Wot I Think: Plain Sight

By Kieron Gillen on April 22nd, 2010 at 10:48 pm.

God, I hate that I've totally failed to capture the game's beauty in screens.
In short: Top Gun with Samurai Robots.

I’m pleased this has turned out as well as it has. Just over a year back, while I loved the purity, the art design, the vision of the thing, I didn’t think it’d be to – use my younger comrade’s vernacular – tight enough. An arcade game needs to be close to perfect. This is a multiplayer arcade game that longed to be as pure and beautiful as Joust, Speedball 2 or Quake 3. Back then, it simply wasn’t. Now….

Well, it’s a poetic and beautiful game about Samurai Robots.

You play a tiny robot. You kill someone, you get their energy. This makes you a little bigger and faster – and, more importantly, gives you a different coloured trail of light which bobs after you. If someone kills you, they get all their energy. If you kill them, you get all their energy. This leads to energy all getting collected in one individual who eventually gets so fast and big that your computer explodes and a robot rampages across the world with a rainbow trail dancing after them.

Wait.

You score points by choosing to explode, effectively banking the energy you’ve earned. Ideally, you explode in a way which takes the opposition with you. Partially because it enormously increases the points you earn, but mainly because it’s much funnier that way. In short, the game’s primary higher-level strategy decision is when it’s best to bank. Don’t trust your ability to not be killed? Bank swiftly and often. Think you’re the main man? Bank less often, and risk coming bottom of the board.

But there’s more than that at play. Each match has a micro-RPG system. By earning points, you also earn the ability to purchase nine categories of boostability. Running quicker, performing multiple jumps, targeting your enemies faster and so on. So you may figure that getting a few points earlier to get you some boosts earlier will pay off in the long run
The higher level abstract concepts are all very well, but don’t really grasp with the physicality of the game, and that’s what captures you. Your little robots? They’re nimble. They’re insanely nimble, flipping elegantly across the level with an open disdain for gravity. That you’re this incredible little thing, like the uber-child offspring of Spider-man impregnating the all the Olympic Gymnastic team.

And they need to be, as the levels are all about the tyranny of Gravity trying to re-exert themselves. The simplest of the levels are Mario-Galaxy esque floating spheres, where you’re chasing your opponents around this perpetual globe. More complicated ones are structured around multiple gravity wells, with your characters – if they make the jump correctly – able to propel themselves between them. “Which way is up?” becomes a fundamental tactical question.

In other words, you’re playing characters who move at enormous speed, and can strike from any direction, in a world which tries its hardest to redefine the concept of any-direction on a second-by-second basis. This could get confusing. The game fights against that in a handful of ways – firstly, because the enormous Newtonian arcs you make in space are ideal for making sure you grasp everyone’s relative positions. Secondly, things like – we return to the RPG elements – the sixth-sense abilities which tell you when someone’s trying to get a target lock on you. And if you know someone is angling for a shot… well, you start acting like there’s a cross-hairs on your head. It’s a terrific device to help remove the empty frustration of a kill coming from nowhere, and when developing my character, I’ll take it above the shield ability which actually allows you to stop those attacks. The best defence, for me, is getting the hell out of there.

But I'm useless.

Which leads to the other key part of the combat system. As you approach an enemy, you’re able to start to power-up a sudden-strike attack by holding down the left-mouse-button. When the targeting reticule goes red, releasing it should – and there’s always the chance of them countering or dodging – lead to you zipping across the distance and slicing them asunder. It’s just a question of getting close enough, for long enough, to them to get that lock…

And here’s where the Top Gun comes in. More than any other game I can remember, this gets the visceral sense of close-up dogfighting. Seeing your sixth-sense ability kick in, leading you to change direction quickly, spinning in the air to try and work out who exactly has decided to go for you. Can’t find them? What to do? Take a tight route through the scenery, ideal to lose the opposition or take an enormous parabolic leap into the firmament, meaning that anyone who comes after you will make their intentions clear, or…
Well, that’s the elegance of the game. Can I get the lock? What can I do to stop them getting the lock? What can I do to make sure my lock works before theirs does? The enormous Tron-like light trails only add to the sense of being in a physics-textbook set to war. There’s a mathematic perfection married to an undeniably visual punch. The first time I played a Capture the Flag map, seeing a half-dozen enemies bounce towards me, along the enormous Ringworld-esque arc in space was as stirring as anything I’ve seen this year in videogames. While the retro-music choices are iconic and cool, as Quinns noted, this a game which excels with a personal soundtrack. I’ve played it with everything from Daft Punk to Los Campesinos to Mogwai to Annie and found something to smile at in each.

The problem is that it’s only close to close to perfect. Simple things like changing your target are difficult to pull off in a game as high-speed as this – something in the mouse-wheel, perhaps? I don’t know – which has lead to me being far more dogged in pursuit of an enemy than I would. As much as I like the race-horse thrills, when continuing chasing seems the easier route than getting a new target, something’s a little amiss.

The bigger problems for me are in the more structural issues. Have too many players on a level, and it becomes too chaotic, the dogfights becoming an insensible bumblebee swarm. There’s levels which suit most numbers of players… however, on most servers their population limit is set far higher than what maps should accept. Playing 20-players on a map which really would like 8 or so isn’t seeing the game at its best. There needs to be more smartness somewhere somewhere in terms of the map-rotation patterns related to max-server limits. There’s also a sad gravitation towards straight death-math as a mode. Which is a great mode, I stress – but does leave some soil fallow. The Godzilla mode – where one player gets to be the enormous beast hunted by ninja – has it charms and the explode-at-set-place is interesting enough, but the real loss is the team modes.

Trust me! It looks really nifty.

If you get on an active server, the team-modes both gain and suffer from stepping away from Deathmatch. They gain because it adds direction and strategy to the crazed melee. The scene I described earlier about a line approaching? That wouldn’t have worked in deathmatch, as they’d have all engaged one another. In standard play, you’re primarily either hunting or engaging an already-existent fight. With teams, you start playing odds. Outnumbered? Fall back. Have a wingman? Cover each other, triumph then go to the beach and play volleyball. The subtle structure of having sides turns a straight mass brawl into something like a WW1 dogfight, robotic knights of surrealist-level skies aiming to triumph. At its best, it’s wonderful.
The problem being the game isn’t designed for team-play. Alec argues that there’s something fundamentally selfish in the design which cuts against it. Presently, he’s right – but I wish some tweaks were made to encourage another approach. For example, in team play, you still score your individual points by performing the explosion-to-bank-point routines. While your team will win the game with flags, you come top of the tables by doing the individual hero thing. Why bother going for the flag when you’re not encouraged to? There’s not even a proper THIS SIDE HAS WON! end to the game. The Facing Castles map especially seems designed to punish anyone who’d even think of looking at the flag. I spent a good five minutes trying to get the jump right to return the flag once, which is simply ludicrous. When trying to play capture the flag on a capture the flag level is viewed in such obvious contempt, it’s not hard to see why no-one’s playing it. There is a fundamental conflict between the play at an individual and the team approach, and unless Beatnik engage with that conflict, expect the team modes to remain unloved.

The final problem is one of simple economics. This is an indie multiplayer game. While you can currently get a game at any time of day, there’s no guarantee the community will be there in six months time. At the price – ten dollars – I don’t think that’s a problem. Get in there now, play while there’s people there and you’ll get your money – and memory’s – worth. If the game isn’t popular in a year’s time… well, you haven’t lost. You’ve won, because you played a brilliant, unique game and the rest of the world never will.

Because that’s the key thing. The sensations which Plain Sight offered me aren’t mirrored significantly in any game I’ve ever played. It has grace. As mentioned earlier, it’s occasionally an awkward grace, but as I catapult around an impossible world, waiting for that targeting reticule to turn red it’s a grace that’s undeniable and irresistible.

Plain Sight is available from all major Digital Download retailers for ten (Count ‘em!) Dollars.

, , , , .

30 Comments »

Sponsored links by Taboola
  1. Wulf says:

    That sums up how I feel about it, pretty much, it was just different enough to draw me in, and it was fun and joyful enough to keep me playing, it’s a bit different, it’s a breath of fresh air, and even despite the possibility of multiplayer dying off… well, it’s hard not to recommend.

  2. The_B says:

    I think for me the main problem with the game was the lack of social ‘features’ as it were, aside from the achivements in the Steam version. It’s a game that cries out to be played against people you know, yet I couldn’t find any way to connect to other people’s games without requiring server name etc.

    And I know it’s not just on Steam, but the fact the overlay didn’t work properly on it is almost criminal. If anyone was playing, there was no way other than both them and me alt tabbing I could get in a game with them.

    Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the game, and perhaps I’m a little spoilt these days when it comes to multiplayer ease of use, but for a multiplayer game, it seemed to make it overly difficult to play with who I wanted, despite having a server browser.

  3. Vinraith says:

    I’m normally not one for MP-only games, but I’ve heard the bots are particularly good in this game, the gameplay sounds extremely entertaining, and the price is reasonable for a gamble. I’ll probably give it a try despite my better judgment.

  4. Severian says:

    i hate to say it, but this game gave me vertigo and nausea like nothing else. i’ve been playing FPS’s forever but this one made my feel like the “old man out” who couldn’t hang with the kids.

  5. Chizu says:

    “If you kill someone, they get all your energy. If you kill them, you get all your energy. ”
    Um.. What :P

    I think you mean, if someone kills you, they get all your energy. If you kill them, you get all their energy.

    Otherwise, I love this game, have been playing it since it came out. I seem to do pretty well.

  6. Premium User Badge

    Lambchops says:

    I share Vinraith’s tendancy to not bother with multiplayer only games so I’m still waiting for that elusive demo. If it’s as enjoyable as it looks like it could be then I’ll buy,

  7. Dominic White says:

    I was going to buy this, but I noticed this morning that Metaboli.co.uk have added it to their service. Welp, saves me some money. This happened with King’s Bounty: Armored Princess a while back.

    It’s fun. Simple, no-frills arcade deathmatchery wth a Mario Galaxy-esque gravity-slingshotting twist.

  8. Premium User Badge

    Flimgoblin says:

    Fun to play but man do I suck at it :) any good guides on how not to get deaded in two seconds flat? I might just be a victim of 20-people-on-an-8-person-map …

    • DarkDobe says:

      The official forums tend to have a few ‘Newbie Guide’ threads – though really I recommend going at it in the practice mode. The bots are rather easy (for me at least) but they give you a very good handle on how to approach fights.

      As for suggestions on upgrades: While a lot of people push 6th sense – I tend to avoid it. It is always safer to assume you are being targeted and chased. Never stop moving. Never stop checking over your shoulder. Personally I go with the charge-speed upgrade. Being able to attack more rapidly is the most useful skill – be it for murdering bots or simply getting around the level. Of course these things are entirely determined by the player – there is no right or wrong ‘talent’ build.

  9. rocketman71 says:

    It’s a great game, but the biggest problem is this: in every server with 8+ people playing, there are one or two that REALLY know how to play and that are barely impossible to kill unless you’re really lucky to explode in the right moment, or you get a flame sword and click like crazy.

    What is worse, this game takes those that are in front and gives them even more advantage. And when I say more, I mean a FUCKING SHITLOAD. Try doing something with your 2 experience that you got from self-detonating a couple of stars against a guy that has all the dash powerups up to 3, half of the movement powerups, and warning and a shield to boot up. You’ll die again and again, and in the end you’ll ragequit.

    In short: since it’s impossible to add matchmaking to it (or, simply, they won’t), just play with people you know and is more or less the same level as you. Avoid the pub. Especially the UK pubs. There is really mean people in there.

  10. Kieron Gillen says:

    I’m pretty terrible at games, but I’m in the top quarter of most servers I play on. And have topped a few when the bombs go right.

    Basic tips:

    1) Run Away.
    2) Bank points early and get sixth-sense as a power-up.
    3) Play more aggressively, but when 6th sense goes up, start running away, leaning to flick a look around as you leap to see who’s after you.
    4) Second upgrade being either Jump or Shield is a good one. I’d go for Jump, usually, as getting around is the key thing.

    If you’re not very good, don’t play to win, basically. Play safe, and earn some abilities which allow you to play more confidently.

    For people who want to play with power-ups and never earn them: Join a server near the end of the game and you get a load of free points.

    KG

    • Veret says:

      Good to know the game is friendly to non-multiplayer types like me. Although really, you had me at “Spider-man impregnating the Olympic Gymnastic team.”

      Now I just need to get myself to a less horrible internet connection so I can actually play.

  11. Chris D says:

    I assume that was you playing as Ada Lovelace earlier. You killed me about 4 times in a row at one point. Grrr! I’ll get you next time Gillen!

    Actually I did not too badly in that game, coming in maybe second or third. Then we changed maps and by the time we finished the leader had 346 points while I had 7. I’m glad that one wasn’t my first game.

  12. My Little Droogs says:

    Hmm… this all sounds a little, just a little, like the greatest DM game of all time. I’m speaking of course about The Specialists! (HL mod, matrix themed, multiplayer, kickass). Srsly, the acrobatics, the speed, the twitch. This seems like an awesome game that I would like to play.

    And “Plain Sight” = great title

    • neems says:

      Ah man, The Specialist was awesome. I once saw a guy spinning-kick his opponent’s gun out of his hand, catch it and kill him with it.

    • My Little Droogs says:

      That was me

  13. Bassism says:

    I really, really love this game at it.
    I’m horrible at it, and I don’t realistically see myself ever becoming particularly good at it.

    But it’s just so much fun. I agree that it would be really nice to see some proper matchmaking, a few gameplay tweaks, and a remeedy for a particularly annoying bug where you stop respawning, so have to quick and restart the level, losing all your points in the process.

    But I really can’t realistically hold any of this against the game. Highly recommended.

    • Mr Labbes says:

      I must agree that this game is fun even if you lose all the time – like I do. Though the biggest gripe I have with the game is that if I play with a friend, it seems glitchy when both players attack each other – meaning I die, and he doesn’t, when usually there should be a “crossed swords”.
      And the Facing Castles map sucks, Unreeled Tournament is awesome though. Nothing better than jumping across the whole map with one jump, or alternatively, get lost.

  14. Mort says:

    Sixth sense as first upgrade is totally the way to go. I kept getting dash charge and jump as my first upgrades, and never progressed beyond a total suck. Starting with sixth sense has seen me to many a top 3, and never holding on to too many points. Don’t do that. Wait for the 2x and blow up in someone’s face.

  15. Robin says:

    Steam overlay was fixed in last nights patch as well as in-game leaderboards !

    Also, we’re integrating more steam friend/matchmaking v.stuff soon and have a massive patch on the horizon that’ll add new persistent gameplay features :D

    Cheers

    Robin

    (Beatnik)

  16. Robin says:

    Awesome review!

    Quick heads up: Steam overlay was fixed in last nights patch as well as in-game leaderboards !

    Also, we’re integrating more steam friend/matchmaking v.stuff soon and have a massive patch on the horizon that’ll add new persistent gameplay features :D

    Cheers

    Robin

    (Beatnik)

  17. Peter Radiator Full Pig says:

    Are there many servers with lower numbers of players, anyone? Or are they rare on the ground?

    This is defiantly a game whos progress id like to see charted.
    Mainily, if the community expands, and if the game is updated.

    Id probably try buying it now, but i have my exams right now, and i also just bought frozen synapse…

  18. Thingus says:

    Having only played against the bots so far, I found this game to be great as a quick time-killer similar to N . Personally, I’m fond of the ultra-upgrade for the offense tree; when you’re holding your explosion (Does that sound a little bit wrong, or is it just me?), you gain your own gravity well, and the game becomes a Black Hole simulator for a few glorious seconds. There’s something really nice about watching the enemy spiral to their ultimate doom.

  19. skinlo says:

    I may consider buying if there was a demo, but there isn’t, so I won’t.

  20. Morti says:

    this game is unadultered shit. worst $10 i’ve spent so far. so many rave reviews, all so Goddamned wrong.

  21. whaleloever says:

    I’m glad I’m not the only person who likes Annie. Los Campesinos make me want to kill whales though.