Review: Plain Sight

9 April 2010
10:38 pm

When it comes to multiplayer death-match games, the typical goal is to avoid getting killed for as long as possible, taking out hostile players along the way. You run around closed maps collecting power ups and avoiding your enemies, sneaking up on them to kill them before they can kill you. Plain Sight, a new indie release by Beatnik Games (available now on Steam and other digital-distribution retailers), takes this traditional concept and twists it around to create an innovative experience– instead of avoiding death, the objective is to suicide yourself on your own terms in your own time.

You take the role of a "suicidal ninja robot" armed with a katana and chip on your shoulder. Other opponents, up to twenty of them on one map at a time, run around with a variety of objectives all centred around one function: killing themselves.

When you kill other robots, you collect points (called "energy" in the game) that improves your bot– energy makes you bigger and faster, increasing your size in comparison to other players and the map. In Plain Sight, however, this is a danger because it makes you a bigger target to other players. Each time you kill a bot you get a multiplier depending on the consecutive killstreak you've managed without getting killed yourself– if another player kills you, however, all the energy you've collected is instead transferred to them. This means that the active player with the most kills becomes a very enticing target to everyone else, and given the fact that your robot increases with size the longer you kill others without dying, it's an enticing target that isn't hard to find.

To mitigate this, you have to self-destruct your robot, banking the energy you obtained while alive (in addition to the multiplier you end with) and resetting yourself back to normal size. When you self-destruct your resulting explosion scales to your size and the amount of energy you were holding at the time– one kill will only take out a robot unlucky enough to be standing right beside you, while a higher number of them means you can vaporize everyone on the map no matter where they happen to be.

Once dead, with your points safely banked, you can use them to upgrade your little bot, improving upon things like your run or jump speeds or lowering the amount of time it takes for your self-destruct to fire. Like a robotic version of The Weakest Link, the strategy lies in navigating between waiting too long to bank, or banking too soon. Lasting as long as possible means you can rack up a pretty impressive multiplier, shooting you to the top of the scoreboard in just one action; but wait too long and you could get killed by another player, all your energy transferring to them to fund their purchases of shiny new upgrades and abilities.

Plain Sight has four other gameplay modes that focus on more than simply a free-for-all killfest; in addition to a team version and a "capture the flag" mode, one of the more interesting variants has all players uniting to take down a massive "Robozilla" boss in coordination with each other; another is similar to BASE jumping, having the players detonate on a target with as much energy as possible in a round, with the best self-destruct winning the points.

I'm always a fan of cel-shading and the aesthetic it brings to games; here in Plain Sight it's totally appropriate, lending the game a comical feel in the midst of all the electronic carnage. The vector-style graphics are simple and slick, with a strong emphasis on bold colour choices: deep reds, blues, yellows and greens punctuate the map and the robot models in stark contrast to the environment.

My only concern with the game is that after a few maps, gameplay becomes tedious and repetitive; Plain Sight ships with thirteen multiplayer maps and while it has a single-player skirmish mode, there's otherwise no plot to speak of or task beside the cycle of robotic murder. Admittedly, while this is a strong source of amusement, it's not an activity I see myself doing on a continual basis– I gave Plain Sight several hours, trying out the various modes, and while I definitely enjoyed the game I couldn't see coming back over and over. That said, for USD$9.99, it's certainly worth the purchase price. It would be nice if down the road Beatnik Games works in some more functionality to lessen the repetition, but given the price-point and the indie nature that would be a bonus, not an expectation.

All things considered it's a fun game that I would definitely recommend, especially if you have friends you want to eliminate through robotic death-match.

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