Mobile Game Review: Silent Valley

silentvalley1Developer:  g5 Games
Available for: iPad
Genre: Puzzle/Adventure

Silent Valley is the touchscreen equivalent of a point-and-click adventure game ala the Myst series.  For those unfamiliar with the genre, gameplay consists of a series of static background images with various items to investigate and collect.  Clicking on doors or pathways generally lead to other static scenes as if the player had walked to a new area.  Along the way, various hurdles will impede the player until they can find the correct item and use it in the correct way to overcome the obstacle and proceed.  This means a lot of exploring the scenes as they become available, looking out for anything you can collect now and making note of anything you can’t use now but will need later (hint: if you can examine it, you’ll probably need it eventually).

There is a reason this genre was popular for early computer games and is making a resurgence with the indie developer boom from the digital distribution revolution.  Since they are essentially a series of still images (with mini puzzles thrown in at various points along the way to mix things up), the games aren’t very demanding from a design perspective.  The number of different things a player can possibly do is considerably more limited in this type of game compared to most.  The challenge comes from figuring out exactly what those options are and the correct order to do them in.  It is virtually impossible for the player to do anything the design team didn’t anticipate.

silentvalley4Because of this, the key to making a game like Myst or Silent Valley stand out is less about a solid game engine and more about the artistic choices made.   Silent Valley gets the game elements well enough – the minigames are well spaced and a good difficulty level, while also being different enough from the main game to mix up the gameplay in a good way.  The problem with the game is in everything else.

Beyond just making the puzzles interesting, a point-and-click adventure game has to tell a good story and make those static scenes come to life.  Without any real action or timed pressure to push the player forward, the game must be more like a book and rely on characters and story to drive the experience.   Unfortunately, Silent Valley doesn’t show much care over these details.  The initial premise of going to a secluded old hotel on your honeymoon is already thin enough, but it leaves room for some interesting ideas.  Too bad Silent Valley’s version of “interesting ideas” is apparently “clichéd, borderline racist Native-American mysticism.”  Even that could have been excused for a decent plot, but the writing does not improve from there.  The main antagonist is never even given a name besides “the landlady”, and she seems perfectly content to let you explore every nook and cranny of her home while making no attempt to hide the fact that she is doing something ambiguously evil to your husband.

While a lot of the actual mechanics of the game work fine in a technical sense, they don’t add much to the storytelling experience either.  No matter which direction you enter a room from, it is always presented from the same angle, giving the impression that instead of ever turning around your character just goes into previous rooms by walking backwards.  Another peeve was the logic behind some of the puzzles (why should I look all over for a razor blade to cut a rope when the very first thing I find is a saw?).

Overall, though, the game is a good distraction if you are a fan of the genre and want to kill some time.  The graphics are pretty good all things considered, and even if you spam the hint button on the easiest setting the game will take a good chunk of time to complete.

silentvalley7Gameplay: 6.5/10 – The point-and-click adventure genre can be tricky to grade on gameplay, since the mechanics are rather bare-bones by design.  Still, every genre has room for innovation, and besides a few amusing minigames this game does not do much to push the limits of the medium.  Plus, the half-assed ‘story’ hurt the experience a lot.

Graphics: 7/10 – The visuals in the game are the strongest part (as they often have to be for a game like this).  Sadly, while they are good they aren’t great.  There is nothing wrong with the graphics, but they don’t really impress.  This is especially true of the static backgrounds, which usually have one taken animated section (like running water or a swaying curtain), but leave the rest of the scene feeling all the more dead and lifeless as a result.

Sound: 7/10 – The sound in the game is mostly irrelevant beyond background music and some basic sound effects.  They aren’t so bad as to detract from the experience, but I often found myself playing the game muted nonetheless.

Overall: 6/10 –Silent Valley certainly accomplished what it set out to do, unfortunately it did so with the bare minimum requirements and called it a day at that.  As the individual scores reflect, each separate element does moderately ok on its own, but the final result feels like a mass-produced product more than a labor of love.  You get the sense that g5 built the one engine so that they could essentially pump out the same game over and over again with a new skin each time.  I haven’t played any of their other titles so I can’t confirm this theory, but for all the spiritual mumbo-jumbo in the game Silent Valley feels like a game with no soul.

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MONDAY, JUNE 26, 2017
Copyright 2012 Beazley Entertainment
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