12/08/2017

☆ Review: Aporia - Beyond The Valley - "Investigate North? Investigate EVERYWHERE!" ☆ #GameDev

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Aporia: Beyond The Valley - PC
Aporia: Beyond the Valley is a first-person adventure puzzle video game from Nordic development team Investigate North.
I’ve seen a few descriptions of the game as a ‘walking simulator’ but this really isn’t the case, if anything it’s more of an open-world puzzle game, far larger than any game in this genre that I’ve played in recent memory.

Aporia is played entirely through the first-person perspective and begins with your nameless character arising out of a sarcophagus and picking up a vial filled with a strange glowing orange liquid which is used to open doors, solve puzzles and some other nifty features all at the cost of a few drops of the wonder-stuff.
This isn’t too much of a concern though as the liquid is bountiful and can be found in various bottles spread throughout the valley (and beyond). You spend the game travelling through various areas and solving initially simple puzzles that grow ever more fiendish (I look at you light reflection section!) whilst also gaining more of an understanding of your predicament and the history of the land.
The sense of scale in Aporia compels me to compare it to the section in Half-Life 2 where Gordon Freeman travels the Coast Road towards Nova Prospect, I recall feeling a similar sense of the scale of movement through a large game world. This is a good thing.



My experiences with games in this genre have been mixed, sometimes there is an onerous amount of back-tracking, other times the game world is too visually similar and so it’s difficult to work out your bearings and you can end up wandering aimlessly, trying to trigger some event or other to move the narrative forwards and I’ve also played some games wherein gameplay is minimal and linear and is over within an hour. Aporia avoids all of these usual pitfalls with excellent level design and a longevity that avoids artificially extended gameplay.
Investigate North have managed to create a game with self-explanatory puzzles which, although basic remain challenging and enjoyable to complete. I was also impressed with how the story entwines with the landscape of the game. On your journey through the valley, you will traverse ruins, caves, waterfalls, rapids, forests, mountains and even tree-villages. This level of variation is laudable in and of itself (especially when you bear in mind the size of the development team) but how the story unfolds and explains the reasons for places like the tree-village existing in the first place, it’s even more appreciated.



As mentioned, the game contains no text or narrative, the story is entirely told to us by way of exploring the ruins of the past interspersed with projected segments of historical importance, it’s a very neat system that feels rewarding as you personally piece together the story. Near some skeletons or areas in the game you will find animal skins with images painted on giving glimpses of stories within the main theme, overall this way of storytelling gives a genuine feeling of understanding the story as an interloper, it’s a great end result to a system that, if handled differently could have left players confused or bored.
The graphics in Aporia are of a high standard and occasionally, breath-taking, although they are not without glitches, quite often the sky or scenery would flash in and out of existence and climbing in the game, is very clunky. On several occasions this caused me to fall, losing some health (and dying once). As this is a very new release and the developers appear to be patching the game regularly, hopefully, these issues will be ironed out in the coming weeks.
The mood of the game alters as day changes to night, there are no enemies in the game except one, a strange black-cloaked figure with a glowing red ‘eye’ that occasionally can be seen in the distance. I must admit that it is the best use of a sense of being hunted that I’ve seen in this genre. The player is advised of the approach of the figure through musical cues and this leads to some moments of genuine creepiness, especially in the swamp section set in a dilapidated sunken village later in the game. I’m not usually a fan of this style of an enemy but as the figure travels slowly and never turns up in a ‘jump-scare’ scenario, it’s more a sense of eeriness and foreboding than outright shock. Plus, if the figure does reach you, it’s not an instant-death situation, you wake up in a different section of the game with some health removed, this isn’t a game that punishes the player at every turn. I also enjoyed how the figure is explained in the game and not just tacked on to add some extra difficulty.



Summary:
In summary, Aporia: Beyond the Valley is one of the best open-world puzzle games I’ve played, it has its own style and the use of the trusty vial of liquid as an essential tool is a nice twist. The graphics are rich and the accompanying sound track is keening and threatening in equal measure.
What really stands out for me though is the sense of scale. Admittedly there are some issues with controls and glitches but none of these are deal-breakers. If you like the thought of a wander through a ruined land solving puzzles at your leisure whilst piecing together an interesting and uniquely presented story, this is the game for you.
Right, I’m off to drink something that glows luminous orange in the hope of achieving eternal life.....

RATING: ICE COOL

Ratings Explained
ICE COOL (Great Game Recommended)
MELTING (Just Falls Short Of Greatness)
MELTED (Not A Recommended Purchase)
 
Game Link: Steam
Dev Link: Investigate North












Reviewed By Britt
(from @kingdomofcarts)