Vane Review

By Mike Sousa on May 24, 2019

Exploratory adventure is a genre that has been slowly becoming more popular among the gaming community, with Rime, The Witness, Journey and Inside being perfect examples of this. Developed by Tokyo-based independent studio Friend & Foe, Vane tries to achieve a level of greatness that other games in the genre did in recent years, but unfortunately, it falls short due to poor choices in level design and several other issues.

Similar to Journey, there’s no dialogue or cutscenes in Vane, with the game’s story being left to your interpretation as you watch and interact with world around you. The game begins with you playing as a young boy who’s in a middle of a powerful storm. As the storm slowly breaks and destroys the environment around him, the boy desperately tries to find a safe location, but just as he was about to take shelter, he’s taken by the storm and everything goes black. After these events, the player takes on the role of a crow standing in a middle of a desert. From this point on, players can freely explore the expansive landscape while transforming between crow and child form.

Vane is mostly about exploration and puzzles, but don’t expect the game to hold your hand to tell you where you should go or what you should do. It’s clear that the developers wanted players to explore this expansive and beautiful world, however, the developer’s design decisions make what could have been an enjoyable experience something frustrating when all you want to do is just to progress.What I mean here is that often puzzles are so obtuse that you most likely complete them by sheer luck rather than smart-thinking, with the same being said on where you should go in the expansive open areas.

The starting area, the desert, is a perfect example of this. For starters, the game lacks an option to check a desert map or something similar to that, meaning that should you want to return to any location that you have been before, you will have to rely on your memory to know where that location was. Then there’s one of the puzzles in this area, which requires you to gather lots of crows in order to make a structure collapse, however, there’s nothing in particular that makes this particular structure “stand out” in comparison to everything else for you to know for sure that this is what you should be doing to proceed. Even the whole process of going around the desert gathering crows seems random at best, as they will just fly away if don’t do the right action, which itself is another of those situations where you might do the right thing by coincidence rather than skill.

Fortunately, Vane gets less frustrating in its second half, where the game ditches its large area environments in favor of linear areas. With the game at this stage taking place in closed areas, the experience becomes more enjoyable as you no longer walk around aimlessly and puzzles start to make a lot more sense. However, these sections make more apparent another of the game’s problems, the flight controls while in crow form. Both the controls and the camera feel imprecise and sluggish during these gameplay segments, and while this wasn’t much of an issue in open world areas of the game, the experience becomes slightly more frustrating in the linear sections because of the enclosed spaces and the precision of movement required to move around.

Although I have several complaints about aspects regarding level design and gameplay, the game didn't disappoint me on its overall presentation. With its mix of oil-painted art style and low-poly textures, Vane offers a unique visual experience. From its breathtaking vistas to the ominous caverns and harrowing storms, Vane is without a doubt a game that’s visually both stunning and impressive. This added to an excellent job done with the soundtrack, makes Vane a game that for the most part offers a great atmospheric experience.

Final Thoughts

Overall, Vane is game that offers a lot of promise but ultimately fails to be an enjoyable experience due to poor design and gameplay choices. Although I understand what the developers were going for with an exploration adventure that offers no hints on how you should proceed, this just turns into a boring and frustrating experience when everything regarding puzzles and what you should be doing is so obtuse that you either have to rely on a guide or your luck. While it’s true that the game’s visuals and soundtrack manage to deliver an engaging atmosphere that makes the experience more enjoyable, that’s really one of the few strong points that Vane has to offer.

Vane was reviewed using a PS4 Digital Copy provided by Friend & Foe Games. You can find additional information about Gaming Union's ethics policy here.
Engaging atmosphere with stunning environments and soundtrack.
Abstract experience that leaves the game’s story left to player interpretation.
Puzzles so obtuse that only contribute to frustration.
Imprecise and sluggish controls.
Performance issues and occasional glitches.
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