Vane. Part walking sim. Part flying bird sim. Part puzzler. All art house game. I really wanted to like this game. I kind of did, actually. Some of it, at least. I liked — and I mean, genuinely liked — what the game tried to do. I just couldn’t enjoy it completely due to a few prominent design flaws. That’s not to say you should write Vane off entirely. If you can look past the game’s issues, you’ll find an experience that has a lot of heart and soul — for that alone, maybe you should check it out. Maybe.
A Desert Dream Land
Gameplay in Vane is split up into two parts. You control a small child and explore a surreal desert land. What are you looking for? Shelter, maybe? Escape? As is the case in other similar art games such as Journey and Ryme, this is the type of adventure where the experience of playing in and of itself is the destination. And even though there is a concrete finale, the emotions the game evokes are felt primarily as you run through the desert, find your way out of ancient temples, and solve puzzles.
Speaking of puzzles, the brain teasers in Vane are a big part of the experience as they generally get you from one area to the next. These are fun and not too complicated for the most part. I actually really enjoyed the puzzles in Vane. They never felt overly difficult, and I always felt like I was constantly working my forward whenever I was presented with a multi-step challenge.
The main issue I had with these parts, though, was that controlling the kid was kind of problematic. Vane is one of those games where the protagonist runs pretty slowly. Aside from that little gripe, the movement is also really clunky. The kid’s jump is freakin’ weak, too, so don’t expect to climb small ledges on your first jump. There were times where I would try to jump onto a small step, but I would fail. Positioning the character by about an in-game foot would generally alleviate the problem, but that hardly makes any sense, spatially speaking.
Spreading Your Wings
When you’re not running through the hot desert sands or exploring lonely dungeons as the child, you play as a bird. The bird, who the child transform into at different moments, has its own set of puzzles to solve. A lot of these revolve around finding different weather vanes that then point you in the right direction. It can be a bit repetitive, but it’s mostly okay. Well, it would be, if not for those damned controls!
Like the kid, the bird controls are pretty unwieldy. Controlling the bird might actually be worse. This is especially disappointing because the feeling of guiding a bird through the sky should be liberating, but in Vane, it’s just annoying. This is due in part to the actual bird controls, but it’s also a big issue because of the awkward camera. If you’re flying at top speed, the camera will close in on the bird, over-the-shoulder style. Yes, this may work for third-person shooters and action games, but when you’re trying to soar through the sky, it’s nothing but bad news.
Emotion Through Sights and Sounds
Though not a technical marvel, Vane succeeds in the visual department because it successfully creates a dream-like landscape. The game reminded me of Ico in several parts, with its lo-fi environments ranging from lonely to serene. Running through a crumbling tower and solving puzzles was often satisfying. It was also awe-inspiring to walk through the haunting world and witness the interesting in-game architecture. More than anything, the game’s world is meditative, so even at its most wonky, Vane was still a calming journey for me.
Like Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, and other atmospheric games of that nature, Vane features lovely sound design. It’s nothing new for the genre, but the howling winds, echoing sound effects, and humming themes help to further elicit the game’s soothing vibes.
It’s hard for me to recommend Vane, but it’s just as hard for me to try and dissuade anyone from playing it. The game is… good? Decent? Serviceable?! There are definitely games that do what this game does a whole lot better. Even then, if art games are your jam, you might like Vane. It’s obvious the developer, Friend & Foe, set out to create something unique, exploratory, and emotional. In that sense, Vane puts up a solid effort within its three-hour journey. Unfortunately, there are some major hiccups that keep it from being the grand masterpiece it could’ve been.