Thunderbolt logo

Plain Sight

Somewhere in the far reaches of space a band of robots struggle for supremacy…

Nope.

This isn’t working. Normally this is where I’d introduce the game through a few vaguely clever sentences relating to the title’s story. Plain Sight frankly has no story, no set up and no context for its multiplayer mayhem. All you really need to know is it consists of ninja robots killing one another over and over again in space. And once in a while you’ll want to kill yourself – in game that is – on purpose.

Now, being a ninja robot, you might expect a wide variety of gnarly moves to cut through your opponents, but you’d be disappointed. These machines can run, jump, lock-on to opponents, dash/attack, deploy shields and self-detonate, and that’s pretty much it. Oh right, they can also cancel a lock-on. It isn’t the longest list of abilities, but that’s just the point, within five minutes of dropping into your first round of Plain Sight you should be up to speed.

screenshot

Now just because the controls themselves are easy enough to grasp doesn’t mean Plain Sight itself is particularly easy. Once you’re in game with a dozen or so other players the fight is on and you should expect to be tested and die a lot. Jumping is probably the single most important move at your disposal as it serves a number of uses including platforming, dodging, pursuing and giving you a brief bird’s eye view of the action. Of course you’re jumping in Zero-G, which means you’ll find yourself floating and therefore vulnerable to enemy strikes. In actuality most of your moves have some sort of a risk or reward associated with them. A missed or blocked dash can leave you stunned and vulnerable; running leaves you less visible than jumping, but is generally a slower and less safe mode of travel.

The aspect – other than the whole third-person ninja robot platforming thing – that really separates Plain Sight from other multiplayer games is your need to self-detonate. Using Deathmatch as an example, killing an opponent is only half the equation to scoring points. If I kill you I have one point, but that point is lost as soon as I’m killed by another player. Now if I kill you than immediately self-detonate – killing myself – than I’ve banked my point. Of course it isn’t just as simple as kill somebody, kill yourself, then rinse and repeat. The more points you accumulate for kills before detonating create multipliers, so it’s in your best interest to rack up a few kills to make each detonation worth your while. However, the longer you wait to bank your points the higher the risk, so you’ll constantly have to juggle the decision to bank your points or go for the bigger payoff. Another notable aspect of detonations are their multiple uses. Yes it serves the primary purpose of banking points, but it can also act as an effective last measure of defense. If you’re being tracked and either have no shield or little hope to evade, a timely detonation can kill an unsuspecting aggressor while banking you some easy points, as you’re rewarded for those caught in your blast.

screenshot

Appropriately, Plain Sight has a truly unique aesthetic to accompany its bizarre gameplay. Everything has a clean, cartoony look about it that reflects the light hearted nature of the title. Colored paths of light follow all the players as they move about the level, creating beautiful effects and doubling as guides for players to track enemies. Although they aren’t solid, the light streams evoke memories of those created by the light cycles in Tron.

Having the extra guide for players in a level is an absolute necessity due to the level design. Some levels consist of cubes or spheres with some extra topography that can be moved about freely, while others feature a jumble of masses that are separate from one another. Playing on the self-contained levels is straight forward as you’ll move about them without issue, but traversing some of the crazier stages can be frustrating and occasionally disorienting. All of the masses in each level have a gravitational pull, so if I jump out into space away from an object I’ll soar fairly high but eventually come back down where I started. Now if I jump out and forward I can begin to rotate around the mass I jumped from. For example if I leapt from a long narrow mass I could feasibly orbit that mass many a time if I aimed correctly before coming back to my feet. Orbital jumps take a while to get the hang of and it can often be hard to guess where you’ll land, even with your landing highlighted. The main problem with the jumping scheme is it’s difficult to move from one mass to another over longer distances, and sometimes it feels like Plain Sight doesn’t know if you’re trying to get to the next mass or orbit your current one.

screenshot

In addition to the standard Deathmatch, Plain Sight ships with four other game types including Capture the Flag, Team Deathmatch, ‘Lighten Up!’ and ‘Ninja! Ninja! Robozilla!’ Lighten Up is the most interesting game type as it requires players to collect as much energy as possible and detonate on specific areas of the map. Robozilla! on the other hand gives players turns as Robozilla, while the rest of the players team up to take him down. Both are fun diversions from the standard multiplayer fare but at the moment there only appears to be a small community playing Plain Sight so far and it’s extremely rare to find a match with players that isn’t Deathmatch.

Honestly within minutes of jumping into Plain Sight I was wearing a stupid grin on my face. The aesthetic is charming, the action is chaotic and the level of depth is quite surprising. Then again I am a sucker for ninja robots. Plain Sight does have its issues, given the small community currently and its touchy platforming, but neither of these should dissuade fellow wannabe ninja robots from taking up the sword. It may not become your multiplayer game of choice, but it’s certainly a much safer way to kill oneself.

8 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in April 2008. Get in touch on Twitter @_seankelley.

Gentle persuasion

You should check out our podcast.