Aporia: Beyond the Valley is a first-person narrative focused puzzle-adventure that puts you in the shoes of an amnesiac who awakens in the remnants of the ancient Ez’rat Qin civilization. With no idea of what has happened to the long-disappeared race, you’re left to explore the ruins of their past in order to find out who you are and what exactly happened to leave this once prosperous society in the state it is in.
In unique fashion, the story is all told through imagery with subtle clues in the environment and strange visions leading you through the tale as opposed to any actual spoken words. It works well though, with the game maintaining an ambiguity throughout that’ll keep you intrigued right until the very end. It all comes to a nice conclusion too, with the ending both satisfying and detailed in answering any questions you might’ve had about the Ez’rat Qin and what happened to them.
Whilst Aporia: Beyond the Valley tells a good story, the meat and bones of it comes with the exploration and puzzling elements. In fact, if you want to see every detail of the story you need to push on and explore as much as you can; it’s told to you indirectly, with small clues that are hidden in the environment telling each part of the tale. Exploration is rewarded with story details, so you need a keen eye if you want to discover everything about the world of Aporia: Beyond the Valley.
A lot of the exploration and puzzle solving you’ll be completing is based upon a strange vial that your character obtains early on in the game. With this vial you can project a special light that allows you to interact with the environment in a variety of different ways. This might start with something as simple as opening doors, though eventually you’ll be able to interact with plant life that can be grown to help you navigate your way across what were seemingly unreachable areas.
Whilst a lot of the game is made up of simply following a path to get from point A to B, you’ll eventually reach a more open area that challenges you to discover the way to your objective yourself, with a host of different sights and puzzles to uncover through exploration. Given how great the game world looks, I was quite glad to be able to explore it freely; however, no pretty sight could make up for the vagueness that came with this openness. I was left wandering around aimlessly at times, never knowing if I was going in the right direction or if what I was doing was progressing the main plot or simple acting as a side endeavour. I can appreciate that a lot of Aporia: Beyond the Valley’s charm comes from the intrigue and vagueness it offers, but it could prove to be a bit frustrating at times. A little bit of clear guidance wouldn’t have took anything away from the game, but rather prevented me from wasting time being clueless as to what exactly I needed to do.
When you do come across puzzles they’re typically well designed, though the process of solving them could drag a bit. Don’t get me wrong, I never got bored with anything the game threw at me, but once I had that eureka moment and figured out what exactly I had to do, the drawn out process of actually doing so could take away from the puzzle’s allure. The puzzles come in a decent variety though, with things like using counterweights to create a path, guiding water through a labyrinth, collecting hidden items, or reflecting light across the environment providing some tricky enigmas. Aporia: Beyond the Valley isn’t going to win points for originality, but it always keeps you doing something different – it’s just a shame that it doesn’t always nail the execution of each puzzle.
The game does deserve praise for its implementation of a nasty creature that patrols the environment though, with the strange beast bringing harm to you if you come in contact with it. Whilst the game generally has a melancholic vibe to it, it completely changes things up by having this moment of horror almost come from nowhere. The initial puzzle solving and walking simulator-like moments lulled me into a false sense of security, so suddenly having to watch out for a ferocious foe added an extra thrill to the game. It won’t scare you, but it’ll certainly add a sense of urgency to your adventure; don’t worry though, it never interferes with puzzle solving.
Aporia: Beyond the Valley is built with the CryEngine, so naturally you can expect some stunning locales that utilise natural environments in a dazzling fashion. The game really is superb to look at, with some of the sights you come across looking absolutely awe inspiring; a lot of this is thanks to the superb lighting that shines through each location you visit, which really helps bring the mystical world to life. The use of almost life-like historical architecture with a fantasy twist comes together nicely to offer an enchanting world that’ll constantly impress you throughout your adventure.
That being said, whilst the game’s visuals typically look stunning, there were plenty of graphical glitches to be found with the build of the game I played through. It’s not just a few ugly sights or non-loading textures either, but actual flaws in the environmental design; there were plenty of times when I’d get completely stuck in an object or get lost in an area I wasn’t supposed to be able to reach. Whilst this could be blamed on my intrigue at exploring every nook and cranny of a map, the game’s lack of clear guidance almost forces you to explore the back and beyond of the environment as a means to try and progress. It never made for any game ruining moments, but it was a shame that such a visually stunning world was full of so many odd environmental glitches. It’s nothing a few patches won’t fix though, so hopefully it’ll see improvement in the coming weeks.
A lot of the first-person narrative-driven puzzlers I’ve played have typically come with a beautiful soundtrack to go alongside them, and Aporia: Beyond the Valley is no exception. Everything you do in the game is orchestrated with a selection of softly enchanting tunes that manage to fit in perfectly with the game’s often haunting atmosphere. Aporia: Beyond the Valley is a thing of beauty to look at, but it’s also superb to listen to as well.
Aporia: Beyond the Valley is a well presented adventure that offers plenty of intrigue with its stunning world and mysterious narrative, but unfortunately it ends up falling a little short as far as its gameplay mechanics go thanks to some incredibly vague exploration elements and drawn out puzzling. It’s not that anything in the game is outright bad, but rather that it’s lacking the polish to make it stand out in what is already a crowded genre.
There’s certainly enjoyment to be had in Aporia: Beyond the Valley’s mystical world, but don’t expect to be blown away. Whilst it gets more right than it does wrong, the unsatisfying moments are the ones you’ll remember the most by the time you’re done with the game.
Developer: Investigate North
Publisher: Green Man Gaming
Release Date: 11/07/2017