Vane’s appealing art style and soundtrack aren’t enough to carry it past the tedious gameplay and extremely vague story.

I was deeply frustrated with Vane after playing it for just 15 minutes. I was flying around, struggling with the controls, and feeling utterly lost. Then I realized I was playing it all wrong.

I tried to play Vane as an open-world title, where you explore, discover hidden areas, and progress at your own pace. In truth, Vane is a very linear game masquerading as an open experience. If you stick to the path and resist the urge to fly away, you might have slightly more fun with it.

Free As a Bird

Vane is an abstract game, and it’s easy to get lost in its world and story. I mean that quite literally; you can spend some time wandering the game’s world before you finally understand how you’re supposed to approach it and officially be on your way.

Most of it is on purpose, though, as Vane’s story is very open to interpretation. You start the game as a crow, free to fly anywhere you want in a vast, empty desert. That freedom is pretty false, as there’s nothing you can do in the open world. Once you figure out where you’re supposed to go, the game starts: you transform into a boy who can’t fly, and the sense of freedom is immediately stripped away.

At first, you have plenty of chances to switch between bird and boy forms, but as the game progresses, you spend more and more time as the kid. This corresponds with the levels becoming smaller and less open, almost suffocatingly so. The freedom you had as a bird disappears, and you’re left with a series of very linear puzzles.

Vane review: Crow

What you make of it is entirely up to you, so I won’t share my theory as to what Vane is really about. However, I will say that the mystery behind the game’s story quickly loses its appeal, mostly thanks to how tedious the gameplay and puzzles become later on.

Why Fly When You Can Crawl

In essence, Vane is just a series of enclosed areas where you need to figure out where to go next and how to get there. The game never tells you what to do, so you’re left to your own devices. I wish I could say that solving these environmental puzzles is satisfying in any way, but it really isn’t. Even if you understand what to do, actually doing it is mostly a slow, tiresome process. A big reason for that is the controls.

Controlling your character, whether you’re a crow or a human boy, is a test of patience. Flying is pretty intuitive if you use a gamepad, but is a confusing mess with a keyboard and mouse. Plus, getting the bird to land on something or make precise movements is like threading a needle during an earthquake. On the other hand, the boy moves so slowly and heavily that getting around the more open areas is a chore. At one point during the game, I actually loaded a checkpoint once I figured I walked to the wrong end of the arena just so I won’t have to walk all the way back.

Vane review: Boy

Again, I guess the boy’s sluggishness is deliberate, as an antithesis to the crow’s swiftness, but that doesn’t make it any more fun or less annoying.

Empty World Comes Alive

The story and gameplay slowly lose altitude the more you play, but the visuals and sound consistently soar. Vane has a unique visual style that makes every environment, no matter how dark or oppressive it is, feel alive. Everything is constantly twitching, changing, evolving into something new.

The world has a low-poly, putty-like quality to it, which makes for surprising and effective level design. You’re often not sure what you’re going to encounter ahead. It may lead to a few frustrating incidents, like when you feel stuck just because you haven’t revealed the specific path you need to take, but overall, the visual design lends itself perfectly to the game’s atmosphere and themes.

Vane review

Vane is a game you need to “get” to fully enjoy it. The visuals and music are what drew me to Vane in the first place, and they do not disappoint. Unfortunately, they can’t carry the game all by themselves, even for the two hours or so it’ll take you to finish it.

The slow, tiresome gameplay and the stiff controls get in the way of what could’ve been an absorbing experience. There are better games that do what Vane tries to do, with a more vibrant, satisfying journey. If the story’s themes and symbolism resonate with you, you can ignore its many flaws, but it gets hard and hard to do so the further you are into the game.

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