With all the megaton sequel announcements Sony dropped during PlayStation Experience 2016, thinking back to all the myriad trailers from the keynote might only help you recollect a blur of hype brought to you by Naughty Dog. But in the moment of watching the opening ceremony, you probably took great interest in the beautiful, mysterious sights and sounds of the PS4-exclusive Vane. The trailer shows flashes of strange, stirring scenes: a girl cradling a glimmering gold shard in the midst of a dust storm, a flock of ravens soaring across a barren desert, platforming along the precarious planks of an ancient structure. Playing the actual game is just as surreal and enchanting as that alluring minute of footage makes it look, and it's even more engrossing when you're exploring its dreamlike world for yourself.
Vane is not a fast-paced, action-packed game. With no direct guidance whatsoever, and no objectives or markers telling you what to do or where to go, it's more concerned with imparting a sense of serenity and awe, as you soak up the vast splendor of your surroundings. Initially, you have control of that same raven shown in the trailer, given the freedom to fly in any direction. Maybe you'll choose to swoop through the surrounding canyons, or feverishly flap your wings to get a better view of the sun-bleached landscape. It has a similar feel to the opening areas of Journey, where you're simply in awe of the gargantuan environment you can flit around, whether you're searching for points of interest or simply taking it all in.
The sensation of flight is satisfying enough that the more meditative player could spend hours soaring towards nothing in particular, occasionally cawing to the nearby flock of fellow ravens with a tap of the Triangle button for the simple pleasure of it. But that exploration will eventually lead to discoveries that completely change your method of play. Flying through a particular canyon that's initially out of sight leads you into an immense cave with signs of human life: staircases carved into the rock walls, and spires standing precariously in the middle of the cavern. At the base of the spire is what looks like a large nest made from gold leaf; it glimmers in the light like shreds of tissue paper made of beetle carcasses. Crash into it as the raven, and suddenly, you've transformed into a young girl, as if she had just jumped into a pile of leaves.
Up until this point, the game has been mostly silent, save for your bird calls and the gusts of wind as you ride the breeze. But now, faint synths start to build in the background, as the girl scales the pueblo-like steps in a slow, methodical ascension, leaping across gaps and carefully tiptoeing across narrow walkways. As she moves, a stunning graphical effect makes the rocks appear to bend and shimmer around her, as if they're glitching out based on her proximity (a bit like the shifting visuals of Bound). Again, there's nothing chasing you, no timer to hurry you on your ascent - it feels like you're climbing higher and higher out of sheer curiosity for what might await at the top. After a few simple obstacles - pushing support beams to create a path, or making daring leaps over vertigo-inducing drops - you finally reach the top of the cave, pushing out one last plank of wood to reveal blinding sunlight that feels like freedom after the dimly-lit spelunking.
All the while, the soundtrack has been building up and up. And as you step outside and see a lake before you, the only thing left to do is jump. As the girl bounds off the cliff and towards the water, she suddenly morphs back into a raven and takes flight, as a powerful crescendo of synths play a tune reminiscent of the deeply affecting Stranger Things theme. So ends this entrancing hands-on demo, and there's no telling what lies beyond (or before) this dreamlike jaunt. Tokyo-based developer Friend & Foe was inspired by adventure game classic Another World, designing Vane to immerse the player without any dialogue or continual direction. And if the entire game is as potent and powerful as this small slice, the finished vision could be a pensive masterpiece of tranquil exploration.