Game Review: VALDIS STORY – ABYSSAL CITY

It’s a weird game, Valdis Story. It’s a weird name too. I usually like to begin by taking the gentle piss out of the title of whatever I’m looking at. Not this time though. I’ve been sat here for about an hour, staring out of my window into the grim smog of a British winter, and I’ve realised I can’t. I just can’t.

It’s perfect. It’s “Valdis Story”. What the hell joke can I make out of that? I’ve no idea whatsoever what a “Valdis” is, so I’m already enraptured by the prospect of the story. Will I find out what a Valdis is? Should I know already? A bit of light googling leads me to believe he’s a mediocre German rapper, but I have a feeling that’s not what this story’s about. And “Abyssal City”? That sounds like subject of a H.P Lovecraft tale.

Mystery, intrigue and the faintest hint of creeping horror. I’m in love with this thing and I’ve not even started. It’s beautiful and perfect and, as you’ve no doubt noticed, there is nothing funny to be said about that.

(Abyssal Shitty? What would that even mean? I should never have tried)

Brilliantly made, enjoyable games aren’t funny.

I’m afraid I’m in quite a bit of trouble this week.
(And not just because I’ve run out of discount lager and it’s pissing it down outside, robbing me of my only reprieve from life alone in a disgusting flat)

Valdis story is, as far as I can tell, the second full release from Endless fluff games, a two man (or rather, one man one woman) game development studio with, between them, enough talent to take a wicked piss all over a couple of the big, major studios. Which is a funny thing to say about a 2-D indie platformer. I was going to say it had excellent graphics, but after thinking about it I’ve realised that’s not accurate. There’s no bump-maps or tessellation or real time verruca rendering. In the entire game I think the water is pretty much the only thing to be 3D rendered, and it looks angular and unrealistic as hell.

I have THE POWAH! (because I invested heavily in Str)
I have THE POWAH! (because I invested heavily in Str)

Everything else is art, though. It’s all in the 2-D sprite style of old, only you can set the sprites to have a billion fucking pixels and wink roguishly at you while they banish eldritch horrors with a 100 blow combo. Before I go any further I should mention though that it only has three resolution settings: x0.5, xl and x2, which means that while it worked plenty gorgeously on my laptop, if you try to play it on a big damn cinema blocky texture issues might emerge.

Now I’m not going to say that realism can’t be equally beautiful. But you can’t keep up with the big developers at that kind of thing without a budget to match, and this game is pretty convincingly arguing that you don’t need one. One artist with a defined and consistent vision can make something that’s just as visually gorgeous as reality itself, all without hiring a team of trained artists to spend three weeks lovingly rendering every ruptured vein on your alcoholic father’s forehead. And that one person can do it without reducing my computer to a pile of molten slag, all the better.

It’s explorative and inventive and, most of all, strikingly gorgeous.

There are problems too. The world of this game is much larger than it’s map system can cope with, and with the speed you move around it you’ll never remember where anything is. The combat is pretty fun most of the time, but even on normal difficulty there’ll be times when you want to put your fist through your computer. It never feels cheap, exactly, but at time it feels fucking obnoxious, especially if you wanted into an area you’re not supposed to be. This doesn’t happen too often, they’ve been pretty clever with introducing new movement mechanics as and when you can handle the new areas, but when it does you’ll be slaughtered humiliatingly.

It's when the bosses are the same size as you that you know shit's gotten real.
It’s when the bosses are the same size as you that you know shit’s gotten real.

On top of this the character select screen promises four characters but only offers two, the other two options being greyed out. They might be unlocked via play, but I couldn’t find any answerers anywhere about how that might be achieved. I suspect, because of the indie nature of the title, that they might be un-greyed in an update. I remember feeling a bit annoyed about that, until I remembered that this was a two person project, and that if you took the amount of time it would take me to develop and insert a character and all their animations into a game like this and then halved it, you’d still be lucky to get it in before the heat death of the universe.

There is also one time trial that I am 100% certain only exists so that the guy (or gal) who created it can laugh at anyone who complains about it on the forums. That shit is just malicious.

If you don’t think about it too much, big AAA games are like the rich jerks of high school. they drive the right cars and date all the right cheerleaders and overall just are the exact kind of dick that you secretly always wanted to be. This is the guy with the scraggly beard and the long hair, hanging out in the back of his dad’s 70’s van and smoking a suspiciously herbal roll-up. You know you’d look cooler from the back of the convertible. But of course that dick’s listening to Ke$ha at a thousand fucking decibels and, with the roof down, you’re eyes are going to become a mass grave for gnats.

You also know you shouldn’t bother. You should take a ride in the back of that van, get back to his place, stick on some Floyd, and go on a fucking spacewalk.

(also, you do find out what a Valdis is, if you were wondering)

Valdis Story: Abyssal City
Developer: Endless fluff
Released: September 8th 2013
Website: Official

Score: 8/9 Hammers

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