Vane Review: Nevermore
Kalvin Martinez / Mar 5th, 2019 No Comments
Making an artistic statement in video games is not an easy feat. There are many ways to elevate a game to the level of art. More often than not, it comes in the form of its visuals. A unique design or atmosphere is can up a game’s artistic clout.
Vane crafts a beautifully dark world that is mysterious and moody. Its gameplay evokes both the freedom and relaxation of flight and the terrifying feeling of being a lost child in a strange and dangerous place. The game is far from perfect, but it does a good job of drawing you into its world.
A more modern approach to elevating the artistic qualities of a video game is to present the game and its gameplay without words. A wordless game alone isn’t art, but if the storytelling and imagery are strong enough, it goes a long way into the artful presentation of a game. The ethos behind not spelling out the finer points of gameplay and its system is believing in the player enough to discover the answers on their own.
However, this can be a gamble. Much of this approach is predicated on impeccable game design and a high level of legibility. If the level or game design falters, the game becomes confusing rather than illuminating. Unfortunately, Vane suffers more than it thrives by taking this approach.
Much of Vane is covered in mystique because of its wordless storytelling and its dark atmosphere. You start the game in control of a child braving a fierce storm. As the child tries to fight forward, odd figures in black cloaks loom ominously from a perch. In spite of a furious attempt to make it through the storm, the child is blown away.
After the storm, the child is gone. In its place is a black bird in a seemingly endless dessert. Other birds flap their wings in the distance, but the more important things to investigate in the desert are these beautiful, archaic weather vanes. By investigating these vanes scattered across the desert, the bird is able to activate a odd structure that releases a ball of shiny gold debris.
When the bird gets close to the pile of gold, something extraordinary happens: the bird transforms into a child. The shocking reveal means that the child from the beginning of the game was turned into a bird after the storm. Further, whenever the child falls from a great distance, it can transform into a bird until coming in contact with those filaments of gold again.
As a child, you’re able to move heavier objects and find your way into a deep underground ruin. Vane consistently raises more questions than it answers, which makes moving forward such a tantalizing prospect. However, when you reach the underground, many of the game’s issues come to the surface.
Flying around as a bird in the bright, open desert has a tranquil, almost transcendent beauty to it. The puzzles you have to solve in order to restore your child body have a clarity that makes you want to continue working toward solving them. Sadly, that same beauty and clarity dissipates once you enter the underground temple. While the dark, foreboding look of the temple creates an excellent atmosphere. It also creates an issue of legibility.
Vane’s art style is impressionistic at times. While creating a striking visual aesthetic, it results in confusing level design. It is especially an issue when flying around in the darkness. There are moments during these underground sections that become exceptionally dizzying and hard to navigate.
It isn’t the sometimes muddy visuals alone that create frustration. Solving puzzles as a child is, at times, maddening. However, many of the issues feed into each other.
Naturally, as a child you move much more ponderously without any of the grace and nimbleness of your bird form. Yet, as a child you’re able to manipulate objects due to obvious dexterity and strength. This gives you the ability to move giant orbs, gates and release mechanisms.
Much of the child puzzles are dependent on AI that is often unreliable. While the wonky AI is annoying, it is nothing compared to how confusing the level design is. What makes the puzzles such a struggle is the fact that you’re constantly at war with the game’s lighting and the world construction.
This is what makes the game such a struggle of legibility. The solutions to the puzzles aren’t mind-numbingly difficult. More, navigating the world and figuring out what is going on is what makes solving them so challenging. It ends up deflating the joy that comes from the philosophy of letting players discover the answers on their own, which is a shame because it does so many things right.
Artistically, Vane achieves a lot. It crafts a dark, atmospheric world full of intrigue. However, its atmosphere is both its crowning achievement and its biggest weakness. Due to the darkness of the world and the lighting, it can be difficult to see where you need to go on the level in front of you. Coupled with a wonky camera, the game is hard to enjoy.
Vane was reviewed on PlayStation 4 with a code provided by the developer.
tags: review , Vane , Vane game , Vane Review