From a team with talent from titles such as Killzone, Battlefield 3, The Last Guardian, and many more; Friend & Foe seeks to deliver one of the most unique and strongest indie games to date with one by the name of Vane. But the biggest question is: Can they?
+A strong and unique visual design that coincides well with the soundtrack
+Audio designs are strong, beautiful, and help build up levels of immersion
+Environment altering moments leads to a sense of completion and unique visual storytelling design elements
+The ability to freely explore at your own whim is ultimately satisfying and well thought out
-Framerate stutters are infrequent but do happen in some of the later levels of the game
When it comes to games that stand out as masterpieces of art; there’s very few that come to mind. I can count no less than ten that stand out among their peers ranging from titles such as Ninja Theory’s Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, Sega’s Valkyria Chronicles, Zoink’s Fe, and even that beautiful little indie game Shu from indie studio Coatsink.
Among these games comes Vane from Tokyo-based indie studio Friend & Foe; a title that seeks to be both impactful, thought-provoking, and one that even seeks to press players into exploring at their own behest. Rightfully enough – it does just that and is one that will leave an ever-lasting impression as one of 2019’s most powerful indie titles yet.
The end is dark, dangerous, and it’s up to use to save ourselves
From the opening moments of Vane, it becomes quite clear that something bad is about to happen. What we expect is one of the worst things that can unfold right before one’s very eyes. A devastating storm takes hold of the world around you, tearing roofing off buildings, lightning zapping the ground around you, rendering anywhere you walk unable to be passed.
As you seek shelter from the storm, the danger grows, and as the danger grows, your search for safety becomes even riskier. Before long, you find the very place you could call your home, a shelter with your people, one that could protect you from the darkness that seeks to consume your world. But, you are turned away, left to your own devices with a precious child in your arms.
Unfortunately, it becomes quite clear that your hunt for shelter came and passed. You’ve lost your life to the storm and are only to awaken in the distant future to a world ravaged by that very storm. Now, the world is barren, dead outside of the few signs of life in the form of ravens or birds of sorts. But something’s different. It’s now your world for you to explore and it’s up to you to bring hope to the world you once called home.
The world is large, it is beautiful, and it wants you to explore its furthest reaches
Over the course of an evening, I sat quietly in my chair, headphones on, and party chats muted for quite some time. I’d intently dive into the beautifully designed world of Vane. I’d take in its astonishingly beautiful graphics, ones that come forth as polygonal in design, yet somehow quite intricately designed.
The first thing one will notice isn’t just how massive the world within Vane is, but how barren it feels like it is. Surprisingly enough, if you think this initially, you are quite mistaken and haven’t taken your time to scratch just below the surface. The puzzles are many, the cave systems to explore are massive and do not disappoint within the secrets that call them home.
Your exploration comes in two different forms: That of a bird and that of a human that was once thought vanquished by that world-altering storm. The designs of the world about you cater to this very fact; sometimes urging you to dig further beneath the surface to discover the truths that were hidden by the sands of time. Labyrinthine caverns await you, tricky puzzles sit in open sight yet somehow elude those who seek them, and the story that’s told is more visual and musically inclined than the many that came before it.
In many ways, it’s a spiritual successor to that beautifully designed PlayStation exclusive by the name of Journey. It’s about the journey before you, the atmosphere that you will experience, and your willingness to explore and understand things you never had before.
It’s up to you to decide the story you are experiencing
Unlike many games of its kind, Vane isn’t one that has a central concept or a mechanic that drives its central design elements. Well, not one you’ll fully understand until you experience it for yourself. It’s a blend of self-induced exploration, a sense of curiosity, and a story that you – yourself – will have to decide is being told.
There’s no spoken words, written dialects, or even anything else. Mechanically speaking, the most you do is fly, perch, and trigger a few events throughout your adventures. The HUD itself is minimalist, offering very little for you to see and control. You won’t be doing much outside of rapidly tapping X for you to speed up your flying speed and using circle to slow down as you approach a perch with triangle being used to call out to your fellow feathered friends.
The hints towards the puzzle and story progression are based on your ability to take note of flickering items in the distance, perches for you to land on, and puzzles for you to complete. For those seeking story elements, your best bet is to check into the trophy titles as they themselves will give you some idea of what’s going on. Your biggest story element is your ability to transform back into a human-like figure once again, one that is used to complete some of the puzzles placed before you, but not something that really ever sticks as a permanent change.
It’s visually and an audibly designed masterpiece
When you aren’t diving about searching for one puzzle or another, you might take note of a few well-designed set pieces that are placed at your feet. One of the core elements to Vane is one of its biggest: Flying around as a crow or raven-like creature. Flying across these wide open and sometimes confined spaces is an absolute blast and it’s one that lets you get a good look at the things unfolding right before you.
At times, flying across storm-torn planes is beautiful, astonishing really, and it doesn’t take away from the rather immersive experience. Whether it’s the astonishingly well-designed and animated movements of the bird you control or the powerful flaps of its wings; it’s an experience worth having as your headphones rattle from its powerful flaps, giving you an idea of just how strong this creature is.
Even in some of the darkest moments, the graphics and colors pop even more than before, accenting just how creative the art and design teams actually are. Whether it’s the soft ambient sounds of wind howling or the musical tracks that appear as the game gets well underway in order to key in important moments within the game. But, there is a small hitch that gets in the way: Performance.
There were a few, not many, but enough to have a minor concern about framerate hiccups, even on a PlayStation 4 Pro with a 7200RPM hard drive. I noticed there were frame rate drops, one that would hit causing issues with perching on some puzzle pieces or navigating deeper and darker areas within the cave systems you get to explore on your very own whim.
A minor issue, but one that exists and could use a patch in order to make the performance run smoother than ever before; something I know that is completely possible for a team with the experience that Friend & Foe has behind their team.
Above and beyond it all, Vane is a title that comes out as a one-in-a-million type. It’s beautiful art style sets itself apart thanks to just how beautiful the game actually is. A painting in motion as one might think. But there’s more to it than that. Vane is a very well played out game, one that insists a player give it more than a one-time through to explore every little cave it has, every little puzzle that’s more than just a scratch at the surface.
It’s a game that wants you to explore it to its fullest, giving it a chance to be a one-of-a-kind until someone comes along and improves upon what another title has already done. Until that time, Vane stands side-by-side with games like Journey and Fe, giving us a story that is up to a players interpretation and understanding of sophisticated storytelling mechanics and artistic designs. It’s a game that may never even see an equal at its side due to just how unique it actually is.
Platforms: PlayStation 4
Version Reviewed: PlayStation 4
Developer: Friend & Foe
Publisher: Friend & Foe
Release Date: Available Now
If you are into these kinds of games, then Vane might be right up your alley and for you to experience for yourself.
Our review is based upon a retail version that was provided to us by the publisher of the game. For information about our ethics policy please click here.
Final Score: 9.5 out of 10
About the Writer(s):
Dustin is our native console gamer, PlayStation and Nintendo reviewer who has an appetite for anything that crosses the boarders from across the big pond. His interest in JRPG’s, Anime, Handheld Gaming, and Pizza is insatiable. His elitist attitude gives him direction, want, and a need for the hardest difficulties in games, which is fun to watch, and hilarity at its finest. You can find him over on Twitter or Facebook.