The Plane Effect Review: The never-ending commute of nightmares
It’s your last day at work.
It doesn’t seem like anyone’s noticed; you’re still in the office, puttering away at your computer until the very end. Alone.
It’s hard to say if that’s a normal experience — after all, some of us do love staying late for the sake of a quiet space to really focus.
What does seem to be abnormal, however, is the oppressive, otherworldly force that is making the trip back home a never-ending nightmare. Were there always drones ready to kill me if I put a toe on the crosswalk before it was safe to do so? Were there always man-eating worms full of musical instruments and voids with floating geometric shapes? And why does home look like a murder scene — if that’s even home at all?
Where is home?
Where am I?
Who am I?
At no point in time did I truly feel like I understood what was happening in The Plane Effect, a surreal isometric adventure game developed by Innovina and Studio Kiku with publishing being handled by PQube. Considering that was most likely the dev team’s goal — complete confusion in a dystopian cityscape — I think they nailed it, for better or worse. Available on console and PC for an introductory price of $13.49 (regularly $14.99), The Plane Effect is a beautifully eerie 3 – 6 hour journey through space, time, and bended reality.
The Plane Effect opens up on a salaryman aptly called Solo clacking away at his keyboard. Such a dutiful employee — it’s his last day, yet he puts in 100% of his effort until the very end! After signing off for the final time, Solo grabs his coat and briefcase and heads out the door, ready for the long commute home. Unfortunately for Solo, it seems his commute is far lengthier than he remembers… unending, even. And continuously devolving into a surreal and unrecognizable landscape that seems strange at times and frightening at others. Will Solo keep his sense of self as he tries to find his way home?
The Plane Effect’s aesthetics aim to intrigue — a quick look at the trailer is all most people needed to get their interest piqued. The minimalist, geometric visuals with a limited palette emphasizes key parts of the puzzles, drawing players’ eyes to the solutions quite easily. Set on an isometric plane, The Plane Effect is extremely cinematic, preferring to show players specific shots rather than let them freely roam around the individual scenes. Coupled with the atmospheric music to match, The Plane Effect is a dark and moody puzzle adventure that will have you questioning reality.
When it comes to puzzles, The Plane Effect unfortunately misses the mark. While I do love it when characters show logic when picking up objects — i.e., if I don’t need it now, why am I taking it? — there was so little communication between Solo and the environment that it was hard to know when I needed something and when I didn’t. There were times the way forward would be completely blocked, the only key to progression just walking into absolutely everything to see if anything — anything! — could somehow lead to the answer. It didn’t progress into this weird friction, it was like this from the beginning: I still have no idea why I, as a guy who clearly commutes every day to this deskjob, had to scrounge for change in the nearby vending machines for a metro ticket? I get that not a lot was supposed to make sense, but that’s between world and character; between player and puzzles, I should understand what it is I’m supposed to be doing.
To be fair, the puzzles wouldn’t be so much of an issue if the controls weren’t difficult to work with. I tried The Plane Effect with both a controller and a keyboard, and I emphatically declare the controller to be the better option. I’m not entirely sure if it’s Solo’s speed or his walk cycle animation, but maneuvering him across the screen feels like trying to walk through water. Additionally, pressing the sprint button doesn’t actually do anything unless you’re moving first, which felt like a step backwards in quality of life choices. All of that could be forgiven if it were not for the isometric plane (or vice versa); it’s one thing to need to run around on it, but there were parts that required precision jumping where one misstep lead to death. Good luck trying to balance on a diving board with imprecise footwork and clunky keyboard controls.
Despite my criticism, there was something about The Plane Effect that told me to keep going, hoping my patience would pay off. Sure, there’s no denying it’s a beautiful game, but it eventually became clear that its visually impactful, cinematic nature is really what’s carrying the entire title. There’s a deeper message to be found in The Plane Effect, and I think the people who love purposefully esoteric art films are going to get the most out of it. The Plane Effect’s concept is solid, but its execution had too many friction points; by the time the climax rolled around, I was far too angry to share in Solo’s emotional breakthrough, practically glaring at his face for daring to put me through the paces of this frustrating experience. Why do I resent pixels?
The Plane Effect strikes me as a fairly polarizing experience that won’t be for everyone. If you prefer gameplay mechanics over aesthetics and deeper meaning, turn back now; if you love a cinematic, visually arresting journey and don’t mind clunky controls, this might be the surreal commute from another dimension for you. I can’t guarantee The Plane Effect will be your favorite game this year, but I can promise a unique experience that will make you feel all sorts of emotions; whether those emotions are awe or anger is anyone’s guess.
Final Verdict: 3/5
Available on: Switch, Xbox Series X|S, PS5, PC (reviewed); Publisher: PQube; Developer: Innovina/StudioKiku; Players: 1; Released: September 23, 2021; MSRP: $14.99
Editor’s note: This review is based on a retail copy of The Plane Effect provided by the publisher.