Every developer wants to release Journey. I can't really blame them, it's an indie darling and basically the go-to example of how to do artsy games that everyone can enjoy. I think it's safe to say Vane wanted to take a shot at being the next Journey, featuring a vast desert and a child who must cross it. Is this story worth following, or should you just go play Journey again?
The game opens with a rather promising introduction. You play as a small child carrying a mysterious golden item in the middle of a storm. Your goal is to reach a tower in the distance. As you run, strong winds tear up pieces of the floor, lightning strikes and cause explosions of sparks and scrap metal. A fantastic soundtrack manages to perfectly match the action on-screen. The section ends with the child being blocked from entering the tower by a mysterious man in a bird mask, and they're left outside before being consumed by the storm. It's a wonderful intro, one that legitimately got me super hyped for the rest of the game. It's a shame, then, that the quality promptly plummets and never recovers.
After the intro, Vane never quite seems to have the direction it needs. The next segment opens with you playing as a bird. Here, I got the first taste of Vane's constant problems. The flying controls are simply awful. Any attempt at a small adjustment sees my crow fly off wildly in confusing and baffling ways. When parts of the game are designed around accurately and carefully landing on small perches, that's not a great fit. It doesn't help that the camera has a strange habit of zooming at random and getting stuck in the environment.
Once you fly around for a bit, you'll run into the game's central mechanic. There are golden items in the environment that transform you from turn bird to a human. Jumping off a ledge has the opposite effect, turning you into a bird before you can hit the ground. No matter what form you take, you can press a button to call nearby characters (either other birds or humans) to come to help you. Need to weigh down a switch? Call other birds and they'll land on it, giving you the pressure you need. It's very simple, and most puzzles revolve around these two mechanics.
I feel like the best way to describe Vane comes from one particular segment. You're pushing around a golden ball. That's already annoying since it requires the assistance of several children who are often a few seconds behind your own actions. At one point, you need to roll the ball down a hill towards a puzzle. The ball recreates destroyed objects in the environment as long as it's close to them. In this room, you see a destroyed walkway and a hill you can roll the ball down. Right away, I knew I needed to roll the ball down the hill and run across the walkway while it reconstructs beneath me.
However, despite the fact that Vane goes out of its way to show off those mechanics, that's not actually the solution. The aforementioned children who had to help you push the ball around? They'll stop the ball from rolling down the hill. I don't know why, because they've shown zero free will and only copied my actions before this. It turns out the correct answer is to abandon the ball and go searching for packs of children sitting near destroyed versions of the ball. Yelling at them forces them to join you, thus increasing the range of the ball's reconstruction ability. At no point is this mechanic mentioned or established beforehand, and it's never brought up again.
Things like this are why Vane simply fails as a puzzle game. The solution to each puzzle is almost always "wander around until you stumble across it." Another section requires you to free crows so they will help you weigh down a button. Two of the crows you actually free, and the other crow you just need to try to free. Despite the fact that the third crow is still clearly trapped in its cage, desperately cawing at you to help save it, the puzzle is considered "solved." What followed was me wasting a bunch of time trying to save this still trapped crow before eventually accidentally realizing I could move on without doing so.
In an attempt to be fair to Vane (trust me, this isn't really much better), this could be a glitch instead of poor design. In the three or four hours it took me to play through Vane, I ran into a ton of glitches. Quite a few of them forced me to lose large chunks of progress.
At one point, my character began to slowly turn sideways until he was totally horizontal, flying through the air like Superman and unable to interact with anything. In another area, he became permanently stuck in the "shouting" animation. At two different points, the character became trapped in the floor, forcing a reset. Since chapters have no checkpoints, this meant a very large chunk of lost progress. The developers have put out that there would be an early patch to fix some bugs, but I realized that none of the bugs I actually encountered were mentioned in the provided patch notes. It leads me to believe that there are even more problems than what I saw.
I'd at least like to say that Vane looked beautiful, and sometimes it did. It's easy to lose yourself in the desert landscapes. It's an amazing feeling to look off into the distance and know I can fly there. These good vibes last until the frame rate began to stutter, something that happens unfortunately often. The many big open areas and looking around quickly always seem to bring Vane to its knees. At least the soundtrack is always on point. It's the one section of Vane that I honestly have no complaints about.
You may have noticed I haven't even brought up the story yet, and that's because it falls deeply into "I don't get it" territory. It's going to end up meaning something different to each player, as it's chock full of imagery and symbology. If you ask me, the best I can tell you is that it's about the dangers of technology and refusal to change one's way in the face of growing threats. However, that's an assumption at best and it fails to really be captivating at worst.
Vane Review | Final Thoughts
It's a shame that Vane can't live up to the promise of its opening. I was honestly looking forward to the rest of the game. However, it's best to just pretend Vane doesn't continue after that first 15 minutes. That way you'll avoid the terrible controls, bad camera, obtuse puzzles, stuttering frame rate, and a myriad of game resetting glitches. Go play Journey again, it's getting a PC release soon.
TechRaptor reviewed Vane on PlayStation 4 using a copy provided by the developer.
- Amazing First Fifteen Minutes
- Wonderful Soundtrack
- Terrible Flying Controls
- Camera is Awful
- Puzzles are Often Obtuse, Nonsensical
- Extremely Glitchy
- Stuttering Problem