Beautiful isn’t a word you would usually use to describe a game; instead you may say the graphics are stunning, the world is entrancing or the sound design is engrossing. It’s rare to see a game achieve all of this and more. Vane is a beautiful game, I will not soon forget. During this review I will do my best to balance the discussions of tones, aesthetics, and gameplay while simultaneously not trying to reveal too much about what happens. I believe this is a game you should go into with as little information as possible to get the best experience.
You start the story as a crow that you soon discover can turn into a boy; you’ll fly and run across various lands, caves and ruins, solving puzzles of increasing difficulty in order to continue to the next location in a world that is full of desolate charm.
The game hosts a simple aesthetic having all the materials wear a polygon texture, however this lack of fine detailing is well made up by the incredible variety of complex structures, both natural and man-made. This clash of designs made it look like I was watching a moving painting rather than playing a videogame, I often found that I had stopped playing the game because I was too busy admiring the images on screen.
You never see a HUD while playing, the developers what you to explore this world in your own time, without maps or arrows pointing you to where you need to go, it’s your job to look around and figure how to get to the next location. I found flying through this world to be oddly relaxing with little to no music and no prompts on screen, just you and a direction you choose.
This absence of information can also cause you to become stuck in a location because you simply don’t know what you’re supposed to do in order to continue. At one point I found myself running around the same area for 15 minutes because I kept missing the thin path leading me to the next puzzle. You need to be in the right mind-set to really enjoy this game and realise that this isn’t supposed to be rushed, you’re supposed to take the time to appreciate the journey you’re on.
The further you travel the more the world changes around you, these changes become increasingly complex right up till the end. I found myself comparing Vane to developer Playdead’s game Inside, in the way that both games have you exploring a mostly abandoned world, solving puzzles and having a heavy emphasis on style and atmosphere. The main difference being Vane’s tone starting out with a sense of wonder and freedom and slowly over the course of the game becoming more sinister, while Inside was sinister from the word go. Vane’s shift from bright to bleak happens very gradually, fitting into the theme of taking your time to enjoy what’s there, you’ll go from a sunny open desert to a dimly lit cave to a magically illuminated tower and it never feels out of place.
For all this game did right with its overall presentation it lacks when it came to the controls. I found that flying as the crow can be great in an open space, but when you are forced into an enclosed area the flying lacks the control needed to move around without colliding with objects or overshooting the thing I wanted to land on. While playing as the boy the movement was sluggish and slow. That being said the more I played the less I noticed these movement problems, possibly hinting at a learning curve for the controls.
This game is short, my first play-through took me 3 ½ hours, my second only took me an hour. I would argue that the story should be played through in one sitting, the short campaign would certainly help in that area, however I imagine that anyone who’s on the fence of buying this would be put off by the, at the time of writing, £17.99 price tag for what is essentially an afternoon of gaming. Vane does have replay value, hence my second play-through, due to having multiple endings, but as I already said my second go was over in less than a third of the time it took me the first time round, as I already knew where to go and what to do.
Having played this game the day it come out I was subject to an abundance of glitches. I had constant framerate drops, the camera clips through walls and sometimes faced a random direction while I was flying, textures would flicker and pop-in, I once walked though stairs as if they weren’t there instead of walking up them, at times you need to rely on the AI to perform a task and which they don’t forcing you to restart to a previous save or they will be floating in mid-air and at one point the characters model became transparent and I could see inside the protagonist. None of these are game breaking and I imagine could be easily fixed with updates, it’s just a shame I had to play host to them because it would constantly break the immersion the developers worked so hard to achieve.