Review: Vane (PS4)

Review: Vane (PS4)

Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4

Platform/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4 Pro
  • 4K HDR

Extras:

  • DualShock 4 Required (1)
  • Move None
Title: Vane
Format: PSN (4.77 GB)
Release Date: January 15, 2019
Publisher: Friend & Foe AB
Developer: Friend & Foe Games
Original MSRP: $24.99 (US), £17.99 (UK)
ESRB Rating: E10+
PEGI: 7
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
Vane opens as a perilous storm tears apart a seemingly endless landscape surrounding an ominous tower. You control a child making your way through the lightning strikes and swirling debris, and the draw of the tower guides your meandering path towards it, despite no overtly given clues.

As you approach the tower, a doorway becomes clear. A tall, slender figure stands in the doorway, its bird-like beak pointing down at you from under a hooded cloak. The mysterious figure prevents your entry to the tower and everything begins to fade away.

A moment later you appear as a bird, perched on a tree branch looking out over a vast and tranquil desert. From the onset, Vane is full of mystery and exploration, and your own desire for answers will carry you through the journey ahead.

At first it was unclear to me whether I was controlling the bird or if it was simply part of an in-game cutscene. When nothing changed and my curiosity got the best of me, I started tapping buttons and soon found myself soaring around the expansive desert in search of any clues as to what I was supposed to do.

Review: Vane (PS4)Review: Vane (PS4)

Vane relies on clever game design and subtle audio-visual cues to direct the progression and flow of the game. This departure from traditional game mechanics, such as on-screen text directions or tutorial missions, lends itself to a highly immersive experience.

Throughout the game, you transform between a bird and child, solving various puzzles in order to progress through diverse environments. The controls are very simple and similar for both. You can call out as either, which can serve different purposes, but it’s literally a screech when you are the bird or an indistinct exclamation when you are the child.

In the case of the bird, you may land on one of the game’s many weathervanes and call out in order to attract surrounding birds that will land on the same vane, effectively triggering a switch. As the child, you may call out to activate a mysterious golden light that transforms you from the bird to the child.

Occasionally buttons are used to interact with the environment around you, but when that happens it’s either instinctive by that point or an artfully presented button icon appears directing you what to press.

At times, especially as the bird, controlling the character and camera together does not feel smooth. The camera is jerky at times, or it gets stuck behind walls or under floors as you traverse through a narrow area. This is a shame, as it’s one of the few things in Vane that breaks the immersion.

Despite simplified controls, the puzzles are nuanced and provide a great sense of accomplishment when they’re completed. The game has no dialogue and little to no explanation of what you are doing or why, so when you’re able to piece together a solution it’s that much more rewarding.

Vane is a game full of huge landscapes that are impressive not only in their expansive aesthetic, but also because you are able to go almost anywhere you please within them. The puzzles take advantage of this sense of freedom by requiring the player to explore large areas while making mental notes of where they need to end up.

Many of the puzzles require some variation of recruiting more birds or children to surpass some obstacle that is centrally located. There is no HUD or map that the player can fall back on to guide them back to this position.

Review: Vane (PS4)Review: Vane (PS4)

The game’s most impressive design feature comes to the forefront later on. During some puzzles, the strange golden light is used to affect the environment around you in real time. Sometimes a tattered wall will simply fill in to become a more solid surface, while other times a bridge will literally form in front of you to provide a path to a new area.

As the light is moved away, the effect is reversed, and the bridge or stairway formed will un-form in reverse until it has deconstructed itself to nothing. If the light is brought back towards it, it forms again. Moving the light through various environments to construct a means of solving a puzzle is not only fun and unique, but remarkable from a technical perspective.

Visuals:
Vane is a beautiful game. The art direction and color palette are minimalistic but well-suited to the game’s sense of openness and intrigue. Everything appears to be hand-painted while also making a clear choice to over-pixelate certain models or textures in the landscape.

This choice in form may also serve the function of allowing such huge areas to be open for free traversal. However, if that’s the case, it seems to sometimes fall short when the grand scheme of everything catches up with the game’s performance.

Review: Vane (PS4) Review: Vane (PS4)

There are some instances where there seemed to be a framerate drop, or some other kind of overall chugging in performance. These graphical dips seem to take place more often when you are controlling the bird, and are usually very brief, but are nonetheless jarring during an otherwise serene experience.

Lighting effects in Vane are superb. Whether it’s the relentless flashing of lightning during a pounding storm or the subtly lit reflections of boulders on a puddle in a large, dark cave, the way that light is used makes each environment feel more real.

Shimmering light far off in the distance can serve not only to grab your eye but also guide you towards your next objective, though darkness is equally important. Throughout the game, the contrast between light and dark is used to add intrigue to an area yet to be explored or an unknown character.

In addition to its fun and creative gameplay hook, the use of the mysterious golden light to manipulate your surroundings shines through visually, and sets Vane apart from similar adventure titles. The way that a static environment can suddenly ripple to life and seem to pulse in response to the light’s energy is incredible to behold.

Review: Vane (PS4)Review: Vane (PS4)

Audio:
The sounds of Vane, like the visuals, are generally minimalistic but seem to be a perfect fit for the subject matter.

When you are the bird exploring the desert, you hear the gentle sound of wind gliding over your feathers. If you flap your wings faster, the sound of the rushing wind picks up in volume and works in tandem with visual cues to provide a greater sense of speed.

While these sound effects are practical and understated, others such as the sounds of the child character calling out and the reverberations of the golden light reacting to those calls are more surreal and give Vane a science-fiction edge.

The music takes it to another level. The 1980s-era synthesized tracks would feel right at home in Stranger Things, and they range from gentle background noise to dramatic explosions of sound punctuating an important moment or discovery. At times the music is so fun to listen to that you may not want to move on to the next area.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is one player only with no online component.

Review: Vane (PS4)Review: Vane (PS4)

Conclusion:
Vane is a short game that succeeds in leaving the kind of lasting impact that comes from a long expedition. Though the immersion is sometimes broken by technical shortcomings, these shortcomings seem to be the result of a commendable undertaking in scope and vision. The unique puzzles, endless creativity, and moving sense of style make it an unforgettable experience.

Score:
8.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

Written by Brock Arnett

Gamer since the NES days, Boilermaker, Colts and Pacers fan. I can’t wait until my two boys are old enough to play games with me.

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