Plain Sight is very much like playing Tetris. While being strapped into a gyroscope, spun around at 10,000rpm and having a laser show projected all around you. And the Tetris pieces aren’t blocky shapes, but ninja robots with glowing trails and swords, controlled by other humans, who come after your robot with the express intention of killing. The music doesn’t sound the slightest bit Russian, either. Yet there are some striking similarities: both games display themselves on a monitor so you can see them, and both use a mechanism called a “score” to measure how well you’re doing. It’s uncanny, really, and Alexey Pajitnov should definitely sue.
Plain Sight is an online multiplayer game that runs on Steam (the game delivery platform, not vapourised water). It features standard deathmatch and capture the flag, as well as a couple of less conventional modes of play, although the first place you’ll begin is the tutorial. Sadly, this lasts less than a minute, and explains next to nothing about the game, save for how to target an enemy and score points. This means you’ll need to fire up a practice match with bots to get to grips with Plain Sight’s intricacies.
Don’t get us wrong: it’s far from a complex game. But while the controls are simple, actually playing it isn’t. And actually playing it well certainly isn’t. Your robot’s initial steps will be tentative ones, and when you first hit the space bar to jump, that’s when it gets really hairy. The brightly coloured environment, which could be described in basic terms as Tron in space, will lurch below as you go flying up into the vacuum with bounds that would make Neil Armstrong terminally jealous. The 3D landscape spins around as you leap up the side of buildings, or underneath platforms, jumping and dashing all over the place.
And initially, it’s disorientating. Very disorientating when you throw in opposition players, who you’re trying to target as you spin through space. Holding down the left mouse button with an enemy robot in sight locks onto them after a second or two, then when the button’s released you perform a dash attack and kill them. More often than not, anyway, though it is possible to miss if they’re taking evasive action, or if they hold down their right mouse button to activate their blocking shield.
It isn’t particularly easy to get a lock on an opponent when they’re bouncing and dashing around, as you leap off a twisting platform which is like a mobius strip, not sure of which side you’ll land on, all the while spinning mouse-look around 360 degrees to check if anyone else is trying to get a lock on you. And if they are, anticipating with your shield to block, with no time left to breathe as all this is happening in a split-second.
Plain Sight is a seriously fast paced slice of deathmatch, particularly when there are large, twenty-player games on the go. With fights comprising seven, eight or more participants, you need eyes in the back of your head and some seriously focused concentration if you’re to survive. It’s demanding and exacting and, quite frankly, after just an hour of play our brain ached and felt old. This game made us want to toddle off into town to buy a pair of slippers, sign up for car insurance with Michael Winner and sit on a park bench tutting at passing skateboarders.
Although when you get things right, and pull off a quick triple kill, then explode yourself and catch several players in the blast – yes, you have to kill yourself to bank your frags, and players in the blast radius multiply your score – admittedly, it’s quite a buzz. Bouncing along with the flag, dashing left, then dodging right, certainly gets the old adrenaline fizzing. And spending experience points earned alongside your score on robot upgrades adds a thoughtful customisation dimension to the ninja bot kicking action.
However, there’s an uneasy sense of randomness which pervades Plain Sight. As you leap and bounce around, there’s a definite feeling that you’re only partially directing your robot. Between the massive bounding jumps, and the gravity platforms and structures exert, pulling you inexorably towards them, it’s easy to end up somewhere you never planned on going.
Accidental kills, of which we scored a number, add to the random flavour, as does the multiplier players receive when exploding and cashing in their frags. If someone gets lucky, and a few opponents decide to stupidly run after them as they’re detonating, they can bag a huge multiplier and a massive amount of points which gives them a more or less unassailable lead.
Still, there’s no denying that while randomness is a factor, particularly for the novice, it clearly requires a lot of skill to play Plain Sight well. But despite some fun alternative game modes – Ninja Ninja Botzilla, for instance, casts one player as a giant bot which has to be taken down by the rest – and relatively lag-free servers, we didn’t feel the compulsion to develop our robot ninja chops. While the game is novel, and enjoyable at times, mastering the control of our bot, and more importantly the art of having eyes everywhere, erred too much on the frustrating side of demanding.
We try to avoid this phrase in reviews, for obvious reasons, but this really is a case of “your mileage may vary.” If you’re looking for an extremely fast paced frag-fest, it’s worth a butchers at under a tenner. There are like-minded players out there, certainly, as the game servers weren’t under-populated.
Company: Beatnik Games