Aporia: Beyond the Valley is a first-person puzzle adventure with a strong emphasis on narrative told without any dialogue either voiced or written. This is the first game from Danish indie developer Investigate North and has been made with the aid of film and television producer Ole Søndberg.
The start of the game sees the player awaken alone in deserted ruins, armed only with a magical artifact resembling a large glow-stick. This is the main tool you will use throughout the game, using it for a wide variety of tasks from opening doors to growing plants, or even just as a torch. Exploring the ruins offers you clues to the past, to why the ruined civilisation you find yourself in fell.
Instead of traditional cut-scenes Aporia presents you with a kind of animated projection with a stylised art style reminiscent of a tapestry, which are the main storytelling device in the game. As these lack any written or spoken element you are left with only the moving images, which leaves some room for interpretation. This lack of clarity in the storytelling is actually an asset, giving you room to ponder over the meaning and trusting you to work out what is going on. As the game progresses the story becomes clearer and reveals itself as a somewhat dark but interesting tale which I very much enjoyed deciphering.
Trust in the player to work things out extends further into the game, even down to the map, which doesn’t offer a lot of the conveniences you may be used to like an indicator for player location or icons to mark puzzles you have completed. This pushes you to work out your location the old fashioned way, relative to landmarks you have identified; this is particularly true in one, large, section of the game which is set in an open valley where you have a lot of freedom to explore and choose which puzzles to tackle first. Minimalism continues into the rest of the UI, which gives basic but clear button prompts when you first need to perform a certain action, as well as a health and mana bar which disappear when not needed.
The game features an interesting and attractive environment that encourages you to explore simply to see the next impressive vista or interesting structure. Having the user interface fade away only makes these vistas more striking, with no screen space given over to clutter. As you can see in the screenshots here the game is generally pretty, though there are some disappointingly low-resolution textures on show along with the occasional piece of floating foliage. This lack of visual polish doesn’t hurt the overall effect too much though with the excellent lighting and effects largely making up for it. The graphics are accompanied by a good soundtrack which fits well with the setting, along with clear audio cues for gameplay elements.
While story is very much the focus of the game there are plenty of puzzles to solve. These puzzles are in the main fairly simple, but with a good variety of mechanics so they don’t get dull. Initially the only challenge comes from these puzzles but later in the game this changes, which without spoiling anything adds tension and a touch of hide and seek to the gameplay. Swinging in the opposite direction there are also a couple of sections where you’re in control of a small boat serenely gliding across the water, easing the tension which may have built up.
The game runs on CryEngine and generally performs well, though sadly graphics options do not allow for much fine-tuning, offering only Low/Medium/High/Very High settings. Fortunately these do offer a significant range of performance to accommodate a good variety of hardware. A field of view slider is included in the options, though the maximum allowed setting is 80 degrees which may still feel constricting to some. The user interface automatically scales dependent on screen resolution, so this title works well for high-resolution (1440p and 4k displays).
While frame rates were largely smooth and consistent I did experience major problems with the game crashing, with no readily apparent cause. Throughout my playtime I had approximately one crash per hour, which did significantly impact my enjoyment of the game. Most of these crashes simply dumped me back to the desktop but in one instance I actually had to restart my computer to recover from the crash.
As with many narrative or puzzle-focused games Aporia doesn’t offer much replay value, nor is it especially long. This is acknowledge by the launch price of £14.99/$16.99/ €16.99 from Steam and Green Man Gaming, so the short length is less of an issue than it would be for a full price AAA release. Overall I enjoyed my time with Aporia: Beyond the Valley, but if you’re on the fence it may be worth holding off on an early purchase to let the developer resolve the technical issues.
[Editor’s Note: Aporia: Beyond the Valley was reviewed on a Windows PC, and was provided to us by the developer for review purposes]Aporia: Beyond the Valley Review,