heartfelt story with you in handheld mode on the Switch, however, once the game is done you probably won’t be inclined to play it again.
**Switch code provided by the publisher**
- Stunning Graphics
- Fantastic Soundtrack
- Incredible History/Lore
- Great Locomotion
- Serious Lighting Issues
- Consistent Low Frame Rate
- Unused Narrative Potential