We’ve just returned from a strange and enigmatic journey, one that sadly wasn’t as enthralling as we were hoping for.
Storms, lightning strikes. Vane launches you straight into the action. You run, weaving through the tempest as you make your way to some sort of sanctuary. It’s an intense intro and the first couple of minutes promise so much, but sadly, this adventure game from Friend & Foe never really delivers on that potential.
In fact, the cracks are there from the get-go. The storm rages over you, but as huge panels from the metal clad floor fly up into the sky, you’re greeted by an invisible wall that you can’t get through. When you finally make it to safety, you’re rejected by a strange man in a mask and the game moves onto the next act. This is when you find yourself as a raven-like bird on a branch in the desert. Why? Well, that’s open to interpretation. There is no clear narrative in Vane, with much of what happens left up to your imagination. This technique can really work in games; you only have to look at Journey and others of its ilk to see how non-narrative storytelling can work, but this misses the mark.
You take control of the bird as it flies off from the tree. There is no real clear instruction as to what you have to do, and you really have to pump that X button to take off. The controls already start to feel a bit sluggish. When you’re finally in the air you soar and you’ll notice one thing: this game is stunning. Then again, what more do you expect from an artist who worked on The Last Guardian?
At first, the world is an expansive desert filled with broken buildings and various structures – it looks like a dying world out of something like Mad Max. The huge desert and underground caves you can fly into are a joy to behold, and it should be especially prevalent when you are flying high in the sky. Sadly, two things stop you from enjoying it. Firstly, it’s hard to know what you have to do in the initial moments as you fly a little aimlessly through the desert looking for glints that catch your eye.
You make your way to these points and end up calling a bunch of other birds to activate a windsock. You do a few of these and then there will be enough birds that fly to a tower to make it fall over. It’s not overly clear what you’re doing or why you’re doing it, but rather than be a little mysterious, it feels underwhelming, and a feeling of being a bit lost seemed to follow us through the game.
The puzzles were tricky based on the lack of information rather than actual brain taxing conundrums. This first puzzle was time-consuming as the map never once helped you to find the next windsock. Once a windsock was activated more birds would join your quest, but you never knew how many you needed.
Why were windsocks connected to the tower? We’re not so sure because Vane is left very much open to interpretation and discovery. If you’re the kind of person who likes thing laid out for them or if you want the environment to point you in the right direction, this probably isn’t one for you.
When you finally break the tower, a glowing ball crashes down the ravine and creates a pool of gold material. This pool changes you from being a bird into a boy, in order to help you run up and activate an environmental puzzle. We’ll get back to this soon.
The second thing that damages your experience is the camera. A fixed camera, especially when flying, would have been great in such a spectacle. However, rather than enjoying the vista, you find yourself correcting the view as it drifts, or getting frustrated at how close the camera pulls in. We would found ourselves losing our bearings and spinning around, especially as the bird. It was hard to know where to land, or where you were. Some of the other faults we have mentioned could be overlooked, but this really influenced our playing experience.
As we mentioned before, when the bird lands in the pools of gold, you turn into a little child. When playing as this child, the camera gets slightly better. Not great, but better. However, we noticed some issues again as the camera went through the walls and floors.
There was a fair number of glitches, falling through floors and floating above the floor. Some people reported much more severe issues than those we experienced, however, we didn’t see anything too game breaking. A decent patch could easily fix it, so we can only hope that the developer sorts this out as soon as possible. If the camera problems can get fixed, then this might appeal to the more patient among us, the type of gamer who wants to work out the story, interpreting events while enjoying a beautiful view.
We weren’t sure why the transformation from bird to boy happened, but once it did, we found ourselves running around in order to solve puzzles, climbing stairs and pulling levers as the child. If we fell from too high, we turned back into the bird. This mechanic could have been something really interesting, but it didn’t feel totally developed or explained. We actually preferred being the bird, but as the game rolled on we spent more time as the child underground, where certain sections seemed to drag on a little.
Sadly, Vane was a little frustrating to play. If you watch the trailers and gameplay clips, the visuals will blow you away, however, when it comes to the experience, it falls short in a couple of key areas. According to Matt Smith, one of the developers, the game was created based on a feeling. We’re not sure what he felt and how that inspired him, but frustration is was the thing that we felt more than anything else. Still, it looks great, and if you like working things out for yourself you may have a better experience than we did here. At the same time, adventures like Journey pull a similar trick but execute it better. While the graphics are gorgeous, the lack of story and some wonky camera angles really hinder things.