Do you remember when I first mentioned Microsoft’s XNA development studio? This low cost high powered software development kit can be used to develop games for the Xbox 360, Zune, Windows Phone and PC. I distinctly remember saying I’d likely be reviewing a game created using the software here on Gamesweasel and today that prediction has shown itself to be true. When I first saw the trailer for Plain Sight just a few weeks ago I was rather excited. Now I’ve had a while with the full game let’s see how it fairs under closer scrutiny in my review of Plain Sight for PC.
Plain Sight is a frantic online multiplayer action game that is very hard to describe. You take control of a small Ninja Robot in a vicious monochrome world filled with other Ninja Robots. The basic principle of the game is to destroy your enemy and absorb their energy into your robotic body. Now of course the more power you have the bigger and stronger you become. You’d usually expect that being all powerful was a good thing but here in Plain Sight; things aren’t so straight forward.
If you want to succeed in Plain Sight you need to balance yourself between becoming very powerful and deliberately committing suicide. This is because to score points in the game you need to first steal power from others and then banking this energy by blowing yourself up before someone steals it away from you with a slash of their Ninja sword. The upside to blowing yourself up is that you score bonus points if you take out an opponent in your explosion.
If you’ve experienced Super Mario Galaxy on Wii then you should already be familiar with the way the game handled gravity. Controlling Mario on the 3D Spherical world initially seemed like a fad but turned out to be a defining moment in 3D gaming. Plain Sight doesn’t just exactly copy Mario here but the inspiration is clear to see. Instead of a spherical globe the contestants here battle on a large three dimensional area full of building sized towers, lots of nooks, crannies and of course platforms. But just as in the aforementioned Nintendo game, you have total control to run and jump in and around the area without fear of falling off because the moon like gravity will always suck you back down to ground.
The stages themselves are as wacky as the rest of the game sounds. You can battle on your bog standard floating arena but why not giant pirate ships, a loop de loop, inside a watch or even on a tape cassette. In practice which ever stage you pick most of the time you’ll be jumping too quickly to see what’s really happening – but more on that in a moment.
One of Plain Sight’s more intriguing features is the way you can spend some your hard earned points (that you earn after you killing yourself remember) on upgrading your character. A number of quite essential upgrades can be purchased; extra jumping and running powers, shields and of course greater attacking skills. It’s this RPG aspect which makes the game it’s most interesting – if you want to succeed you need to very quickly start earning points (grinding) to boost your character, but of course everyone else is trying to do the exact same thing.
Now Plain Sight isn’t a hot looking game by any means but this doesn’t stop it’s visuals from being very stylish. The environments themselves are monochrome and industrial but light up with gorgeous bursts of colour as people run and jump among them, if you’ve played De Blob for the Wii then this will feel a little familiar to you. The jazz soundtrack might not be to everyone’s taste but it does have that involuntary toe tapping quality about it; I’m not really a jazz fan but liked it all the same.
Now for the bad news; I really wanted to like Plain Sight much more than I actually do. This isn’t because there is anything fundamentally wrong with the game but rather a few niggles which I wasn’t able to get over.
Everything is about the jumping; your first step in the tutorial is learning how to run but outside of the tutorial, there doesn’t really seem to be a point in running at all. If you do not immediately jump back into orbit as soon as your feet touch the ground, you’re dead. You cannot outrun anyone by running and all you are is a sitting target for everyone else. I’m sure the developers wanted a mixture of running and jumping (just like Mario) but sadly the balance is severely shifted towards the jumping and nothing else. That isn’t to say the low gravity jumping isn’t hella-fun but the gameplay just feels broken when you have 12 people all trying to out jump each other enough to get a chance of whacking someone, where did the strategy go?
Ok so maybe that’s more of a personal gripe, some of you trampoline fans may like the idea of jumping around without stopping for a moment’s thought. What’s more pressing for me was the control and camera systems. By default being a PC game it’s understandable that mouse and keyboard are the controls but put simply it’s near impossible to keep jumping around like mad whilst keeping control of the manual only camera with your mouse. The perspective and direction need to be adjusted in real time from where you’re looking, where you want to jump and then where you want to land – not even taking account of who you want to kill. Now strangely enough if you plug in a dual analogue joypad such as an Xbox 360 controller then things improve. The totally jumpy camera seems to be steadier and is actually controllable with the right hand stick; in fact it makes the game actually playable.
My problem is that after deciding to use a pad you then can’t lean back in your chair and play. Why? Well because every time you die you need to respawn by pressing the space bar; and guess what – that respawn command cannot seemingly be mapped to any of the pad’s 16 buttons. Not only that but when you quickly need to purchase upgrades you also need to pick up your mouse once again. If people want to use mouse and keyboard that’s fine, but why give the option to use a joypad and then make those players still require the mouse and keyboard when the pad could work fine. It may sound trivial but this small issue really took me out of the experience and for no good reason either.
Plain Sight is a fun low cost multiplayer indie title; I can see many office workers loving it as their new lunchtime game of choice. Just for me a few easily fixable issues will stop me returning until they’re patched. Until then look forward to other games coming from the talented folks at Beatnik Games and award Plain Sight 6 out of 10.
Related: De Blob, Super Mario Galaxy