Video games that nail the act of movement often allow you to flow freely and come down from a sprint naturally. Blue Isle Studios’ Valley lets you build up exhilarating momentum while you sprint and leap through forests and fields, but your pace is too often interrupted, and trying to get back to that high level of speed takes longer than it should. Thankfully, Valley has more going for it, including fascinating lore pertaining to experimental technology, secret organizations, and unusual mythology. It’s a brief experience with a few unwelcome pit stops, but you leave hungry for more regardless of the issues you experience along the way.
This first-person platformer puts you in the shoes of an archaeologist in search of the mythological Life Seed; an object with extraordinary power. Following a canoe crash, you surface in a valley that feels ripped out of a fairytale, sparkly sprites and all. As you make your way through it, you come across an exoskeleton–the L.E.A.F. Suit–that grants you incredible speed and grappling abilities.
The L.E.A.F. suit was originally used for excavation and research purposes during the first half of the twentieth century, which is revealed via audio tapes and written notes throughout the game. It’s through these that you learn more about the valley’s unusual past. The notes and tapes often correlate with specific areas in the world. For example, you might come across a message referring to a L.E.A.F. suit sports league right before you come across an area suited for the fictional competition, providing evidence that the valley was populated prior to a cataclysmic event.
The titular valley is home to friendly, pint-sized sprites, but it also houses two types of hostile entities: swarms of insects and a wizard-like creature. When you’re engaged in combat with these foes, it feels more like you’re casting magic as opposed to firing a gun, because you shoot out balls of energy to kill enemies. It’s initially satisfying when you take several shots in rapid succession and hit your intended targets, but repetitive enemy behavior and animations lead to diminishing returns over time.
There are times when you’re able to move at top speed and revel in the thrill of flying through the air while the environment around you whips by in a blur. However, the L.E.A.F. suit is too easily slowed by basic obstacles and hills. The suit’s Magnetic Core ability also forces you to slow down to traverse metallic surfaces on occasion, an unfortunate shift in a game that’s built for speed. Valley shines when you’re charging forward, but it too often holds you back from going as fast as you’d like.
If you happen to die during combat or from a poorly planned leap, you respawn, but life in the valley takes a toll as nature–once verdant–fades and shrivels around you. Once it’s drained, your game is over. However, it’s not something you need to worry about; a few rejuvenating blasts from your suit is all it takes to revive dead plants and animals to keep your journey going. And as long as you don’t fall off any cliffs or into significant bodies of water, it’s unlikely that you’ll die in the first place. Your life and ammunition both come from the same pool, and you regularly find orbs and power generators scattered across the environment. There’s little at stake, and it’s rare that you’ll find cause for concern to begin with.
Valley’s multiple environments are generally good-looking and varied, with wide open spaces, claustrophobic underground caves, and industrial areas. With the wind at your back, it can be a fun world to play around in that’s occasionally captivating to behold, and certain sections, particularly when you get the ability to run on water, feel momentous and exciting. Sadly, Valley occasionally suffers from framerate drops on consoles during hectic scenes, where the PC version proves far more stable. It never drops low enough to the point where it renders the game unplayable, but it’s still disappointing when it happens.
Valley feels like a good first act. Despite obstacles that tend to abruptly kill your momentum, running and bounding through wilderness remained exciting. The world’s history is so intriguing that I left wanting to know more. I didn’t want the adventure to end, and like a jogger who’s forced to slow down in the middle of a run, I was frustrated that Valley had to end so soon after it began.