Plain Sight PC Review

You don’t see many video games with suicide as their central theme. And yet here’s Plain Sight, a game about tiny ninja robots going on murder-suicide sprees. Doesn’t really sound like the premise for a fun or cheerful video game, I know. But here we bloody are.

The game is a multiplayer-focused affair (bots are available, but they’re a bit… slow), and features anywhere up to 20 robots, flying around and trying to kill each other with katanas. The robots’ movement is actually more reminiscent of Mario Galaxy than anything else – there are a number of objects or planetoids scattered around for you to jump between, but gravity isn’t too much of a concern. Spend even a small amount of time with the game, and you should find yourself having a surprising amount of fun effortlessly gliding around and using the level’s various gravitational fields to pull off fancy slingshot manoeuvres. Throw in the unlockable ability to jump several times in mid-air, and you can spend literally minutes at a time gliding around before finally coming in to land. What also helps is that doing so is an absolute joy in and of itself.

Still, you won’t always be able to get away with that – this is a game about combat, after all. As you look around with the mouse, you have the ability to target and dash towards your opponents, automatically killing them with your sword if you manage to collide with them (unless they’re attacking too, or using a shield). Killing an enemy transfers all the energy they were carrying over to you, making you bigger and stronger but also a more obvious target. The clever twist is that stealing energy isn’t quite enough to rack up points and take the lead – to do that, you need to kill yourself. Hitting the ‘E’ key at any point will cause your robot to self-destruct, creating an explosion that can also kill your enemies if they’re unlucky enough to get caught in it. Not only that, but the more energy you’re carrying at the time, the bigger the bang. So, while gathering energy makes people more likely to attack you and thus makes it more likely that you’re soon to get killed to bits, it also gives you a greater chance of taking out any would-be energy-thieves when you explode. Clever, no?

As you start to gain points, you can spend them on upgrades to your robot. Some of them are simple enhancements to existing abilities – extra mid-air jumps, faster attack speed, and so on – while others are completely new abilities, like the shield. Buying enough upgrades in any one of the three categories (movement, attack and defence) will unlock that category’s ‘Mega Perk’, ranging from a shield that actually gives you energy for absorbing hits with it, to the ability to draw all your opponents towards you like a black hole when you detonate your robot. These upgrades reset after each round, but Beatnik have stated on their blog that they’re already working on adding a persistent ‘perks’ system to the game, which should certainly help add a bit of longevity.

Visually, the game is a little bit spartan – there are few textures to speak of, for example – but it still comes across as an intentional style choice, rather than the necessity it most likely was. There are a few indie devs out there who push for graphical realism, and they usually end up embarrassing themselves in the process, but Beatnik’s clean, cel-shaded look (with a hint of BioShock-esque art deco/steampunk stylings) works just fine. To be honest, you probably wouldn’t want the visuals to be much busier anyway, as more heavily-populated matches can become truly hectic, and you’re always having to watch for threats from all angles. Despite the chaos that Plain Sight often provides, however, the various HUD indicators coupled with the robots’ neon trails strewn about the place mean that you won’t ever have too much trouble figuring out what’s going on – or, at least, discerning which way your target went.

There are several game-modes, though in all honesty you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone playing anything other than the standard deathmatch mode. Team Deathmatch and Capture the Flag both make an appearance, along with Ninja! Ninja! Robozilla!, where several players must team up to defeat another player, who is massive and wears a dinosaur helmet. Sounds amazing, but everyone’s so glued to regular deathmatches that we’ve been unable to give it a try.

Plain Sight is currently a PC-only title, with digitally-distributed versions for the Wii and PS3 planned in the distant future. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Beatnik probably want to do something clever with the motion controllers only available on those consoles, but the apparent lack of any plans for an Xbox 360 version seem odd, considering that playing the PC version with a 360 pad – something that the game supports with no fuss at all – is perfectly fine. On top of that, one of Plain Sight‘s main flaws is the effort involved in joining a game with your friends – at the time of writing, there’s simply no option to do so, so it’s a total pain in the arse. Thus any console-savvy gamers will start wondering how lovely an Xbox Live Arcade version could be, as the ability to just invite your friends into a game without having to mess around with passworded, private servers would be a total blast.

Still, none of this detracts from what Plain Sight really is; a brilliantly-designed and engaging multiplayer game with one of the finest risk/reward systems we’ve ever seen. Originally there were doubts about the game’s longevity, but Beatnik have since demonstrated their intent to keep supporting the game by occasionally adding new content. Thus, for the £6-£8 it’ll set you back (depending on your digital distribution channel of choice), Plain Sight is very easy to recommend, especially if you can get some friends interested.

[BOOM]
8/10

by

Version tested: PC

Developer: Beatnik Games

Publisher: Beatnik Games

Genre: Low-grav robot ninja suicide sim

Players: 1-20