Also On: Xbox One, PC
Publisher: Blue Isle Studios
Developer: Blue Isle Studios
If you're the kind of person who measures a game's value primarily from the number of hours you sink into it, Valley probably isn't for you. After all, you can beat it and explore pretty much its entire world in well under five hours — probably under four if you really push yourself. On a dollars-to-hours ratio, that's not great.
By any other measure, though, Valley is phenomenal. It exists in a sweet spot between Bioshock-style first person shooter and walking simulator — two genres that you wouldn't think have a ton in common, but that mesh together perfectly here.
It bridges the gap thanks to the nifty inclusion of something called a L.E.A.F. suit. I'd be hard-pressed to tell you exactly what L.E.A.F. stands for; it's quickly explained early on in the game, and I can't for the life of me remember what it said. I can, however, tell you that when it's enabling you to jump across massive canyons, or dash sideways across a wall, or hurtle down abandoned tracks at a breakneck speed, you're probably not going to care about the acronym specifics. Moving your character in Valley is a blast, and seeing as this game is all about traversing expansive distances as you uncover its secrets, that means it starts from a pretty strong position.
It helps, too, that the world you're exploring is gorgeous. Valley is set somewhere in the Canadian Rockies, and the game takes full advantage of that fact. The mountains reach high into the clear blue skies, the trees — when you play the game as its developers intended — are luscious and green, and the water shimmers and shines even in the darkest and dankest of caverns. You're not that far from nature, either, when you're exploring the abandoned factories, elevators and other structures that dot Valley's world. Most places have been overrun by roots and branches, and even the underground tunnels are falling apart, as mine shafts and railway tracks give way to rocks and moss.
The scenery, of course, is only one part of what gives Valley such a fantastic atmosphere. Just as important are the traces of the abandoned world. After all, there are no other humans around, so the game tells its story via discovered notes and audio tapes, along with posters and other hints of what was going on. It's not a new way of storytelling, obviously, but it's handled with such care here that it's hard to not get drawn in.
Valley is also helped immeasurably by the way it handles combat. As you probably gathered from the mention of walking simulators up top, this isn't a game where you go around blasting enemies to bits. There are, however, some antagonists that pop up from time to time, and when they do, you're well-equipped to handle them with a few blasts of energy from your L.E.A.F. suit. It's not the focal point of the game by any means, but it's executed well enough that it never feels out of place.
Then again, pretty much everything here is executed well. Like I said, you won't be sinking days after days into Valley — but the one day or so you do spend with it will be enough to stick with you for a long time.