Plain Sight has a simple recipe for success. Take suicidal ninja robots, add a healthy dose of gravity-bending space, throw in a few katanas, and mix well. Inside each robot is energy; if you kill a robot, you steal its energy. Collecting energy makes you bigger, faster and stronger, but it also makes the proverbial target on your back more pronounced. Finally, you have to kill yourself to earn points for all of the energy you’ve stolen. If you are killed instead of self-destructing, you lose the results of all of your hard work and will have earned no points.
This fresh idea definitely creates an instant appeal for Plain Sight. Couple that appeal with the budge price tag of $10 and now we’ve got a reason to take a closer look. It sounds fun and has a minimal price of admission, but does Plain Sight deliver the goods?
It certainly delivers a fast-paced action game. That action is fused with a healthy dose of strategy. This strange dichotomy leads to a tension that’s hard to match in other multiplayer games. As you get bigger, so does the radius that will result from your self-destruction. If you catch others in your blast, that also adds to your score. So, you are constantly faced with a decision. Do you cash in early and often, banking a small amount of points each time? Or can you hold out, killing more enemies and increasing point multipliers to an insane level before exploding in the middle of a fight?
Even though the premise is easy to explain, it takes a bit longer to get comfortable actually playing. The tutorial that’s provide is average, but still leaves a lot to trial and error. Beatnik Games doesn’t even attempt to explain upgrades, shields, or even basic strategy to the novice player. There is a practice mode, which is basically you versus bots. This is at least beneficial in getting familiar with each of the maps, but is not very indicative of the challenge created by playing against human opponents.
The menu is clean and crisp on the surface, but it feels as if it’s missing refinement. For example, there is no volume control for in-game sounds and music. There is only an on/off toggle button in the options. The mellow jazz background music is enjoyable (even though unexpected) but not having the option to simply turn it down was disappointing.
It’s also slightly depressing that the game world is so grey. As a ninja robot hurtling through space, I understand that I should be too concerned with the color palette. No doubt the developers wanted to make it easier to track down your opponents by creating a simple game world that contrasts with the players. A few splashes of color do appear since each robot leaves behind a color trail that grows in intensity as they become more powerful. They also light up any surface of the map that they are touching. However, a little variation in shades or textures would have been welcome even if they were an added option that could be toggled.
The bland color is exacerbated by the fact that disorientation is inevitable. Since the rules of gravity are open for interpretation (think Super Mario Galaxy), your tiny robot will fly around the map almost uncontrollably at times. It can be difficult to get from point to point, especially if there are numerous virtual planetoids between them all the same color. One button press will anchor (slam) you to the nearest piece of solid ground, but this also puts you at greater risk of being murdered by an enemy. At least you are able to zoom in and away from your character by the mouse wheel; I found that zooming out helped me keep my bearing.Even though it can be confusing, the map design is clever. Battles will be wages on two giant cassette tapes with the ribbons coming unraveled or on a massive version of your tiny robot self. Sticking with the space theme, random stars will float around waiting to be grabbed by a player. The stars will contain either an energy point or various power ups such as a stealth bonus, flaming sword, or combo multipliers. These add variety and also encourage you to grab a few while killing enemies to end up with a healthy point total when you self-destruct.
Successful banking of energy also gives you points for upgrades. That’s right, Plain Sight added another layer of complexity even after you’ve killed yourself. Points can be used on upgrades only for the current match and vary in effectiveness. You can increase your speed, jumping ability, and dashing power. You can also decrease the time it takes to detonate, get an alert when someone is locked on to you, or even earn a shield. With three levels for each upgrade as well as a “mega perk” for each category, strategy is important in this area of the game, too.
There are currently a lot of different servers available, though mainly for deathmatch. I enjoyed the “Ninja! Ninja! Ninja! Robozilla!” mode but it was hard to find a viable server running those maps. Capture the Flag is available but doesn’t fit well with the suicide and one-hit kill mechanics. It is worth noting that load times are practically non-existent, probably because of the minimalist graphics. After launching the game and reaching the main menu, it’s possible to load the game and be in a live match within 10 seconds. It only takes a few seconds at most to switch to a new map on a server. It keeps the pace high and makes Plain Sight perfect for a quick gaming session. I also had very few instances where lag was an issue. The networking team has done a good job to provide a reliable online experience.
Plain Sight is a refreshing and fun experience. The action-strategy combination creates a unique tension and surge of adrenaline while playing. It’s not for everyone, though, because it can easily disorient and cause motion sickness in the heat of battle. As long as you can physically handle it, Plain Sight is one of the more enjoyable multiplayer action titles that I have ever played and is a steal for only $10.