Aporia: Beyond the Valley is a beautiful game. A puzzle game with a focus on exploration, it brings the ruins of a once-great civilisation to life with its gorgeous lighting effects and unique storytelling devices. The game is at times a lovely exploration title, where you can soak up the delightful atmosphere and enjoy appealing visuals, and at other times it resembles that of a horror game. But at all times it’s an intensely compelling experience.
Aporia: Beyond the Valley is available on Steam for $16.99.
Ez’rat Qin, seemingly a once-great civilisation, fell to ruin. Throughout the game, animated paintings presented in the style of a storyboard tell of some kind substance that brought great prosperity: healed the sick and the old, brought a renewed life to the crops, providing a bountiful supply of food for all. But something went very wrong. It began to corrupt, killing people and crops in the masses, and bringing despair to the land. It’s full of ambiguity and is left mostly up to interpretation, but piecing together the mysterious narrative is a satisfying and rewarding experience, and I look forward to reading some of the theories and interpretations people come up with in the coming months.
The game also does a great job with environmental storytelling. The natural beauty of the land makes the past prosperity of Ez’rat Qin abundantly clear, whilst the haunting array of skeletons huddled together in fear are unnerving and quite saddening. There are some larger concepts going on, and the story certainly takes some interesting turns, but the discovery is a big part of the experience, and going into detail would spoil it. I can say, however, that Aporia’s narrative is unique, compelling and quite affecting at times. A strong highlight of the game.
Aporia has a pretty big focus on exploration. The player is given little in the way of direct instruction, and no clear objective is yet for the player. That’s not to say the game is poorly designed, however, it’s in fact quite the opposite. The way that the game manages to communicate exactly what it needs to without a single word, and with its minimal HUD, is very impressive. Everything the player needs to know can be found entirely in the environment, through paintings on walls, symbols on doors, or simply the direction and emphasis of lighting. It’s an impressive marvel of game design that is minimal yet effective.
Although Aporia’s exploration is mostly linear in the beginning, it eventually opens up quite dramatically. You’ll eventually find a map that reveals the rest of the world, but it’s certainly a little vague and can be a little difficult to read. As the game opens up, though, it reveals its true hand: puzzles. Although after an hour or so I was starting to suspect this title was an entirely exploration-focused affair, concerned with its ambiguous story and creating a serene atmosphere. I was quickly proven wrong, however, when I stumbled across the puzzle elements of the game.
There’s some interesting and unique puzzle design, and much of it is engaging and rewarding to solve. The puzzles start out quite simple, novel but still quite simple, but it doesn’t take long before they become quite intricate. One strong example that comes to mind is a puzzle that required me to redirect the flow of water in order to fill a large pool. Or another one early on where you’re examining hieroglyph-looking symbols in order to match them up with the corresponding symbol. Some novel puzzle design that further emphasises themes and concepts from the story.
GRAPHICS AND SOUND
Aporia has some truly beautiful presentation, and this is one of the game’s strongest assets. There are some fantastic visuals, including great lightning that brings the world to life and effective use of light shafts that create a strong sense of atmosphere. Unfortunately, the game could use some better optimisation, as I struggled to run the game on my pretty capable rig, but there have already been a couple of patches addressing it so hopefully it’s something that can resolved sooner rather than later.
Although it has a cohesive and vibrant style to it, and much of the game does look great, there are some areas that look noticeably weaker. There’s something a little off about the way the water looks, especially as it flows downstream, and there are certainly some questionable texture work here and there. Furthermore, there’s a real weird jankiness to some of the animations (or the absence of them, in most cases), for example, climbing up a ladder has a jerky and abrupt look to it. It’s certainly nothing major, and if you don’t go out of your way to scrutinise textures then it’s still a gorgeous-looking game overall, but these minor issues can take you out of the experience somewhat.
The aforementioned paintings, which are used as a primary storytelling device, are gorgeous, quaint and quite charming. They effectively tell the stories they need to, and are animated in a unique and stylised way. In terms of audio design, the game equally fantastic. There are a vast array of satisfying sound effects and little jingles for a whole range of things, from refilling your vial, using your vial to bring life to dead plant-life, and more. Aporia also has an excellent original score, soft and sweet melodies further add to the serene atmosphere, whilst the music suitably changes when things become… less than ideal. Presentationally, the game is an absolute treat on the senses. A gorgeous game with excellent sound design.
Ultimately, Aporia: Beyond the Valley is a lovely experience with some fantastic presentation, and, even though it can be a little rough around the edges at times, it’s still a striking and impressive game. Once some of the unfortunate technical issues have been ironed out with some patches (which it seems the developers are already working on), it’ll truly stand out as a marvel of visuals in an indie title. The game’s ambiguous narrative and mysterious world create an interesting and compelling mystery to be solved, whilst the puzzles and exploration elements are both satisfying and rewarding.