Actions speak louder than words, or so they say. It’s not every day that a game will not feature a single utterance or on-screen word, but Aporia: Beyond the Valley does just that. By using imagery to discover the cause of the fall of a civilisation – the Ez’rat Qin according to the Steam page – the game certainly is unconventional. Sadly, it doesn’t all work.
I went into Aporia knowing nothing of what to expect and the first hour was a journey of discovery. From the tapestry art that animates the story of the downfall of the Ez’rat Qin, to the core gameplay mechanic of using a light source to open doors, it was an interesting hook.
Aporia’s plot is very well told, introducing you to a cast of characters with different coloured garbs, telling the tale of how the Ez’rat Qin flourished and the events of their downfall. While I had an inkling of what the relationships were, it wasn’t until the final moments of the story that everything clicked into place and I was able to interpret the bigger picture. It’s masterfully told in that sense.
At times, the game can look stunning. From the startling views to some of the abandoned monuments, the game can at times look like you’re wandering around an UNESCO world heritage site, minus the people looking to flog trinkets to you. Some stunning lighting completes the look, as well as particle effects for when you do see ghostly images of the people that once lived there, and a particularly dazzling effect when you light the fire on top of a pyramid-like structure which is truly something to behold.
There’s something to be said for the soundtrack as well which is at times haunting and eerie, while at others beautiful and emphasises the wonderful views before you. Sound plays a big part in creating the game’s atmosphere as well, with the grand temples emitting an echo that erupts as you move through the big buildings, or the ethereal warbling whenever you’re being pursued by the spectre that haunts you in places.
It’s a shame then that Aporia is riddled with bugs and glitches, and not just the usual crashes and getting trapped in the environment. Firstly, the graphics pop in when the game loads, which given the texture layering effect is not a pretty sight, and there are instances where the higher quality textures don’t load. There are also quite a few bits where the environment would look like static, and there’s even a placeholder texture that appeared when I tried jumping over something I shouldn’t have been able to jump over.
Then there are the ladders. Aporia’s ladders are the only example whereupon reaching the top of the ladder I have zipped way above where I was expecting to be, and plummeted to my death on top of what I was climbing. You can mitigate this by not looking up when climbing, or conversely looking down when climbing something large, but this was the first real sign that things weren’t exactly working as intended.
Eventually new techniques begin to unlock in an organic fashion. Healing items are introduced by showing your light to scattered plant pots, as well as lanterns and vines to climb up or make bridges. All of this means that vials that restore your light source become rather scarce and only become scarcer as the game progresses.
Having the game open out into a Myst-style world is a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, being smart enough to discover new puzzles and solve them with trial and error makes you feel clever. An entire section is dedicated to mapping out where water should go to fill a small pool by completing a maze, which combines to have the right level of mental challenge.
On the other hand though, there comes a time where you don’t know where to go. For at least two hours, I was wandering around the island solving what were essentially side-quests. There’s a lack of guidance on the map for knowing where you are, meaning you’ll need to remember where you’ve been in order to find the pieces to open particular door.
What tipped the iceberg though was a puzzle involving weights and platforming across lava. The idea is to put stones into scales in order to raise or lower weights leading to a treasure. For full disclosure, we contacted the developers regarding this puzzle and it turned out that two of the nine stones that should have appeared did not spawn, rendering the puzzle impossible to complete without a bug fix. They have been made aware of the problem and have isolated the cause, working to implement a fix as soon as possible, but it’s something to be aware of nonetheless at launch.
After that infuriating bug though, venturing into the final areas was a genuinely pleasurable experience with a few more puzzles which culminated in a rather tense and enlightening few moments. Yes, it’s far more linear towards the end than it is in the middle section, but Aporia’s best moments ironically tend to be when the game is on a set track.
While I eventually enjoyed Aporia: Beyond the Valley, the moments where bugs and glitches appeared took me right out of the experience. It’s a shame too, as the story is well told despite uttering no words at all, the premise is genuinely interesting, and the puzzles – when they work as intended – are a joy to solve. It’s certainly one to wait on for now while they tidy up all the bugs and glitches.