HIGH The devotion to its thematical premise.
LOW …This premise exacerbates the game’s dysfunctionality.
WTF Is this intentional??
The Plane Effect depicts the depressing story of an adult man — father to a daughter and husband to a wife — whose workday ends where the game’s narrative begins.
What follows is a series of reflections on the melancholic monotony of everyday working life in capitalist society and its bureaucratic technologies, on loneliness and family alienation, and most prominently, on what a mess the game surrounding all of this is.
This dystopian isometric adventure starts well enough with the main character (named Solo) in in an empty, gloomy office. The simple premise is that he’s got to leave for home as quickly as possible and get to a family anxiously awaiting his return.
So, what does Solo need before he leaves? A coat, obviously. The necessary keys, surely. But also a paper plane to… throw through the office? Does that even make sense? In The Plane Effect, it does.
The Plane Effect’s core mechanic is walking from object to object in the right sequence to progress, similar to a point-and-click. Want to pick up the coat? Sorry, first pick up the keys. Narratively unnecessary sequences like this must be followed, or progression becomes impossible.
Luckily, there are three degrees of difficulty (read: stress and redundance) to choose from — a no-hint mode, a ‘vague’ hint mode which visualizes the character’s thoughts on what to do next, and a literal hint mode which points the player to the exact object that needs to be interacted with. As the game progressed and the arbitrariness and sloppiness of this strict sequential design became more frustrating, I eventually bumped it down to the full hint mode and tried to experience the game purely for its atmospheric, silent narrative — and this is by far where The Plane Effect is at its best.
The major (though implied) premise of The Plane Effect is that the work/home distance is increasingly expanding in contemporary consumerist society. Satirically, on the way home we encounter the craziest of obstacles hindering us from actually arriving at our loved ones’ place. If the game is read in this way, all the tedium the player must endure may be acceptably interpreted as thematical genius hitting the premise out of the park.
As for me, I tend to prefer cultural form over technological function, narrative over mechanics, and aesthetics over graphics in most games. Therefore, I’m thoroughly appreciative of the devs pursuing this theme to the fullest. At the same time, however, I can’t deny that the dysfunction and tedium of actually playing were so disruptive to the experience that any thematic sophistication was lost in translation.
The core issue involves the mechanics. Walking is annoyingly sluggish. The run function reacts slowly, inconsistently, or not at all. Jumping is void of any realistic momentum and timing, and the interact button functions only half the time, leading to an additional five seconds of frustration for each attempt.
These issues would be mere annoyances if this was an atmospheric walking simulator, but The Plane Effect is not. No, it wildly mixes gameplay modes including platforming and run-and-escape sequences in addition to the progression puzzles.
One-third of the way through the campaign, I had to take a long slide down during a chase scene, while also having to avoid obstacles — one touch and it was back to the start. While I can’t put my finger on whether it was the awkward controls, the unrealistic hitbox of the obstacles, or the poor functioning of the run key, the result was that this sequence and others like it almost made me quit.
Platforming is even worse. There is a serious lack of physics and momentum here, both of which are crucial to good platforming. Additionally, the platforms are vague and poorly scaled, making it difficult to determine where the player will land after a jump. Adding insult to injury, the checkpoints are unfriendly, forcing the player to re-do sections while also suffering through long loading screens between dying and respawning. These criticisms dominated my experience before I got even halfway through The Plane Effect, and the latter half only exacerbated them.
While I can’t excuse the frustration I felt playing through The Plane Effect, I genuinely sympathize with the developers, as I can sense what their vision was. I would argue it’s even possible to interpret their work as intentionally draining, as it metaphorically strengthens the theme. Unfortunately, it crosses a line and all I was left with was the urge to finishing the game as quickly as possible so that I could leave it behind.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Innovina and Studio Kiku and published by PQube Limited. It is currently available on Switch, PC, PS4/5 and XBO/X/S. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Switch. Approximately 6 hours were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E10+ and contains Fantasy Violence, Mild Blood, and Tobacco Reference. I agree with this rating based on my playing experience, although I would like to add that this game’s themes are probably only comprehensible at an even later age (e.g. 17+).
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game does not feature any spoken dialogue. As such, there are no subtitles. The game can be played 100% without sound and is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.