The whole ‘minimalistic and subtle adventure’ genre is something that’s become fairly popular in gaming over the years, with it seemingly kick started by the likes of Ico but becoming more modernised in fresher releases like RIME. I’m actually a fan: a lack of guidance often encourages more exploration, which is something I’ve often found I do less and less in video games as I’ve gotten older.
Vane, the PlayStation 4 exclusive from developer Friend & Foe, is the latest release to embrace this style, with it offering a minimalistic adventure that truly encourages the player to discover the world and the puzzles that are scattered across it. Whilst it’s made clear throughout that titles like Ico inspired it though, Vane fails to reach the heights of Sony’s much-loved classic thanks to some game-breaking bugs that halt the gameplay experience and some overly obtuse exploration.
The story behind Vane is very vague to say the least, with the player taking on the role of a young boy who’s trying to hide from a storm. He encounters a strange being that brings a halt to his plans though and actually pushes him into the storm, resulting in him getting sucked away and turning into a bird (I hate it when that happens). From there, it’s up to you to venture across a bewildering land and… do something? There’s no real narrative point given to you early on, with the player just heading across the environment and solving puzzles. Sure, there’ll certainly be a sense of intrigue and you’ll definitely come across some interesting things, but don’t expect to see some big narrative unfold with the game keeping everything subtle for the most part.
You’ll switch between controlling the bird and the boy as you progress through the game, with the player able to transform at certain points. What you do as each characters varies up the experience a bit – playing as the bird feels more about exploration, whilst the boy goes a bit more hands-on with a focus on platforming and interacting with the environment itself. Either way, having the two to play as does add a bit of variety to the core puzzle-solving experience, making it interesting to play as both through the game.
In fairness, most of the puzzles are well designed too and manage to blend together each aspect of the game’s design in meaningful and enjoyable ways. Whilst there are some that felt a bit TOO cryptic in design at times, it actually felt intentional with it pushing the player to take the time to explore their surroundings and discover the solution to each problem themselves. It was all very old-school in design and in most areas of the game I could appreciate it.
However, there were moments where the sheer size of the game world and the lack of any form of guidance made solving some puzzles feel like a burden. The desert area you visit early on in the game was a fine example of this, with it proving so large in size and the puzzles inside it so cryptic that I was actually left genuinely annoyed trying out figure out what to do. It didn’t feel like a ‘eureka’ moment when I actually solved the puzzle either, with it instead being something I came across purely through perseverance by trying to explore every nook and cranny around me. In fairness, there weren’t too many areas of the game that felt this frustrating to work through, but this earlier hindrance was certainly something that stuck with me by the time I actually reached Vane’s ending.
Unfortunately, a few frustrating puzzle-solving sections are the least of your problems in Vane. I haven’t played a game that’s been so littered with game-breaking bugs in a long time, but they were in abundance here. There were times when I couldn’t get my character to interact with objects, times when objects would get stuck in the environment, times I’d get stuck in an animation that I couldn’t get out of… honestly, there were glitches aplenty as I worked through the game. Each one required me to quit out of the game to fix too, which becomes even more problematic given that checkpoints can be few and far between – the amount of sections I had to completely replay through again because of some game-breaking bug was just so frustrating.
Now I’ve had moments like this occur in other games and I’ve been willing to let it slide (nothing is perfect after all), but the fact that they were such a common occurrence in Vane just made it all the more annoying. If I wasn’t reviewing it I would have probably walked away from the game, but alas, I stuck with it to the end. It’s a real shame that it’s so littered with problems because the game itself has some great little moments – it just needs a few patches before you’ll be able to fully appreciate them.
There are other problems that pop during gameplay too, such as the camera bugging and going through the environment and the frame rate dipping during busier sections of the game. Sure, none of these forced me to quit in order to progress, but they were still annoying and showed that Vane could have done with a little bit more time in development before releasing.
Visually, Vane feels on point throughout with its foreboding world making for some impressive sights. I really loved the minimalistic visual style and the way it complimented the actual design of the world, and actually found uncovering all of the different landmarks throughout the journey quite rewarding – it’s just a shame that I didn’t always get the same feeling from just playing the game.
Vane really had the potential to be something special, but between all of the game-breaking bugs, the often sketchy frame rate, and its overly obtuse moments, it feels like it falls way short of the mark. Don’t get me wrong, it has its moments where it can shine and the general puzzle design is on point, but given that your experience will be disrupted by a myriad of game-breaking bugs it’s really hard to give Vane a recommendation.
Developer: Friend & Foe
Publisher: Friend & Foe
Platform(s): PlayStation 4