Hidden Valley…not just a salad dressing.
Valley is a game most players probably haven’t heard of. I know my first exposure to the game was the fact I saw it on the PSN network and then promptly watched a trailer. It thought to myself “this looks a bit different and interesting”, and the end result does indeed feel like a mish mash of other games. Imagine the platforming elements of Mirrors Edge, mixed with a little bit of Bionic Command swinging, some Bioshock audio dialog expositions, and even a tad of Metroid upon replaying levels once completed. Crazy combination, and one might worry it would feel a bit too familiar, but luckily Valley holds its own with its unique atmosphere.
Playing as an archeologist that stumbles upon a hidden Valley, it becomes quite clear early on that a tragic event has transpired, as the player will discover various notes and listen to audio dialog recorded from the past. It’s not quite obvious at the start, but experiments were done in this mysterious location that could have untold effects on the world. It’s a really interesting story that albeit starting a tad slowly, I soon found myself getting fully engaged with. It’s got ties into earthly stories of Sumerians, Aztec gods, and other types of societies that have long disappeared. Even with all the notes I’ve found, there are probably plenty I missed, as they seem to be everywhere. Fair for me to spoil it further, but by the end I felt satisfied.
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), XB1, PC
Price I’d Pay: $14.99
How long to beat: 4+ hours
Gameplay here is provided by the L.E.A.F. system, an experimental suit that the player gains early on that allows them to traverse the valley in a much easier fashion. Each area is rather huge, and walking on foot I imagine would take forever. With the suit, it can run across the fields with ease, and as players find new upgrades, can lead way to jumping, double jumping, running, walking on walls, and even swinging around on a hook shot. The core attraction to playing is definitely exploring and figuring out how to proceed. Luckily, while it never felt exactly challenging, it still felt rewarding to explore. While there is plenty of dead space in these vast areas, don’t think all of it goes to waste, as there are some interesting hidden areas that players might not be able to reach until they replay earlier areas with their new suit abilities. Are you starting to see where all the comparisons to other games is coming from now?
Visually I believe the game provides a decent look for a world that is fairly large and able to be explored. Yes, it has textures that look odd and the game can be a bit rough visually, yet other times it took my breath away from the vast vistas of mountains, night skies, and even running over water in a murky island area. Combat is another portion that is as simple as it can be, aim and shoot. There isn’t much strategy and the enemy variation is severely lacking, but it works in the context of the story. There is even a “final boss” so to speak which felt rather interesting if not just a tad lackluster. I do think the story elements and what the enemies are tie in well to the story, but perhaps just a little bit more could have been done to add some variety.
There is a really interesting element to dying and reviving in the game also. as the core story deals with the life and death of the land. Players can take life from animals and trees and give it, which gives more energy to players or takes it away. That key balance is necessary in order to keep the player alive and fighting. Upon death, the world uses some of its energy to revive. If the world has no energy left, players get a game over. It’s a unique and somewhat novel idea on how to provide lives and ammo to the player, but it never really became a huge issue. The upgrades to find, that extend that energy bar, help in storing more energy so I suppose it could became an issue for those not finding those upgrades yet it never had a negative impact for myself.
Life finds a way
Valley was a game that started slow for me and grew more and more. It has a decent story that involves morality in weapons and new technology, gameplay that is fun and invites exploration, and has a unique if oddly familiar world to explore. It’s only about a 3 to 4 hour experience but with the ability to replay earlier levels with the new upgrades, it adds to the game time if players want to explore more. There are notes and more collectibles to find that unlock new doors giving way to further upgrades. Even a temple towards the end of the game that I still haven’t found enough gears to progress farther in. I did notice a few sound issues when playing, and resuming a game after you quit can force a bit of backtracking to resume where the player last was. Otherwise I had no other glaring issues. Valley is a mish mash of other games before it, but still retains a unique feeling all to itself and my time with it was pleasantly surprising with it.
Favorite moment: Running down a hill and flying through the air in awe. The sense of air speed and jumps was exhilarating every time.
Worst moment: Resuming my game later, only to have to get back to where I actually was.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.