There is something to be said about minimalism. Personally I love it, as a designer by day, I try my best to keep things looking clean, and minimal while still letting potential clients know what they are about to invest in or look at.
There has also been a recent trend of minimal video games. Games that either uses simple graphics or gameplay to make a user experience that is a bit different from the wham bam thank you, mam of the AAA titles we are all used to.
This is a good thing. Games like Limbo and Inside are just fantastic, no words, guidance or indication of what to do gives you a feeling of solitude rarely found in a video game. yet thanks to clever game design you just seem to know what to do and push ever onwards in your adventure.
Vane is the latest game that is drawing on the minimalism trend, with hints of Playdead’s masterpieces and pretty much any game from Fumito Ueda. Unfortunately, unlike the games it tries to emulate, Vane fails in spectacular fashion.
Vane begins with a small boy carrying a strange object with a terrible storm howling around him. There is no indication of where to go, what to do or what your aim is. In fact, there are no words in this game at all. You know you’re in for a bad time when you see the game over screen just because you’re trying to fumble your way around the opening level in the vague hope of finding a direction in which to head. But for some reason, you stick with it, probably because curiosity takes over, mainly because the games does look gorgeous and the heavy synth soundtrack brings back memories of 80s arthouse movies.
Vane takes place in a vast and empty world full of secrets for you to discover with literally no indication or prompts to guide you. at no point in the entirety of the game does it provide any hints. I mean nothing. Flying around a vast empty desert looking for possible solutions to puzzles that you’re not sure are actually puzzles is both tedious and hideous in equal measure. To make matters worse the game isn’t even enjoyable to navigate. When you play as the Raven bird thing, Vane has one of the worst cameras I have seen in a game in a long long time. When you’re controlling the small boy, his movement is so slow and mind-numbingly dull it makes you feel depressed. So any hope of soaring high and surveying your surroundings, or running around the level in the hope of spotting a clue is soon smashed to bits, just like your soul when the camera jitters and jerks all over the place. Or it takes you five hours to walk up some stairs. Just terrible.
And that’s the key USP in Vane to transform from bird to boy and back again, which in theory sounds great, I mean the world itself looks beautiful and you have all the ingredients of a good game. I mean the further you progress in the game the world literally rebuilds around you and looks spectacular at times, there are magical powers to discover, stunning factories and crumbling cities to explore. It’s sad really because on the rare occasion you’re treated to the odd glimpse of how good this game could be if it wasn’t so damn awful.
The one saving grace of Vane is the low poly visual style. At times it’s beautiful, fumbling your way from one set to another makes the hard work worth it to see some of these visuals. For a game where I was crying out for a HUD or some on-screen prompt to let me know something, I was also glad at times that the game had no such junk, so I could appreciate the splendor of it all. But that’s the designer in me, The gamer was screaming blue murder. Ultimately, however, Vane is just a boring baron slow painful trudge that makes you lose the will to live.
That may sound harsh but bare in mind that this review is a good week late, and the game has had numerous updates to try and fix the many game breaking bugs it has. But developers Friend or Foe Games didn’t catch them all. You can imagine my utter agony when I spent the best part of 2 hours flying around a desert trying to figure shit out, only for the game to crash when I finally solved the puzzle…rage quite ain’t the word I would use.
Look, I get it puzzles are not supposed to be easy, they require some thought and in some cases some backtracking and moments of head-scratching bewilderment. But in Vane it’s taken it all to the next level. Usually, there is something, A teeny tiny something dotted in a level that hints at what to do, what direction to go. When you do discover a solution, the head buzzing joy our feel is rarely rivaled. But In Vane, there is literally nothing. You don’t know if you’re going in the right direction or not. There is no small off colored object that could hint at a solution or direction. An example I spent about 5 minutes flying through a black cave, at the end I found some birds flittering around some light. no indication of what to do, and so you’re left flying around a black cave with a shit camera trying to work something out that your not sure if you’re meant to be working out or its just decoration.
Vane is game that has much potential, It has the feel of The Last Guardian to it and that in itself is a reason to want to like this game. The incredible visual style and the haunting 80s synths soundtrack adds buckets of atmosphere. It’s just a shame that the game is so obtuse for its own good. Whether you will like this game or not boils down to patients. If you a bazillion hours spare to fly uncontrollably or walk awkwardly for what feels like forever and get nowhere you’ll probably love this game. But to me, personally, it just felt like I was wasting my life.
Vane is out now on PS4 (reviewed on PS4 Pro)
Developer: Friend or Foe Games
Publisher: Friend or Foe Games
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional code from the publisher. For our full review policy, please go here.