2019’s Vane, presented by Friend & Foe Games, is a short, artistically-driven adventure that takes clear influences from games such as Journey and Ico. Serving as a prologue, the player is plunged into a dramatic lightning storm, experienced through the main character of a young child as the world around him is smashed to pieces, giving clues as to the story beyond.
Following the chaotic introduction, the player takes the form of a bird, with the freedom to explore a large, sweeping desert vista complete with tall, red stone cliffs, valleys, and the occasional scattered oasis. It soon becomes clear that this dying landscape is all that remains of the civilization and buildings shown before. I found this section of the game to be the most visually stunning and fun to interact with. The experience of taking flight with a bird has successfully been done before (AER Memories of Old and Copoka spring to mind), however I found the visuals to be smooth and enchanting, and I spent longer than I should have soaring between rock formations and exploring the environment.
Much like the titles mentioned above, Vane follows the trope of avoiding providing any text or voiceovers that explain the game’s goal any further, instead relying on silent characters and actions throughout to give hints as to the overall narrative. The puzzles are also fairly linear, relying on trial and error as you react to the environment or call out to other creatures for assistance.
The first major puzzle involves interacting with a crumbling windmill (hence the title, Vane) following which the main character is restored to the form of a human child, with the clever ability to transform between the two in order to solve future dilemmas. Following an atmospheric section underground – which stylistically reminded me of the inner workings of The Lonely Mountain in The Hobbit film franchise – you will encounter similar ‘bird children’ along with a giant, portable device with the ability to rebuild ruined structures in the vicinity.
Sadly, going into the final few acts, I began to struggle. Firstly, the game grew increasingly unclear where you were meant to go, with hard to navigate dark areas and interactive objects which were all but camouflaged. Secondly, the game suffered from bad camera angles, heightened in the last quarter. Nearing the end of the journey, despite only playing for 3 hours, I felt ready for the game to end. There was little else I needed to see once the story became clear.
Nevertheless, Vane deserves credit for attempting to continue the visual style and feel of games like Journey, in a world polluted with standard action titles. In terms of the soundtrack, the game curiously chose to embrace the Synthwave genre, which I admit to being a personal fan of. Another negative, however, is the price. £14.99 (Steam) is extortionate for a 3-hour game – I would say that the £6 mark would be fairer if you can catch it on sale…