Vane is a pretty piece of work, but it’s not much of a game.
Developer Friend & Foe’s PlayStation 4 exclusive starts well enough: Beginning in a solemn desert of wind-scoured ruins and rolling dunes, I take on the form of a crow. I seek out places where puzzles may be solved and paths revealed. I swoop and turn, learning how to perch on ruined vanes. Being a bird is all super nice.
Soon enough, I transform into a child. I enter an impressive underground world of broken ziggurats and rusty platforms. As the boy and the bird, I explore and solve puzzles. I transform into one and then the other, according to the puzzle at hand.
The bird is good at scouting: finding the path and locating the lever.
The child is good at doing: walking the path and pulling the lever.
I interact with magical artifacts, including a giant, glowing rock, which allow me to morph the landscape, creating new pathways, and opening new areas. I encounter strange, locked gates. I solve logic puzzles to open them. Spooky, ruined landscapes, howling storms, and startling audio effects complement a fine aesthetic.
But the game is hampered by intensely frustrating control problems, and a third-person camera that swings erratically, losing itself behind walls and beneath platforms.
The bird flies well enough in open spaces, but struggles in the more confined environments where objects loom, obscuring my vision and frustrating free movement. Moody lighting looks lovely, but becomes confusing, when the bird’s vision is reduced to a mess of wrongness.
Given this game’s artistry, the child is a surprisingly ugly thing. It moves like a mole through molasses. Traversal is a major part of the game’s puzzle landscape, but the child never feels entirely connected to the ground, dragging its feet through rocks, or floating weirdly over perches.
At any time. I can become a bird by throwing the child off a ledge. But I can only become the child by returning to specific magical places. So, if I accidentally fall off a ledge, I find myself being a bird, but not wanting to be a bird, and having to return to the special place to begin again, as the child. This does not make me happy, especially when I feel like the fall is as much the game’s fault as it is mine.
As a narrative, the game offers little that we haven’t seen before. I follow the light to the mysterious guide, duly to some sort of redemptive destiny. There are good reasons why this game has been compared to The Last Guardian, Ico, and Journey. But Vane doesn’t so much stand on the shoulders of greatness, as hovers in the background, slightly obscured.
Vane begins with me joyfully soaring above sun-bleached sand drifts. But it gently dissolves into me slowly pushing a giant rock from one tiresome puzzle to another. This feels like an apposite visual juxtaposition for my entire experience, which slides from admiration to mild boredom.