A dystopian landscape full of unusual dangers. A dark and sullen world with the occasional splash of atmospheric vibrancy. Plenty of tricky puzzles to solve. These are the sort of stylings that have been popularised ever since the release of games like Limbo, Inside, and Little Nightmares, and now they’ve been embraced by developers Studio Kiku and Innovina Interactive in their isometric puzzle-adventure The Plane Effect.
Check out a gallery of screenshots down below:
It’d be an understatement to describe The Plane Effect’s tale as peculiar, with the player taking control of an office worker as he finishes up his final day in work, clocks out, and heads home, all whilst a mysterious cosmic anomaly brightens up the distant sky. That cosmic anomaly proves to be dangerous, with the world seemingly changing and bringing with it plenty of perils that make your journey home to your family a hazardous one. You must push on though, all whilst conquering each struggle ahead of you.
Whilst The Plane Effect’s tale is all very sci-fi in design, there’s a lot more to it than ‘mysterious force brings peril to Earth’. There are plenty of underlying themes that tie into the workplace, dystopian governance, and so forth, with a lot of the narrative acting as a metaphor for the struggles that an everyday man might go through. It’s powerful stuff, but I won’t spoil it here in this review – just know that there’s more to the narrative than might initially meet the eye.
“There are plenty of underlying themes that tie into the workplace, dystopian governance, and so forth, with a lot of the narrative acting as a metaphor for the struggles that an everyday man might go through.”
The Plane Effect’s gameplay is mostly based around exploring your surroundings and solving puzzles, with plenty of conundrums in place for the player to solve that are based on interacting with objects and items in the environment. Some of these puzzles can be simple enough to figure out and just require a bit of logic, but others are a bit more obtuse; detrimentally so in fact, with the process of figuring out what you need to interact with and when you need to do so getting tiresome fast. It could almost be like a point-and-click adventure at times where you can’t interact with specific items until you actually need to, but the fact that there’s nothing about some of these items to make them feel memorable does mean that players might often find themselves wandering around and interacting with everything all over again in the hope that it’ll see them progress.
I’m probably being a little bit harsh on the game there, because there are some puzzles that are cleverly designed and do feel satisfying to solve. It’s the puzzles that were frustrating that stood out the most though, with a lack of sign posting and some solutions that feel needlessly cryptic causing some annoyances during my time playing the game.
“Some of these puzzles can be simple enough to figure out and just require a bit of logic, but others are a bit more obtuse; detrimentally so in fact.”
That ‘lack of sign posting’ can be fixed by playing the game on a different difficulty. The Plane Effect offers three difficulty choices to play on, with one giving no assistance, one giving small clues as to what you need to do, and another simply leading you to the next piece of each puzzle. For the sake of this review, I spent most of my time playing with no assistance, though I did find that I started to enjoy the game a lot more when I switched over and had a bit of help. It just felt a little cheap, especially since the best part of a puzzle game is having the satisfaction of solving each enigma yourself.
There’s also some light platforming in the game, but it’s very so-so. Some slightly clumsy controls can make it awkward to jump with real precision, whilst the isometric viewpoint can make things a little awkward too. Of course, The Plane Effect doesn’t bring with it intense platforming challenges so there’s never anything that feels too difficult, but don’t be surprised if you still manage to mistime some jumps regardless. Speaking of controls, it could be awkward to line yourself up with objects to interact with them too, so expect a few moments where you’ll have to fiddle with your control stick just to try and stand in the PERFECT spot.
“The creativity of some of the game’s more ‘unusual’ sights (I’m using that world loosely) means that you’ll never quite know what you’re going to see next.”
It’d be easy to think that I didn’t like The Plane Effect based on some of these criticisms, but you know what? I actually had a decent time playing the game. Yes, some of the puzzles were frustrating, and yes, the platforming wasn’t great, but the sheer variety of tasks you complete (and the puzzles that hit the mark) ensure there’s plenty on offer to keep players invested in the experience. It could almost feel like a walking simulator at times too, where it’s possible to play and simply enjoy soaking in your mesmerising surroundings and embracing the solemn messages that the world conveys.
And believe me, the world design itself is top notch throughout. I’ve always been a fan of monochrome worlds anyway, especially when the art design is of a high quality, but The Plane Effect felt especially impressive to look at with its atmospheric and vibrant lighting. Some neat weather effect helped the world feel more alive too, whilst the creativity of some of the game’s more ‘unusual’ sights (I’m using that world loosely) means that you’ll never quite know what you’re going to see next.
It’s all complemented by the fact that it runs smoothly on the Nintendo Switch, with no real technical hiccups found when playing in both the handheld and docked modes. Sure, it could be a little awkward to make out some of the smaller objects in the world when playing handheld and there were a couple of occasions when the controls would bug out on me a little, but it’s generally a consistent experience that plays well on Nintendo’s portable console.
The Plane Effect Summary
The mixed puzzling and clumsy controls of The Plane Effect can be frustrating, but the world design and variety do enough to make its harrowing adventure worthwhile. I was a big fan of its atmospheric visuals and simply seeing what perils I’d have to face next, whilst the underlying themes of the narrative certainly hit home on more than a few occasions. It’s just a shame that the gameplay didn’t always manage to hit the same heights.
I have no doubt it’s going to be a divisive game thanks to its flaws, but there’s still plenty here for players to enjoy… just maybe try the demo before you buy it.
Developer: Studio Kiku, Innovina Interactive
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC