Dark, strange, surreal, mysterious, moody, bitter, stubborn and sometimes very annoying. But that’s enough about me, I have another game to review. Today I’m taking a look at an isometric, puzzle-adventure game developed by Innovina and StudioKiku, published by PQube, The Plane Effect.
“A dystopian isometric adventure, following a lonely office worker as he attempts to return home in the face of impossible odds. Experience a remarkable journey expertly brought to life with gorgeous visuals, crafted and tailored by VFX experts.”
So yeah, in The Plane Effect, you are trying to get home after your last day at work in the office. Not exactly the kind of plot that gets the blood racing, to be honest. Still, if the film Falling Down can make a man trying to get home ‘effing amazing, why not a game? Unlike William ‘D-Fens’ Foster from Falling Down, who had to put up with everyday annoyances, the character in The Plane Effect has drones, alternate realities, sewer monsters and much more to deal with on his journey home.
Just on looks alone, The Plane Effect is stunning. A very dark, noir-esque, minimalist colour palette, stylistic art aesthetic. This is a game that looks simple but also pretty damn gorgeous at the same time. Drenched in atmosphere and ambience, the world here is an absolute joy to experience and just on looks and style alone, The Plane Effect had me hungry to see and take in more and more of what it offered.
Still, as much as I loved looking at The Plane Effect, the gameplay itself was a bit more stubborn. What you get here is a fair mix of both puzzle-solving and some platforming play. Neither gameplay mechanics are really as polished as the presentation of the game itself though. When it comes to solving the puzzles in The Plane Effect, I was very much reminded of a below-par point ‘n click adventure game from the mid-nineties. The puzzles here can really be more than a little obtuse, to say the least. I think the best way to explain this is to go through the very first part of the game.
So you start out in the office that you work in, switch off your computer and head off home. However, the only door out of the office is locked and there is no sign of a key. You walk around the office and find your coat hanging up, a switch next to the door that turns off all the power, a picture of your family and a paper plane on the floor. So how do you unlock the door? Well, I went for my coat first, thinking there would be a key in the pocket, nope. Still, I tried to put the coat on as it made sense in my head that I would wear the coat if I am leaving work… yet the game wouldn’t let me wear it. The character just shook his head, a visual cue that the item isn’t useable. So I assumed that the coat was not wearable and was just a red herring, a lot of adventure games have them. I picked up the photo of my family, which then showed a short cutscene but still no key to unlock the door. I threw the paper plane and that revealed a hidden key card. Yes, I could unlock the door and leave.
So I picked up the key card, unlocked the door and clicked on it to leave… but the game wouldn’t let me. The door was unlocked and the aim was to leave the office, but I couldn’t. Of course, the power switch next to the door. If I am leaving work, I really should turn the power off, makes sense. So I did and then clicked on the unlocked door to leave… but the game still wouldn’t let me. So what am I missing here? I have unlocked the door, turned the power off, I already tried wearing the coat and the game wouldn’t let me do that. There was nothing else in the room to interact with. So why can’t I leave the office when I have done all the game will let me do?
That was when, purely on a whim, I decided to try the coat again… and only then would the game let me wear it, so I then could leave the office. Now let me ask you this, why couldn’t I wear the coat before finding the key card and unlocking the door? Why does it really matter what order I did those events in as long as they are done? See, this is where the obtuseness of the puzzles come from. The game will only let you solve puzzles if you follow a very precise course of events. This strictness to the puzzle-solving really is an annoyance and becomes more than a little frustrating as you just end up clicking on any and everything on the screen, instead of using lateral thinking.
The strange thing is that the developers seem to be aware that the puzzle-solving is stupidly stubborn, because they have included a hint system (two in fact) that kind of ruins the flow of the game. Yet it is a hint system that you are going to really need and use a lot to make any kind of progress, because the puzzles are agonisingly obstinate and inflexible. And this is why The Plane Effect reminded me of a below-par point ‘n click adventure game from the mid-nineties. You’ll miss some tiny detail or think an item can’t be used because the game won’t let you use it at the moment, even when it is an item you need to use to solve the puzzle. Just a little bit of leeway with the puzzle solutions really would’ve made this a far better experience.
As for the platforming sections. If you have ever played any isometric game that features platforming, then you’ll already know how annoyingly frustrating they can be. Trust me, The Plane Effect is no different. I mean, here’s a screengrab of one of those platforming sections.
Yeah, aside from looking like something for an M.C. Escher nightmare, it’s just so annoyingly awkward to navigate through. Oh, and do keep in mind that is a still image, wait until you see it moving. You can’t accurately control your jumps and the isometric view makes lining up your leaps infuriating. You’ll find yourself falling and falling a ridiculous amount here. The fact that your character’s movement is sluggishly slow doesn’t help matters either as you’ll spend most of your time continually walking back up the stairs to take on the jump again, only to fall back down and have to very slowly walk back up… rinse and repeat. There is a run button, but you definitely don’t want to be using it on tight platforming sections like the one pictured. For any game devs out there, isometric games are fine… but please don’t put platforming in them.
The Plane Effect is certainly annoying and more than a little frustrating when it comes to the gameplay. And yet, I’d be lying to myself if I ended this review by claiming that I didn’t enjoy it somewhat. The art-style, the moody music, the atmosphere, the (surreal) situations you find yourself in. I adored this world and I really wanted to get our unnamed worker back home to his family. The Plane Effect is terribly irksome, no doubt about it, but it also has an appeal that’s hard to describe and very easy to love.
Being sold for around £13 on all formats, as much as I did adore The Plane Effect’s world and style, I can’t honestly say it’s worth paying £13 to experience it. My advice, watch a playthrough on YouTube instead, or wait for a sale and pick it up at a reduced price. A wonderfully expressive and beautifully crafted title in terms of its looks and poise. But sadly, The Plane Effect is let down by some seriously flawed gameplay mechanics and really exasperating puzzle design.