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Review: Vane Is Transportive But Marred by Glitches

The art of a game, however distinctive, matters little if it isn’t accompanied by functionality.

Jed Pressgrove



Photo: Friend & Foe

The art of a game, however distinctive, matters little if it isn’t accompanied by functionality. Last year alone, Kingdom Come: Deliverance and Red Dead Redemption 2 were among several notable releases that saw clunky controls and general bugginess overshadow the appeal of their narratives and gameplay. Vane, from Tokyo-based company Friend & Foe, unfortunately joins those ranks: While the game’s bird-centered mechanics, lack of obvious hints, and unusual audiovisuals set it apart from most titles on the market, a plethora of technical flaws undermine the admirable daring of its ideas.

When the game begins, the player controls a lone child braving the winds of a storm. Soon, at the top of some steps, you discover a tall, lit-up doorway, from which a looming figure appears and strikes you down the steps. You’re then sucked into the storm, and after the next scene starts, you play as a crow on a tree in a cold wilderness. Absolutely none of that makes sense, but worse is that your maneuvering through the air is nothing short of graceless. You can’t turn, lift off, speed up, or slow down as effortlessly as an actual crow, though you can somewhat efficiently glide with enough effort and patience.

Vane initially seems like a bird simulator of sorts. With no map, tutorial messages, or hint-giving characters to rely upon, you might travel as the crow for a long stretch of time, eying the lay of the land as you go. It’s easy to feel attracted to a random rock formation in the far distance that, as you eventually learn, has no bearing whatsoever on the game’s grand purpose. Such simple curiosities can take numerous minutes to indulge, given how long it takes to cover long distances and the fact that your bird isn’t the easiest avatar to navigate.

Once you recognize that you can interact with and impact particular elements within Vane’s world, the game reveals itself as more than an opportunity to be a bird. In the first half of the quest, you discover a gold substance that allows you to transform into a child, perhaps the one you control at the very beginning of the game. But lead the kid off a cliff and you’ll turn back into a crow. It’s a dynamic that you must exploit in order to reach the game’s latter half: As the fowl, you scan the intricacies of levels and rally other birds to dismantle machinery, and as the child, you overcome barriers that require a human’s touch, like opening the bottom of a cage.

In Vane’s penultimate chapter, you and a group of other children must push a giant boulder toward a tower in a mangled city of metal during a lightning storm. As it rolls, the rock affects the matter around it, building bridges, erecting walls, and so forth. The imagery here is magnificent: The multicolored metal of the city’s edifices shimmers and fidgets as the boulder audibly bends the dystopia around it into something more pristine. But even Vane’s most breathtaking sequences are compromised by sloppy mechanics and bugs. It’s common for the camera to end up behind walls and underneath floors, obstructing what you need to see; at times, it can even feel like an act of God is required to get your bird to successfully perch on a surface. And in the aforementioned boulder-rolling stage, the framerate can stutter to the point where you might wonder if the whole artifice of the level will fall apart.

Even more damning is that you may have to restart an entire chapter because of an exasperating glitch. For example, you may step into a small crevice in your crow or child form, become unable to move, and be forced to exit the game. And during a puzzle where you need the assistance of multiple children to advance, the young ones might stop responding to your signals for help and disappear for no reason. Such defects consistently work to challenge the player’s ability to appreciate the fetching unorthodoxies of Vane.

This game was reviewed using a download code provided by Plan of Attack.

Developer: Friend & Foe Publisher: Friend & Foe Platform: PlayStation 4 Buy: Game

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