Release: Out now
Publisher: Beatnik Games
Developer: Beatnik Games
Suicide is usually the last reserve of the frustrated gamer – hurling yourself off a building, driving backward around a racing circuit or firing a rocket at your feet is a perfectly petulant final act of defiance against a progression deadlock or a cheap enemy. In Plain Sight, a multiplayer title from independent developer Beatnik Games, it’s the key to victory. Naturally it isn’t just a case of causing as much damage to yourself as possible; in fact the environments in Plain Sight are as inert and harmless as a padded cell, albeit far more visually arresting.
Instead, scoring is achieved by triggering your tiny sword-wielding robot’s self destruct mechanism and hoping that you take as many opponents with you as possible. You can improve your chances by killing your opponents and stealing their energy, which in turn increases the size of your robot and creates a larger blast wave when you detonate, but even offensive play is far from conventional.
The initial problem to tackle is that Plain Sight‘s levels hang in a void, and while the control method is a typical combination of mouse look and the WSAD movement keys, gravity is relative to the nearest surface. As a result, your first few sorties are confusing and frustrating as you wheel around the substantial elements of the arena, being obliterated, seemingly at random, by other, more experienced players. Absorb the tough love, though, and you begin to grasp Plain Sight‘s mix of third person platforming and unique flight mechanics. Simply getting around with any degree of control is rewarding in itself, not because of any deficiency in design, but simply because it handles unlike any other game.
Attacking other players is based on a locking system. As soon as an opponent is close enough, a set of blue crosshairs appears over them and holding the left mouse button engages the lock – once those crosshairs turn red, which is dependent on the distance between you, releasing the mouse button causes you to dash katana-first toward the other player. Make contact with an unshielded player and they are destroyed instantly, transferring their energy to you. It’s by no means fire and forget, though – well timed dashes and shield blocks are available as defensive tools, meaning you rarely feel hard done by when you’re turned into space junk.
This relatively simple combat mechanic is modified by unlockable perks that, while not persistent across rounds, add a degree of strategy and variety to play. Upgrades to movement speeds, the ability to block and lock warnings are all available, but since their effects are cleared at the end of each match the system fails to add any long term depth or a sense of progression beyond your own developing proficiency in combat. Plain Sight is only ever a discrete series of rounds that play out in largely the same fashion.
Plain Sight is undoubtedly a beautiful and charming independent production and furnishes exactly the kind of instantly compelling, unique experience made possible by freedom from the shackles of a publisher. In spite of this, a glance at the server list reveals that the vast majority of players are participating in Deathmatch, with the other four variant modes presently lying largely dormant. Our concern is that the game doesn’t quite have the depth to sustain interest over a period of months, and an apparent uninterest in providing anything other than straight combat will compound the problem. And yet, at US$9.99, Plain Sight boasts a price that’s as minimalist as its visual style. As such, a game this novel can only be a tempting prospect.