The following is a spoiler-free review for Vane.
Sometimes a bad experience is still worth having.
Vane, a highly hyped indie release from developer Friend & Foe, hit gaming platforms last week only to be met with a resounding and less-than-complimentary “pass” from players. Although Vane delivered many of the stunning visuals promised in the 2016 demo that first gained the attention of gamers, its glitchy mechanics, frustrating design, and tedious gameplay made the experience for many (myself included) pretty awful.
So of course, I’m recommending you play it anyway. Hear me out.
I agree with Vane players’ complaints about the game’s playability—or rather lack thereof. I began the Vane experience eager to soar through its advertised expanse of mystery and wonder only to be met with an entangled mess of half-baked mechanical concepts wrapped into a fundamentally underwhelming narrative. The game’s protagonist, a young boy who can (inexplicably) morph into a bird, intrigued me at first. But after less than 20 minutes of Vane, I’d had enough of him and his antics.
Sure, the landscape was very, very pretty and the story occasionally hit on some novel concepts, but overall I was having a terrible time. When I wasn’t stumbling through the desert completely lost on the ground, I was fighting with my controller to keep the whole game level enough for me to be lost from the sky. In the first half, Vane and its sloppy flight mechanics left me repeatedly diving into the sand, beak-first. In the second, its boring pseudo platform style left my boy avatar shuffling from rock face to rock face while I longed for credits.
Ultimately, I pushed through the end of the roughly three-hour experience, uninstalled Vane, and moved on with my evening. Ready to forget the disappointing play-through entirely, I popped in one of my go-to indie games. The comparison, while arguably unfair to Vane, was instant.
My tried-and-true favorite wasn’t nearly as aesthetically appealing as Vane, but the gameplay worked and for that I was immeasurably thankful. As I played through beats I had experienced many times before, I found myself more and more grateful for its well-executed functionality. When I wanted to jump, I jumped. When I needed to look at a map, I had one. When I wanted to start a section over, I actually could. Comparatively, it was a delight.
As a gamer wading through an increasingly diverse array of purchase options, I have recently found myself more and more fixated on games’ flashier selling points. The disappointing reality of Vane‘s final form, however, allowed me to truly appreciate the too-often unsung heroes of clean and effective game design. While Vane alone may not be worth its $25 price tag, the lesson it can teach about the art form of game creation and its essential ingredients absolutely is.
Here’s hoping Vane‘s clearly talented creators had similar takeaways, and that their next release will merit a beaming review all its own.
Vane is available on PlayStation 4.