For its glorious opening hour, I forgave Vane of its erratic camera, extra chunky framerate (on PS4 Pro), and touchy controls. After a brief but intriguing prologue, the game put me in control of a crow flying through a post-apocalyptic desert. Glints of light provided hints of the task at hand, but otherwise I was left to explore, soaring and diving through the air, catching landmarks in the distance and making my way to them.
Every feather on my crow flutters in the wind, which rushes violently into my headphones, setting the mood as I speed along. The world has a unique energy to it, thanks to a blend of tech and art that allows a million flat polygons to shift and undulate. Aesthetically, Vane feels like it was made on an original Playstation or Sega Saturn given a modern processor and a ton of RAM. Remember the way the worlds of the 32-bit era couldn’t quite hold together, warping and tearing as the camera moved around? Vane takes that past flaw and brings it into 2019 as an incredible strength.
And while I’m sure that with former developers from Team Ico on staff, the creators of this game hoped to capture something reminiscent of Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, or The Last Guardian, this flying sequence brought me back to one of my personal favorites, Panzer Dragoon Saga. The visuals, combined with the desolate world and the energy of flight, triggered some deep nostalgia and longing for a world that’s forgotten by most. For that, I want to love Vane so much.
Unfortunately, Vane is not an easy game to love. After that initial hour, the game becomes far more grounded, slow, and puzzle-based. I was a little girl pushing boulders around, climbing up unsteady structures, and more often than is excusable, simply falling right through the world. Checkpoints were few and far between, which forced me to slowly walk through the same huge, dark areas multiple times.
Visually, the game never let up. As I moved from one sequence to another, the world remained extremely impressive, evocative, and dynamic. But as jaw-dropping as the environments can be, I all-too-often saw the other side of them as the camera clipped through a wall.
In the last few scenes, the world was dynamically rebuilding itself around me as I was moving through it. The effect was stunning, but violent framerate drops and the constant threat of getting stuck in geometry or falling through the world limited my enjoyment.
I appreciated Vane’s unwillingness to spell out the story or the puzzles set before me, but that trust in me as a player was not reciprocated back to developer Friend & Foe. I spent large swaths of Vane paranoid that the game was broken or would break. I worried that I would be forced to restart a long section or get stuck on a puzzle when the solution was behind some scripting error.
I don’t want to give the impression that Vane was a buggy disaster from top to bottom, but I do want to stress how much that last coat of polish matters in a game like this. Without it, I always wondered if the problem was me or the game. I had hoped this was all due to playing the game before launch, but launch day came and went, and a patch never arrived.
A more polished version of Vane would make it an easy game to recommend. Although it never quite returns to the soaring heights of that initial hour, the later sections feature some very cool mechanics and unique visuals. The story, as minimal as it is, suggests a lot. I found myself coming to some definitive conclusions, but you may see something completely different in its haunting metallic towers.
Vane feels like a case study in how harmful marketing and release dates can be on artistic endeavors. For a game like No Man’s Sky, there’s always hope for that redemption arc. For a game like Vane, there’s a good chance your only experience with it will be a compromised one. They may patch Vane and make this review irrelevant, but my personal experience with it will be forever tarnished.