Storytelling is in a very experimental place in gaming at the moment. Artists and developers are breaking free of the traditional methods used by TV and Film, instead opting for more inventive and game-specific ways of portraying a narrative. Aporia: Beyond the Valley manages to tell a complex, emotional and genuinely intriguing tale of immortality, tragedy and humanity’s desire to progress at any cost without resorting to dialogue, exposition or text. Instead the game uses a clever mixture of light, music and illustration to put forward its story, and it’s all the more better for it.
Heavily inspired by games like MYST and Journey, Aporia: Beyond the Valley is all about exploration and subtlety. The game begins with the player rising out of a tomb of glowing light and wastes no time getting into things. The core mechanic is introduced immediately which involves transferring light from a vessel into switches. This simple use of light to show the transfer of energy underpins the game’s design. By using the same colour throughout and by using it to direct the player, the game never causes the player to feel lost or that they are merely wandering, there is purpose to every use of this glowing energy present throughout.
Aporia: Beyond the Valley plays out in three distinct parts. There’s a small open world exploration section at its centre which allows the player to prod and poke at the environment at their own pace. It’s really up to the player how much they want to do in this section as you can move on without necessarily seeing everything. This segment is book ended by two altogether more linear levels. This ensures great pacing and keeps the mystery ever-present in the player’s mind.
The mystery of what happened to the civilisation which existed in this world is what drives the game along. While the game may be inspired by its peers in the way it tells a story, the story itself is very much its own. Plot points are displayed through light-shows in which moving murals show simplified versions of the events leading up to the civilisation’s demise. These gorgeously animated short films give just enough information to push the player along while raising questions which beg to be investigated. The story is ambiguous, sure, but there’s definitely more of a solid thread than a lot of games in this genre.
Exploring the world is one area in which the game feels a little rough around the edges. You can walk, run and jump around but it never feels truly interactive. The open areas can be difficult to navigate seeing as the map can be incredibly difficult to use. This leads to a lot of time wasted wandering through the same areas over and over again and due to the game’s focus on player agency, there’s no waypoints or hints as to what to do next. This is obviously to serve the feeling of exploration but I do wish the environment were a little easier to navigate. One thing the game does do well is in showing the elements of the world which you can interact with. Using your light emitting vessel you can make plants grow, build structures out of vines and open doors. It’s always clear what you have to do and watching a small flower bloom before your eyes is always a treat to behold.
Thankfully, walking through the world of Aporia: Beyond the Valley never once grows tiring due to its impeccable visuals. It’s quite simple astounding that a team of this size have managed to create such a pretty game. It’s all in the lighting as Aporia: Beyond the Valley utilises rich reds and dusky pinks to bathe the environment in. There are subtle differences in the way each area looks, with each one portraying a dream-like and other-worldly quality.
I did unfortunately experience some hard crashes throughout the game, mostly while walking around in the open world sections. Frame rate was great throughout though and due to the game’s generous auto-save system, performance was never a real problem.
The puzzles in the game are simple and mostly just serve as a way to stagger the story out. There’s light reflecting puzzles, water-guiding and symbol-matching here, but nothing too inventive. One puzzle in particular, which tasked me with reflecting light around an area without the luxury of being able to see it, was tiring to say the least and really halted my progress at a time when I really wanted to push on to find out more about the story.
While puzzles are a pretty big part of the game, they’re not the main reason to play. The main lure of Aporia: Beyond the Valley is in its mystery and alluring atmosphere. Excellent sound design and the previously mentioned beauty of the world around you really give the feeling of being a tourist in another world, one of ancient yet forward-thinking technology.
Given the rise of environmental storytelling in the industry as of late, you’d be forgiven for thinking Aporia: Beyond the Valley is just another walking simulator, derivative of the games which came before it. What you’ll find in reality is a rich, unique and emotional tale of the fall of a civilisation. The world of Aporia: Beyond the Valley is as inviting as it is beautiful. Great pacing and a solid narrative keep the game moving in spite of some technical issues and uninspired puzzle sections. If you play games to experience other worlds then Aporia: Beyond the Valley is a world well worth exploring.