Most stories are told in a pretty straight, linear way. Yes, there might be a few diversions on the way and some tangents to untangle, but usually, there is a clear beginning, middle, and end. This is true of the narratives which roll through games in general, as it is of movies and books. Occasionally though those stories may have many beginnings, middles and ends; journeys which are abstract, unusual, and unexpected. Titles like Inside or Manifold Garden are good example of this – but now we have The Plane Effect taking things that one step further into the unreal and peculiar. Does it work? For the most part, yes, but it does stumble along the way.
The Plane Effect has a quite simple premise – at least to begin with, but very soon it blows everything out of the window and takes us somewhere completely surreal. You play an office worker who is alone, being the last one tapping away at this keyboard. As he finishes up and attempts to leave the office, it’s up to him to switch the lights off. It’s here where the world starts to glitch. And he’s not alone – people are watching him from up high, and nothing is what it seems.
Soon the man is found wandering around familiar locations; his home, the tube or through the city. But doors suddenly open into fantastical worlds, underwater lands and those which spiral into different dimensions full of unusual beasts, scientific experiments, and strange new places. The amazing journey of the man is where the strengths of The Plane Effect lie, as we head off on a trip which takes around 5 hours to get through.
It’s a game which does one of those rare things too, in the fact that no matter how tricky things get, you’ll still find the need to keep pushing forward, uncovering the story ends. It’s a tale without words as well, played out through the visuals and locations. I love what The Plane Effect does here, giving us the chance to explore the developer’s vision. I found spending time in their imagination to be pretty amazing.
Gameplay-wise and it mostly plays out in an isometric viewpoint. In the beginning, you have a choice of ways of playing, from a sort of normal narrative adventurer mode where you are working out everything as you go, to a guided option in which pressing a button will help navigate to where you need to go, or what you need to do next. It’s certainly handy, but for some it may well feel like a little bit of a cheat.
It starts quite simply as you walk around the various locations, interacting with objects to move the narrative along and progress to the next level. Some of the puzzles can be quite tricky and a bit oblique, but all are well thought out and interestedly devised. Later on, you will see the main character working through some platforming sections, driving sections, and underwater sections. It’s in these where the game design brings forth some problems.
You see, the platforming isn’t as good as you would expect from a platformer, and it does get very annoying at times, mostly as movement is a bit too floaty. The car sections, later on, are okay, but there’s a bit where you have to move slowly and stealthily through some checkpoints. Honestly, it’s a bit of a nightmare because the car’s braking isn’t very accurate. Those underwater moments are a pain too, as it is hard to judge perspective-wise where you are in relation to sharks and mines.
Further to that, there have been a few moments where The Plane Effect has crashed out, and more where it checkpoints to a near instant death or not allowing further movement. It’s a shame because the rest of the game is brilliant.
It’s captivating and unique visually too. Brilliantly edited scenes using a monochrome colour palette along with its isometric viewpoints work very well. The way the visuals combine the mundane and the unreal is beautifully done, with great visual storytelling running the show. The soundtrack fits splendidly with this, creating a moody dystopian atmosphere that has flourishes of hope at various moments.
The first half of The Plane Effect is of seriously high quality, so much so that you’d be looking at a 5/5 rating. But as progression is made and the latter half begins to unfold, problems arise; whether that be bugs that stop the game, or the frustration of the platforming or underwater sections. It’s just about won me over, mostly because of its strong visual atmosphere and brilliantly edited story – the way it takes the mundane life of an office worker and transports him into strange new worlds is superb. It’s just a shame it’s held back by some issues.
The Plane Effect can be picked up from the Xbox Store