Inside Pulse 12

Review: Plain Sight (PC)

Plain Sight
Genre: Action
Developer: Beatnik Games
Publisher: Beatnik Games
Release Date: 04/05/2010

Plain Sight is a game that went a little bit under the radar. I have done my researches, and outside of Steam, there’s not a lot of information to be found about it. Its store page offers a couple of screenshots and a short description of the game and its modes. These screenshots show cute, homicidal robots jumping everywhere in space, with colored lines trailing behind them in apparently random patterns. Let’s be honest: the game looks quite confusing at first sight.

On the other hand, a game featuring robots wielding katanas does sound like a pretty good idea, and the price tag says “$9.99 USD”. Under the crazy presentation, maybe there’s a method to the madness. Maybe Plain Sight has something unique to offer, in a world where more and more games just seem to be derivative of previous successful titles.

“If only someone could tell me more about this game before I make a decision”, you say.

I know how you feel. Keep reading and your questions will be answered.

STORY/MODES

The story is pretty much absent. There is nothing that indicates you any kind of background or motive as to why these robots are killing each others with katanas out in space. That doesn’t change the fact that these are still ninja robots killing each others, but some kind of explanation would have been nice. There are about a thousand different stories that can be told about ninja robots in space, but I guess that the game’s focus on multiplayer matches made the story less of a priority.

As far as modes go, there are five of them available for multiplayer purposes, along with the single-player practice mode that can help you get more familiar with the controls and principles of the game. The game focuses solely on the multiplayer aspect, completely excising the single-player component. The multiplayer modes are as follow:

Deathmatch: This is your standard “kill the enemy before they kill you” mode that you would usually find in other games. The difference in Plain Sight is that you must kill yourself in order to convert the points you made from killing people. I will explain that aspect of gameplay in details later.

Team Deathmatch: This is pretty much self-explanatory.

Ninja! Ninja! Robozilla!: One player is a giant dinosaur robot while the others are smaller robots that gang up to try to bring the big one down. I know it sounds fun, but I found it to be the weakest of the bunch.

Lighten Up: In this mode, you must try to detonate your robot in a specific area after having accumulated more points than your opponents.

Capture the Flag: This is the same as every other CTF mode you have ever played. You get the flag from the other team’s base and bring it to yours.

So there is no single-player mode. However, there are five multiplayer modes, and by my count, that’s about just as much as Left 4 Dead 2 offered on launch, but for a quarter of the price. Sure, a background history would have been nice, but as far as the modes go, I cannot really complain.

Story/Modes Rating: Decent

GRAPHICS

These are not the best graphics I have ever seen by any mean. In fact, there are a lot of jagged edges and visible pixels, even on the highest settings. However, the visuals are still decent as the game uses a little bit of cell shading to give it all a little bit of personality. For a ten dollars independent game, it is still satisfying since the downsides never get in the way of the game’s enjoyment. The pace is so fast that you will only notice if you stop to take a closer look.

On the plus side, despite the blazing speed at which the action takes place, there is no blurriness to be seen and everything keeps running smoothly at all times. The only thing that can be confusing is the constant switching of the view, from normal to upside down, from far away to far too close. That’s because the battlefields are planetoids, just like in Super Mario Galaxy, which your robot can jump all around while being pulled toward the nearest object. While I didn’t have any problems, I know that some people felt sick while playing SMG, and this game does the same think only ten times faster. I guess there’s a chance some people might feel uneasy playing this.

The graphics are mostly dark, with the game being set in space and all, but the robots leave behind colourful trails that contrast wildly with the backgrounds. There are also the explosions, which are very easy to spot and pleasant to the eye, sometimes engulfing the whole screen depending on the situation. The explosion effects are not perfect, but still spectacular in sheer size and brightness. The surfaces are shiny and make it all look appropriately sci-fi.

Overall, I would say that the graphics are a bit rough, but not enough to look completely last generation. I have seen far worse efforts from development teams with a lot more budget.

Graphics Rating: Mediocre

SOUND

There is no music in the background while playing the game. However, there are a lot of explosions and “swoosh!” noises, which I guess illustrates the atmosphere of Plain Sight pretty accurately: the robots move quickly and die in the same way. The rest of the sound effects are mostly metallic noises that can be heard whenever your character runs along or clings to the battlefield’s surface. I don’t think there is a scale that rates the quality of explosion sonorities, but I can tell you that it does sound just like you would expect.

There is also a lack of voiceover in this game. The robots never talk, only emitting the kind of beeps you would expect from them. Still, they manage to show a lot of personality, most probably becoming the cutest homicidal robots in gaming right now.

The only bit of music in the game comes from the menus, which are accompanied by a jazzy soundtrack which I frankly didn’t think would fit the game at all, but does feel right at home after a while. The smooth rhythms give a cool sense of peace and serenity just before you are thrown in the middle of space to fight other maniacal robots. The menu tunes are quite catchy and add a bit of quirkiness to a game that wasn’t missing any beforehand.

Sound Rating: Good

CONTROL AND GAMEPLAY

First of all, the basis of Plain Sight is the same as any other game that features deathmatches: kill the other players in order to score points. However, this game presents a clever twist on this idea: the points accumulated by killing opponents are only temporary. In order to convert them into real points and put them on the board, you need to kill yourself by detonating your robot. The more enemies you catch in your explosion, the more points you score. This introduces a great risk vs. reward gameplay that is unique and finally freshens up the genre. That element is further exploited by the fact that your robot grows in size as you eliminate more and more opponents. Therefore, you have to decide when’s the best time to convert your point, as a premature meltdown gives you less point, while waiting too much makes you a bigger, more vulnerable target.

The controls are pretty simple. The robot is controlled via the traditional WASD scheme, which has been around for a long time. The space bar makes you jump, while the left shift key makes you character drop to the ground. As for the mouse, a left click activates your dash, which is your primary weapon. The longer you hold it, the more powerful your dash becomes. It is also possible to lock on an opponent if you charge your dash weapon while aiming at it. The right-click activates your shield, but you have to earn it in the upgrades before it becomes available. That’s it for the controls. It is simple, efficient and easy to learn.

The game requires some quick reflexes. The maps vary greatly in size, but most of them are small enough to make every jump a gamble. Enemies can be lurking anywhere, and keeping track of the colourful trails they leave can be the difference between life and death. When you encounter another player face to face, it becomes a matter of who dashes first. It is always possible to lock swords if both players dash toward each other at the same time, but it is a rare occurrence. You can also choose to play defensively by activating your shield if you have one, which stuns the opponent and gives you a second to retaliate. There is more strategy going on here than the frantic gameplay would make you believe, and while this may sound confusing at first, even the most advanced principles can be picked up within an hour, making Plain Sight a game where everybody stands a chance.

The scoring system also provides some exciting gameplay. Catching other robots in your detonation provides a multiplayer for the points you already accumulated. With a little planning, it is easy to get from last place to first place with one or two well-placed detonations.

Finally, of all the modes featured in this game, only “Ninja! Ninja! Robozilla!” felt like it needed some tweaking. The Robozilla is much too powerful, and it gets boring after awhile to see a couple of small robots get annihilated by a bigger one. The boredom factor shrinks as more players join the fray, but the Plain Sight community is still growing, which means that some games are nothing but two players getting killed over and over by the giant dinosaur robot.

As a whole, the game is easy to pick up and only slightly harder to master, but it is incredibly fun to play and it feels like a breath of fresh air as far as online gaming is concerned. It is almost like a Mario Kart of third-person shooters, as far as excitement and unpredictability go.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Incredible

REPLAYABILITY

Outside of the single-player practice mode, this is exclusively an online multiplayer game. Therefore, your mileage with the game will vary depending on how long you can keep playing the same five modes without getting tired. Luckily, most of the different modes are quite enjoyable, which means that for only 10 dollars, you get a lot of play time.

Nothing is announced at the moment, but hopefully we will see some downloadable content in the future, featuring new modes of play, which could increase the game’s life big time. As it is now, Plain Sight offers five modes of play for $10, which hits the sweet spot in terms of size versus price, and should keep you busy for a while, maybe even more than some full-priced games out there.

Replayability Rating: Above Average

BALANCE

All robots are created the same in Plain Sight, and even though they are upgradable, these upgrades only last as long as the round you are currently playing. That’s great since any advantage your opponents might gain over you will be gone by the start of the next round, giving everybody an equal chance at success.

As for the upgrades, they do give whoever possesses them an edge, but they don’t make it completely impossible for the others to score points. That’s because you can also obtain some upgrades from the stars lying around the map, which means that even if you are unable to kill anybody, you can still score some points and eventually buy the upgrades that would be otherwise unobtainable.

There’s also the practical lock-on mechanism that evens the playing field. That mechanism lets you lock on a target within your sight, which will aims all of your attacks toward that target as long as it is within your character’s reach. This doesn’t even require the enemy to be on your screen, which makes the crazy swinging gravity camera angles more bearable. In fact, without that mechanism, I don’t even how one would be able to score kills without pure luck.

The only mode that felt unbalanced to me was “Ninja Ninja Robozilla!”, which pits an overpowered giant robot against other, smaller robots. The small robots rarely stand a chance against the giant one, since Robozilla’s attacks have more reach and power than any other. Bringing down Robozilla is just an exercise in patience that doesn’t really require any particular skill, unlike the other modes. Still, one mode out of five means that there’s still 80% of the game that is very enjoyable and that can be played without the bad kind of frustration.

Balance Rating: Great

ORIGINALITY

At first glance, one could easily assume that Plain Sight is just trying to take everything that is considered “cool” these days and put it all together to make sure it sells some copies. After all, this is a game that features robots, ninjas, dinosaurs, deathmatches and explosions, sometimes all at the same time.

When inspected closer, the game shows that it uses all of these elements in fun and unique ways to create something that may borrow some concepts from other sources, but is entirely fresh as package. Quite frankly, I have never seen anything like it before, and even after many hours spent with the game, I keep being amazed at some of the stuff I discover. The arenas, the backgrounds, subtle battle techniques and deathmatch concepts are all incredibly refreshing.

All I can hope for is downloadable content for the future that will be just as original as the basic game.

Originality Rating: Above Average

ADDICTIVENESS

As with most well-constructed multiplayer games, it is easy to get hooked. It’s even easier here since the rounds are short and can be played one at a time. This makes Plain Sight a great game for when you only have a few minutes to kill.

There’s also the fact that there are no options for voice chat during the game. While some people may argue that it prevents interactivity as well as “fun” activities like name-calling and thrash talking, I find that it eliminates most of the obnoxious behaviours you usually find in online games. It makes it that much more enjoyable and fun to play.

The only thing that brings the addictiveness down is the lack of players. Since this is an independent game that was released without much fanfare, the number of players active at any time is usually around a hundred or so. Much of the games are already full by the time you get there, leaving you to create a new lobby while hoping that more players will join you. Getting one or two more players only takes a minute at most, but getting a decent sized crowd in a game takes a while. I am a patient man, but that was the primary reason why I didn’t play the game as much as I could have. Let’s hope that more people will realize that is a fun game that deserves to be played, and that the online participation will grow accordingly.

Addictiveness Rating: Good

APPEAL FACTOR

The subject matter of this game should make it a favourite in the online crowd. The same goes for the gameplay, since deathmatches are very popular and have been for a long time. The price should also be a factor in a lot of people’s decision since you get a full online experience for only ten dollars.

The truth is however that Plain Sight has been criminally under-exposed, and only the people who visit the Steam store everyday are probably aware of the game’s existence. This game is amazingly fun, but its gameplay is based on the multiplayer aspect, which requires lots and lots of players being online at the same time to ensure a steady and quick creation of lobbies. The lack of awareness for the game hurts its very basis. It’s a shame because this is a quality game which deserves more visibility. This is a game that will get better as more people buy it.

Appeal Factor Rating: Mediocre

MISCELLANEOUS

Everything about this game is pure adrenaline. The way the robots move, their jumps as well as the explosions that seem to happen all around you every five seconds, it all comes together to create an exhilarating atmosphere that is hard to match, but makes for intense, quick-paced rounds.

There is a nice selection of maps available from the start. All of them are creative and use the space theme to great effect, with different-shaped planetoids creating different patterns, from cities to giant robots. Even the Capture the Flag maps are quite innovative, since your character can walk along both sides of the map, which makes it easy for a stealthy opponent to pass by without notice. Strategy and planning is a must here.

Plain Sight will not only challenge your reflexes. Depending on the mode you are playing, it will also require wits and quick thinking.

Miscellaneous Rating: Above Average

THE RATINGS

Story/Modes: Decent
Graphics: Mediocre
Sound: Good
Control/Gameplay: Incredible
Replayability: Above Average
Balance: Great
Originality: Above Average
Addictiveness: Good
Appeal: Mediocre
Miscellaneous: Above Average

Final Score: Enjoyable Game!

Short Attention Span Summary
Plain Sight is a fun game with a clever concept that adds just enough new stuff on top of familiar ideas to make it accessible to first-time players. The gameplay is addictive, the matches are fast-paced and the game has just enough to offer to keep you playing for quite a while. At ten dollars, Plain Sight may not look like much, but it is a game that hits all the sweet spots without being too much of a risk if you are still on the fence.