Aporia: Beyond The Valley is a first person puzzle game that uses environmental storytelling for its narrative. Exploring the lush empty forest is practically a given for finding the back story out, with that in mind, this piece won’t delve into the narrative as it’d spoil part of the experience.
Upon launching the build, and finally knowing how you begin the game. You are greeted in a large empty dark room. The game’s UI is very minimal and features what would be best described as your basic needs, as it fades in and out. Taking prominence of your view, the set design helps elevate what could’ve been a very slow start. Instinctively the game does very little to bog you down with tutorials, instead it just prompts small actions as you figure how to do things in intuitive fashions. Whilst tedious if done repeatedly, such as pulling a rope to traverse a river these moments turn from wonder to a drag. Increasing my mouse sensitivity on the fly helped ease the experience, but it’s here where the gameplay had a crack I couldn’t quite ignore.
There’s a line between unnecessary and narrative struggle, given certain situations and its sporadicity. Moments of button mashing or quick times can lead to memorable scenes that last in your mind, for me the opening of Final Fantasy VIII-2 where Lightning is facing Caius in Valhalla will stick in my mind as a set piece filled with wow. Or even manually opening the numerous chests in Legend of Zelda where you had to flick the stylus to open them to a classic Zelda fanfare. A more minor complaint would be how the controls are ripped from you in certain situations and the slight sluggishness of an action, such as climbing a ladder. From how the game feels and wants you to play, player freedom should be more exercised. This means not having the player forced to look in a certain direction when a piece of narrative is delivered.
But other than that, this game performed as expected. The puzzle was relatively quick to solve, which was more accidental since a mechanic in the game is to grow plants and I went on a weird splurge of growing everything possible. In terms of puzzle mechanics it felt more escape room like in terms of design than some weird Professor Layton puzzle, which was a rather nice break from running about. In regards to the full demo given, it felt empty for the wrong reason. The demo itself did feel rather limiting though, being more of a taster than a demonstration of what the game will do. Part of this is because the build given cut off rather abruptly to the main menu. Then there’s the distance between the starting area and the first “real puzzle”, unless I was meandering around the wrong route. Walking through the forest felt rather lonely unnecessarily, lacking something to look out. I resorted to keep my mind busy by lighting every single candle possible, before I ran into a black mist which started draining my health. The music had no real impact personally, feeling more akin to music that just works.
Partially because of high expectations from the Green Man Gaming event, I had a slight expectation of more action/things to do. Playing the demo helped temper and redefine my expectations in some regards, from a less puzzle and explorative narrative in equal parts. To a more explorative narrative with some puzzles. The idleness in the forest wasn’t so much as uneasy in terms of atmosphere, but unnecessarily large in some regards. But this still hasn’t quelled my excitement for the full game, since it’s rare for something like this to catch my imagination with so little. As a side note, this article was written prior receiving review code. A full review will be posted on 17th July.