Developer Friend & Foe boasts former members of Team Ico and Guerrilla Games, and the calibre of talent behind this debut project shows in this artful and profound experience. Numerous influences have played their part in this game’s construction from Journey to INSIDE, yet it carves out its own identity in both form and function.
Vane is a visually arresting and compellingly enigmatic journey steeped in unnerving atmosphere. A cataclysmic opening foreshadows your path ahead; a great storm lashes and tares at the world as you, a small boy, run for shelter. Awaking as a crow, you glide off into the arid expanse of edgeless pale desert before you, in search of answers.
Subtle shimmers and lighting cues guide you organically through the landscape as you venture deeper into the crags and gullies of the barren wastes. This world feels ancient and primal; as if its typography was wrought out of metal and clay, sculpted by some unseen hand. Jagged geometry reflects a world under strain, while a captivating stop-motion quality to animations furthers the feeling of a handcrafted world. A superb, brooding dark synth score waxes and wanes with your pilgrimage, its warm hums and industrial rhythms mirroring the tense duality of this world.
Beyond elegant environmental hints, exploration is entirely unguided and wholly encouraged. While at times this obliqueness can make unveiling the path ahead seem hopeless, the sense of reward as you succeed, and press on is fulfilling. This same ambiguous approach is taken to storytelling; mechanical husk and brutalist structures echo a bygone civilization, while trapped children and ominous robed figures portend some apocalyptic event, affirming your journey’s purpose.
The game uses its minimal mechanics to great effect, creatively iterating on them in new ways as you progress. Cawing as a crow commands your murder to trigger mechanisms, yet later, in your human form, this same ability acts as a shout to activate orbs of golden energy and rally allies to your side. This mysterious golden substance is the dwindling life force of this dystopia, holding the power to transform you from crow to boy and miraculously rebuild ruined structures. The contrast of luscious gold against the muted palette of this ruined world is striking and this motif of transformation, embodied by the boy, is used through your journey, marrying gameplay and storytelling sublimely.
Flight mechanics in your crow form can be finicky, with landing on perches and levers being particularly awkward to execute. Similarly, the camera requires intermittent wrangling, popping through environments or angling itself behind obstacles. While the lack of hand-holding inspires and often rewards exploration I occasionally found myself pursuing a dead-end path, requiring some tedious backtracking to find the correct route forward. Inconsistent checkpoints are also a hindrance for those who do not wish to complete the game in one 3-4 hour sitting, requiring lengthy sections to be replayed should you have to exit. These minor gripes aside, this is a visually and mechanically impressive game, especially from a team of only five developers.
A calamitous final act presents you with a poignant choice as you ascend a monolithic tower in the eye of the storm. Like Journey and others of its ilk, the wordless narrative leaves its symbolism and abstractions open to interpretation, staying with you beyond its conclusion. Vane’s striking imagery, inventive mechanics and enthralling atmosphere serve its nebulous narrative to sublime effect, resulting in a masterfully crafted adventure that sets a high bar for the year ahead.
[Editor’s Note: We received word before the review went live that there would be an update to address some issues with the game, namely bugs that caused progression loss. However, we don’t know exactly when the patch will go live, but you should bear that in mind. Max had a few technical problems that caused some progression loss during his time with the game. UPDATE: The patch is live now.]
Vane PS4 Review
Vane’s arresting visual design, inventive mechanics, compelling environmental storytelling, and tense, viscous atmosphere converge to create a truly exceptional experience and PS4’s first essential exclusive of the year.
– Stunning art and audio design
– Excellent environmental storytelling and puzzle design
– Captivating narrative and atmosphere
– Some camera issues and poor checkpointing
Reviewed using PS4 Pro.
Max is a lover of games, fine whisky and dogs with soft faces. Often seeking out games Chris dubs “artsy sh*t”, some say Max has a refined taste, while others simply consider him pretentious. Wherever you stand on the matter, he undeniably writes words. His other hobbies including leading a cult, touching dog’s faces and telling everyone he is vegan.