VANE Review: Challenging Game Design Within An Attractive Universe

Many indie video games today are nothing short of ground breaking artistic expressions founded upon human emotion. Often, when all of the necessary working parts of these experiences are met with an understanding of cohesion and purpose players can find themselves fully satisfied. Even if slices of the overarching message is somewhat lost in translation, ultimately, the essence of fun trumps all.

However, for VANE, while this attractive interactive canvas of surrealism immediately captures the imagination, this latest work from developer Friend & Foe seems quite diligent in the design department to betray an otherwise inspiring experience.

From the beginning Vane’s beautiful puzzle and art level design fully engulf the player, begging you to explore and decipher as much as possible, in order to progress the story, as well as discover what could be in the daring distance.

Positioned as an open-world physics puzzler, players are introduced as a bird needing to navigate to certain points of the world in order to command other birds for a common purpose. Eventually, the bird is transformed into a nameless child which also goes about his busy with the same purpose of journeying to an unknown destination. From the outset, playing as the bird presents unsavory control confusion.

Yet, despite this and other issues Vane still managed to hold my attention. Vane does not apologize for not holding your hand as players will be forced to use their intuition to discover the games abstract direction.

Unfortunately, this approach can seem disjointed within the realm of Vane, as some widely open areas give no clue of guidance, causing players to potentially wander for a considerable amount of time, scratching their head until stumbling upon the most simple find of progression.

Presented with both wide-open areas, in addition to somewhat linear sections, the journey of Vane with its tamed obstacles and lightly dangled carrots of enlightenment along the way, does only enough to get you past certain gameplay frustrations as you move ahead. Yet, you are constantly awaiting for the hammer to drop.

Playing as the unnamed child, players will find their way threw richly abstract environments which are quite easy to traverse, however due to the controls moving through environments might seem challenging. Controlling the child can seem clumsy, adding to the weight of the ordeal.

Don’t get me wrong, there are times when you will appreciated what is happening, yet these moments seemed somehow overshadowed by Vane’s audacity to challenge the status quo of game design, if there is such a thing. While the effort must be applauded, some might be overwhelmed by frustration.

The visual design of Vane will be appreciated, even when the occasional texture pop-ins start to rear their inconsistent heads. When this happens due to the games cool decorative art layout, it seems to oddly fit the world. The visual design is supported by a hemorrhaging art effect, profoundly adding to the games theme and tone. Artistically, Vane provokes confusion and instability within this eventual self-destructing universe, seeking to find balance for itself.

Vane can be confusing and frustrating the deeper you dive, peeling away its layers of discovery. You will ask yourself ‘what in this world is happening’, and why can I not easily land this stupid bird on a perch. Yet, you may not stop playing it until the decisive end.

Vane does echo games such as Journey and The Witness, yet due to its rogue behavior and maybe purposeful imbalance, is all its own.

Oddly enough, I enjoyed Vane’s vague and stubborn journey, through its cold sometimes oppressive world. There is much here to appreciate as I certainly did on multiple playthrough’s.

Playing out like a passion project to break a few game design rules, Vane sends interesting messages to players willing to look past the surface.

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