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Game Review

There was a time in the not-too-distant past when playing a video game generally meant you were digitally shooting something, racing something or giving something a good thrashing. And 99.9% of the time, your goal was to win at something.

In the last decade, however, gamemakers have been sailing off in new directions. Not only have they explored nearly every genre of gaming imaginable, they've also been experimenting with constructs that purposely avoid all that blasting and zapping stuff, focusing instead on creating an immersive atmosphere. With this new experimental breed of games, players leisurely explore, rather than destroy. They seek escape rather than extinction. And winning? That's not so important.

The new PS4 game Vane, from Tokyo-based indie gamemaker Friend & Foe, embodies exactly that gaming ethos.

Wind Beneath Your Wings

Vane begins with you controlling a small, lone figure (a child?) who's clutching something of great value and trying desperately to make his way across creaky metal platforms amid a savagely violent storm. That rain-lashed gale is blowing so fiercely that the metal paneled world around him is tearing to pieces, large chunks dancing dangerously in the wind.

After this tempest-tossed scene resolves, you find yourself controlling the movements of a large black raven that sets to wing from a barren tree branch. You soar and flap over a vast wasteland of sun-bleached sand and scrub, passing battered, crumbling towers and listing weather vanes that groan in the wind. This beautiful expanse looks like a place that has a tale to tell and secrets to keep. But instead of searching for this world's mysteries, it's almost too tempting to simply float and fly, to gaze at the stoic beauty of passing rocky cliffs, to feel the wind in your feathers and to listen to the sighing musical underscore.

If all of this sounds a lot like a game that has no story whatsoever, well, that's very much the feel of things at first. Vane doesn't tell you where to go or what to do. But if you fly too far afield, it will eventually send you back to that first lone tree branch to begin again. And soon your bird eye catches a glint of reflection here, a small flock of birds there, and you realize that there are places you should land, fellow ravens you can call and small environmental puzzles you can solve.

Who Are You, Boy?

You also eventually learn that a certain mound of golden dust can transform you into that young boy that we met in the first scene. Boy and bird are one in the same. The kid can travel the ground, climb cliffs, move levers and shift doors. And when he leaps or falls from a ledge, he instantly transforms into the black raven that can spot pathways and clues from the air.

There are indeed a number of environmental puzzles to solve here. Players also encounter large, magical, world-transforming mysteries. A story plays out too. But even after everything is discovered, morphed and played to the full, the true meaning of it all is so broadly abstract that the game remains a riddle unto itself. In fact, Vane ends so ambiguously that you might even wonder if you actually accomplished what you were supposed to.

And perhaps that's the point of it all.

There's no death or carnage at your command in this atmospheric game. No dialogue or discussion. No victory or failure. Just the process. The experience.

For some, Vane offers an unruffled exploration of visually impressive fantasy locales accompanied by a moody synth underscore. No tension or highly caffeinated beverages required. For others it will be pure tedium.

It all depends on what makes you soar.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements

Conclusion

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Credits

Rating

Readability Age Range

Genre

Puzzle

Author

Cast

Director

Distributor

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

PlayStation 4

Publisher

Friend & Foe

Released

January 15, 2019

On Video

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Bob Hoose

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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