Much like how Vane’s main character can transform between a bird and a girl, Vane itself transforms genres throughout the course of the four or so hours you spend with it. Despite this, the game remains a mysterious and unnerving experience throughout, with a narrative that’s open to interpretation but provides no answers, a soundtrack that has equal ability to create serenity or dread, and an equally enchanting and terrifying world.
Vane manages to dip its toes in multiple genres with varying mechanics and objectives. At first, Vane is an environmental exploration game. Then, it suddenly becomes a puzzle platformer. And right when you think you know what the rest of the game is going to be, it essentially turns into a walking simulator. Brevity is never an inherent flaw, but with how much Vane attempts to do, these shifting genres makes each individual component feel fleeting.
Having a Ball
It’s a shame, because each of Vane’s individual sections had a lot of potential for more interesting mechanics. In one of the later sections, you and a bunch of other children roll around a golden ball, Katamari Damacy style. The difference, however, is that instead of eating up the environment, the ball rebuilds structures within a certain radius. For a bit under an hour, the game iterates upon this by adding more children to find to increase the radius and making you interact with the environment in increasingly clever ways.
Then it’s over. Never again does the golden ball return.
This is not to say that the different sections are entirely divorced from one another, of course. The open-ended first part focuses on the bird’s movement, which is built upon in later sections. The second section funnels you into a more linear path, but it introduces you to the other children who can also transform into birds. And while the golden ball never returns, the final stretch still builds upon restructuring broken environments, only in a way that focuses more on spectacle than actual intuitive thinking.
Up to Interpretation
What’s actually going on in Vane is anyone’s guess. The creepiest creatures that come closest to being any kind of enemy are the Sentinels, towering bird-like creatures that slide noiselessly across the ground. It seems that they’re up to no good and alienating the player character in particular, but there’s nothing to really prove that. Unless you want to dig deep and start theorizing, Vane’s world is more intent on making you feel a certain way, rather than understand a cohesive narrative.
And if Vane nails anything, it’s that feeling. Vane is a far from a horror game in any sense, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be creepy. I often found myself getting chills without entirely knowing why, thanks to its eerie synth soundtrack. The vamping electronic music builds the further the game progresses, parallelling the rebuilding of the towering and menacing environment.
All Patched Up
I ran into a staggering amount of glitches in my first playthrough of Vane. I ran into two softlocks where I lost a total of about half an hour of progress. There were other instances in which there seemed to be no collision for walls and floors when flying as a bird, causing me to enter out of bounds and struggle to get back to where I was.
However, Vane has since received a pre-release patch that, after a few minutes of play, seems to completely fix all of the collision in that area. It’s confusing how these glitches made their way into the game, given how little time they apparently took to rectify, but at least the only ones to suffer them are the reviewers. Some might even say making game journalists suffer counts as a plus!
Take a Deep Breath
Every time before the girl jumps off a high ledge to become a bird, she gives a short little gasp, as if she were getting ready to hold her breath underwater. As you hear the wind rush past you and the camera tilt down before the transformation is complete, I never failed to feel a tightness in my stomach, as if I too needed to gasp for breath.
When at its best, this feeling encapsulates all of Vane. You may not know why you feel what you do, or even exactly what those feelings are, but they can nonetheless be absolutely captivating. Vane has a bit of an identity crisis, at times feeling like a sampler of different gameplay styles instead of one cohesive package. But when the game’s core passion and heart manage to shine through, Vane soars.
- Clever, iterative level design in puzzle/ platforming stages
- Gorgeous yet eerie low-poly world
- Moody dynamic soundtrack
- Confusing story
- Each section seems underdeveloped
- Significant glitches in some parts, although some have already been patched
- Occasional frame rate drops
- Confusing story
Vane doesn’t always seem to be cohesive, with jarring gameplay shifts and a cryptic narrative. However, at its core Vane is a freeing and engaging experience, saved by its interesting — if fleeting — mechanics and an equally eerie soundtrack and atmosphere.