Developer: Friend & Foe
Release Date: January 15, 2019
Reviewed On: PS4
Publisher: Friend & Foe
Genre: Open-World Adventure
I enjoy the times when developers put trust in the player to figure things out on their own. They’ll generally create a path with very little direction and hope that gamers figure it out. However, some developers create games that give no direction at all and let the player figure it all out for themselves. Generally, these games are hit or miss with the criticism being one line “I need more direction” that you’ll see most often.
Developer Friend & Foe’s newest adventure, Vane, aims to tell a story without even touching the player’s hand at all. Tipping the scale between lack of direction and an unnarrated story would be a dangerous task for any developer to take on. Thankfully, what works here is that the world of Vane is so beautiful that you don’t mind being lost in it.
Vane opens up with a storm, there’s an obvious state of unrest in the world and you are left alone. When the game truly begins, you are a bird in the middle of a desert. With the ability to fly, it’s up to the player to understand exactly what the game wants you to do next. Soaring through the air while weaving around rocks and canyons provides a sense of freedom that I was actually more interested in than figuring out how to progress the narrative. This desire to explore sticks with you as you find yourself in new areas that require you to pay a little more attention to the world in order to get through it.
Back in the desert, during my state of joy, I see a flickering light in the distance and a group of birds perched on a device. I join my new friends, and I’m told to press “Triangle” which turns on the device, causing the birds to scatter. I follow them to a new device that seems to require more bird friends to activate and so I head out to find more.
What’s most important to understand about this is that there was no point in the opening that I was told what to do. Before I spotted those birds, I was more or less lost, and the idea to gather more birds only came when I spotted a new shimmering object in the distance. Let me just say, that the feeling of finding your direction through Vane is rewarding to any player looking for a challenge. Similarly, this feeling could also be felt by gamers who just enjoy taking their time while exploring the environment, which Vane rewards with PS4 trophies.
After a while, you’ll find a golden substance that can turn players into a child. In this form, players can navigate the world by foot and move objects. There’s a nice balance of control between child and bird that require both forms to work together to get through puzzles. Environments show a world in chaos, but slowly you understand the power of the golden substance as it shows a glimpse of what the world used to look like.
Puzzle design is mildly difficult and requires the player to do some trial and error approaches to understand how to get through them. However, as I stated before, being lost in Vane isn’t the most frustrating thing because everywhere you go gives you something new to look at. It’s also possible to turn into the bird by jumping off a high area to survey the environments if you need to find the right path.
Vane’s story is unveiled through each of the environments and then completely wraps up in the end. However, it’s still up to the player to consume everything that the game is trying to tell them, which might require multiple playthroughs. This is good for the game because it is relatively short and will take less than 4 hours to complete depending on how fast you get through the puzzles. With that said, rushing through isn’t totally advised because most of what Vane is trying to convey is found within the environments and running through it only to get from point A to point B might lose the story that the game is trying to tell.
The camera in Vane doesn’t always play nice, especially if you are the bird trying to fly through a narrow space. The camera will also clip through walls pretty aggressively and can make things a bit disorienting. Similarly, there was a point where I even fell through the stairs. Luckily, I just turned into a bird and flew away safe, but it was a little concerning. The developers did quickly release a patch that fixed these issues as well as a few other glitches, which speaks to the integrity of the developers to release a good product at launch.
The soundtrack of Vane is atmospheric and mysterious. Throughout the game, as you figure out the next path, you are greeted with a soft synth track that makes you feel excited for whatever is going to come next. I also used the music as an indicator to let me know if I was going the right way, which was pretty cool overall.
Vane borrows the theme of loneliness and unguided exploration from other games such as Journey and Ico and presents it in a way that gives the player the feeling that they’re discovering it all on their own. The trust that the developers give the players to get through these puzzles was an ambitious design choice that ends up working, in the end, thanks to the world that they created.
Vane has a story to tell, but it’s not going to shove it in your face. This is a game that’s for players who enjoy clever puzzle designs, exploring with little direction, and the ability to understand a story without being told too much. Even though the game is relatively short and the camera can be a little difficult at times, Vane deserves your attention if you’re up to discover its chaotic, scary, and gorgeous world.
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