Aporia: Beyond the Valley screenshot of some lovely locations at night

Aporia: Beyond the Valley is a relaxing first-person puzzle-adventure set in a world full of ancient technology and long-overgrown ruins. It is going to be up to you to discover what caused the downfall of the once great civilization, what exactly the miraculous and life-giving amber fluid truly is, and most importantly of all, who in the world are you?

So if you're a fan of exploration games and you're interested in going on a journey that will take you through some truly memorable locations, allow me to share with you my thoughts on Aporia now that I've finally reached the end myself.

Aporia screenshot of some mystic stones

No matter where you go there is something worth seeing

The very first thing I noticed when I stepped into Aporia was the spectacular visual design, and this was something that followed me from the very beginning to the very end. Aporia was created in CryEngine so its graphical fidelity was almost guaranteed from the start, but I'm still impressed with the world the developers have managed to conjure up. Everything from the dimly lit forests to the musky ancient temples oozes with atmosphere, and I had a great deal of joy exploring these forsaken remnants. What I especially liked, however, was how all of the seemingly magical elements were implemented into the world as a whole. These items weren't anything unique and special to the civilization that once inhabited these lands. It was just another fact of life, and that alone made the story much more grounded and interesting to follow.

What also helps the feeling of immersion is the rather impressive audio design. The soundtrack rarely has any bombastic moments that hype you up for the events to come, but what it does offer fits perfectly with Aporia's world. If you're crossing a raging river and you can barely hear yourself think over the sound of deadly rapids, the soundtrack will enhance that feeling of terror as you slowly make your way to the other side. On the other hand, if you're walking through an ancient temple with only the occasional frog for company, the soundtrack will match that mysterious and enchanting atmosphere perfectly. The music might not be something you put on during your drive home, but when it comes to immersion it manages to do its job remarkably!

Aporia screenshot of a lovely sunset

Aporia has really nailed the atmosphere

While Aporia likes to call itself a puzzle-adventure, its most similar to what people consider a "walking simulator". There are still puzzles to solve, mind you, but they are few and far between. Instead, you will spend most of your time walking, running, climbing, and jumping across a variety of terrain in search of mysteries to solve. You will initially be fairly limited in where you can go and what you can explore, but once you get past the 1-hour mark the world will open up and you will be able to head in any direction you choose. Oh, and if your main problem with the whole "walking simulator" genre is the slow speed at which your character moves through the environment, worry not as Aporia is more of a 'running simulator' than anything else.

I personally don't mind the whole "walking simulator" thing as I love exploring derelict ruins, but I do wish there were some more intricate puzzles to solve. Throughout my entire playthrough I have only been stumped two times, and on both occasions it wasn't the puzzle itself that took me for a ride, but rather my inability to notice the obvious clue on a nearby wall. For a game that likes to tout its "interesting puzzle mechanics" this really shouldn't be the case. I'm not expecting the puzzles to be so difficult only the most hardcore players could ever hope to solve them, but there should at least be some sort of challenge present, because otherwise why even bother having puzzles at all?

Aporia screenshot of easy puzzles

It might look complex, but you can complete it within 2 seconds just by button-mashing

Speaking of challenge, figuring out the story in Aporia has proven to be a refreshingly tricky affair. The entire narrative is told through either short animations with absolutely no audio to help you out, or though the various paintings you'll encounter during your journey. Thankfully the characters are all clearly identifiable and surprisingly expressive given the medium, so what could've easily ended up being an exercise in frustration is actually a more interesting puzzle than the puzzles themselves. If you're wondering what the story is about, I'm afraid you won't hear it from me as that would ruin the whole experience, but what I will say is that you should pay close attention to your surroundings. You can 'predict' quite a few of the upcoming plot points just by being observant and connecting the right dots, and that is the sort of design I can certainly respect.

The way Aporia tells its story is certainly intriguing, but the whole system is not without its flaws. Since the entire story needs to be told without any sort of dialogue most of the important revelations happen at predetermined locations, which means that all of the cave-paintings you'll discover through pure exploration are simply fluff. They are pretty to look at, and they do help flesh out the world a little bit, but as a reward for clever exploration they are just not that compelling. In most other adventure games finding a hidden path through a waterfall would lead to either an audio-log or at least some sort of unique item, but in Aporia these types of secret locations only yield a single picture with barely any substance to it. A real shame since everything about Aporia pushes you to go out into the world in order to uncover all of its secrets, only to find pretty much nothing but disappointment when you get there.

Aporia screenshot of the story cutscenes

The artwork is simple, but the characters are highly expressive

As I mentioned earlier, Aporia quickly transitions from relatively linear levels into a proper open-world, and this is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand it feels really good to venture out into the wilderness and see what sort of nonsense you'll be able to find this time around, but on the other hand trying to navigate your way to any specific location is a ridiculously difficult task. Unless you memorize the entire region the map is going to be almost entirely useless since it doesn't show your position, so I hope you like randomly meandering through through the forest at night while searching for that one location you still haven't visited! I'm aware that this is a bit of a petty complaint and that I'm probably too stupid to read a real map, but for a game that's all about going on a relaxing journey Aporia sure is stingy with any sort of directions.

All of my random wanderings also exposed quite a few bugs, and while most aren't an issue there are a few that straight up annoy me. The first and biggest glitch I've encountered is related to ladders. Instead of just climbing up as a normal person you do a bit of a teleport when you're at the very top, which not only looks incredibly out of place and awkward, but it also has a chance to teleport you to a slightly incorrect position... above the pit you just climbed out of! The second issue I have are the relatively inconsistent invisible walls. Sometimes you can jump on rocks and climb up a mountain in order to discover a hidden area, other times you can't even walk anywhere near the rocks before you get bounced back, and sometimes you can straight up avoid entire puzzles by doing a couple of obvious jumps. None of this was enough to sour my experience with Aporia, but I would definitely want to see these types of issues fixed in the next few updates as they can really break your immersion and take you out of the whole experience.

Aporia screenshot of a greenhouse

Its hard to remain annoyed with something so lovely

Closing Thoughts

Aporia: Beyond the Valley, much like every adventure game that fits the "walking simulator" criteria, is not going to be for everyone. If you're looking for tricky puzzles or plenty of action I'm afraid you won't find that here, but if you're looking to undergo a relaxing and slow-paced journey through some truly lovely locations you might just find Aporia to be up your alley. Its not going to revolutionize the genre or set the world on fire, but it is a solid exploration game with some interesting ideas behind it, so if you like what you've seen so far chances are you'll have fun with Aporia.

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