In the process of reviewing Plain Sight, a raging conflict has stirred up within me. My head has become an arena for two voices as they shout and scream at one another to become the dominant point of view driving the prose. One voice is desperate to like the game; wooed over by the talents of an independent development studio, ninja robots, and stylish cel-shaded visuals. The other, more cynical voice, argues that the game hides some questionable design choices, and ultimately isn't that much fun. Plain Sight might be trendy and different, but it's frustrating and stressful at the same time. The review that follows is a literary sparring match between these two voices; the schizophrenic ramblings of a critic whose opinions are rather annoyingly split down the middle.
Developed by Beatnik Games, Plain Sight is a frantic multiplayer arcade game available exclusively through digital distribution platforms on the PC. Although there's no story to contextualise the action, Plain Sight offers a streamlined multiplayer experience with four game types to carry the action. The stars of the game are katana wielding androids that flit about abstract planetoids with complete disregard for the laws of gravity. Their sole objective is to hunt and destroy other robots, stealing their energy and growing in size with the ultimate intention of blowing themselves up for points. If that sounds totally mental, it's only because it is.
Just like Mario Galaxy, your robinja (a killer word I just invented for robot ninjas) can run about each face of a 3D environment without fear of falling off the edge. A quick tap of the space bar will fling your character into the air with extraordinary speed, giving rise to fantastic aerial pursuits. With more energy comes the ability to double and triple jump your way about the arena; a colourful trail of light following your character like a tail, showing from whence they came. The game is certainly impressive from a sensory perspective, with a vivid colour palette and flamboyant use of cel-shading to help give the game an other-worldly atmosphere.
By killing an enemy player, your robinja will accumulate energy, which will increase his size, speed and strength. This might make it easier to take out subsequent enemies, but it also makes him more of a target. All that energy will drive other players wild with envy, and they'll take any chance they get to plunge a katana in your back and steal it for themselves. Before this happens, the best thing you can do is blow yourself to kingdom come. The more energy you have, the bigger the blast radius and the more enemies you'll take out with you. This, in fact, is the only way to score points in the game, and so suicide is not only a good method for keeping enemies off your back, but vital for victory itself.
So, the game is sound in its concept and presentation - my two bickering voices can both agree on that - but Plain Sight's problems start to surface in its execution. The game is incredibly fast paced, which for the most part is a good thing, but seems to trip over itself as a result. A standard WASD keyboard input makes moving around easy enough, but throw jumping, targeting and a camera that struggles to keep up with the action into the mix, and you have an incredibly awkward control scheme. A game as frantic and quick moving as Plain Sight requires nothing but the most elegant of control designs, and a camera that can do it justice.
A more fundamental problem for me concerned the suicide mechanic at the very core of the game. It might well give the game an interesting hook, but it also makes for an incredibly stressful experience. If you don't kill yourself often enough, you'll struggle to keep up with the competition, but who wants to commit suicide when they're so big and powerful? This is of course the cost / reward device the game was built around; releasing all that energy at exactly the right moment for maximum point scoring. It feels counterproductive though, like everything you've done up until that point has been a complete waste of time. With suicide in the back of your mind at all times, Plain Sight can become a very stressful experience.
Another problem is nobody's playing the damn game. Getting into a match can be surprisingly hard work, which is incredibly frustrating considering its disposition as a multiplayer only title. Much of my time was spent refreshing lobby lists in order to find a match that was actually populated by other players. As well as this, it seemed I could only get into a standard Deathmatch; the other three game modes being strangely neglected. While Capture the Flag and Deathmatch need no explanation, Lighten Up and Ninja Ninja Botzilla are interesting enough to warrant a quick description.
In Ninja Ninja Botzilla, players take turns to control a huge, super powered Godzilla-bot, whilst the others try to take it down. In contrast, Lighten Up tasks players with detonating as much energy as they can muster on a specific area of the map, the biggest explosion winning the round. Although a small player population makes setting up a game difficult, getting into one of these game modes adds some much needed variety to the experience.
An interesting topic of conversation concerning games journalism is whether price should factor into a game's score (let us know your thoughts on this in the comments section below). Normally, I'd argue that it shouldn't; a good game is a good game and a bad game a bad game. But when a game is released with a price tag as low as £7.99, that distinction seems to blur somewhat. Judging by its price, Plain Sight can be considered a 'budget' title, and should therefore be judged accordingly. Because of this you'll likely be able to forgive some of its flaws. Plain Sight offers a sizeable portion of entertainment for a comparatively small asking price, and that should certainly be taken into account.
I want to like Plain Sight, I really do. It's effortlessly cool and carries off a unique concept with style and flair. Sadly though, I never found myself enjoying it all that much. The cynic in me wouldn't give the game a score above a 5, but the part of me that loves unconventionality is leaning towards an 8 or a 9. It's in these concluding sentences that I have to find a third voice to judge the game fairly by; a voice of reason and compromise. To that end I'll say that Plain Sight is a fantastic concept that is ultimately let down in its execution. Still, it's a steal at £7.99, and is well worth checking out simply for the bizarre awesomeness of it all.