Version tested: PC
You guys are lucky I'm a professional. Otherwise, I might give Plain Sight 12 out of 10 just on principle. I might even do that anyway. We'll see.
Understand that Plain Sight is a multiplayer indie game for PC, available on Steam, about murderous, explosive, acrobatic robots battling one another with katanas in a web of gravitational fields. It's part flight sim, part Jedi Knight, part vertigo-inducing spectacle, part experiment and all risk-reward. What kind of a monster would go and break apart a game like that to say whether it's worth buying? You might as well dissect a woman to determine that yes, she has healthy kidneys and firm, spongy lungs is therefore probably worth going out with.
I'd argue that a solid percentage of gamers could watch this video and know that they need Plain Sight in their lives, just like that, and that not knowing what on Earth is going on in the video is not an obstacle. For the rest of you... ah, well. Here we go.
Play in Plain Sight is curious, but fairly simple. You control a robot with a katana. You can run, jump, and you can hold down the left mouse button to charge up a lightning-fast dash. Charge up one of these dashes with an opponent in your field of view and you'll begin locking onto them, just like getting a missile lock in a flight sim. At any stage of the lock you can unleash the charge and go dashing off towards your opponent, although unfinished locks will only propel you in your opponent's direction, as opposed to straight into their robo-face. If you do hit, that's your opponent reduced to a spray of robo-bits. There are no health bars and no glancing blows. You're either dead or you're a survivor.
Surviving is a matter of jinking away from opponents, ducking behind obstacles, and generally leaping about like the offspring of a ninja and a career jerk. The shift key comes in handy here, sending you vertically downwards towards the floor no matter what stage of your aerial acrobatics you're in.
Except the 'floor' is relative. In the first of Plain Sight's wonderful twists, whatever surface you're nearest to acts as the floor. Propel yourself (through charges and jumps) more than half way towards a ceiling, miniature moon or floating cube and you'll end up falling towards that, instead of back down. Go running off the side of a road and you'll end up standing on the narrow side, or the bottom.
This is every bit the enjoyable head trip it sounds like, but it's also an integral part of the combat because it opens up new avenues of escape. You can fling yourself off platforms and go curving round to land on the reverse side, or hurl yourself like a rocket to the safety of far-off objects, or (brilliantly) lock yourself into orbiting something small, like a floating path.
Having to keep moving to survive in a deathmatch game is nothing new, but looking badass and graceful while you fling yourself around at top speed does feel weirdly novel. Looking good is, in fact, one of Plain Sight's party pieces. Each robot leaves behind a neon trail which gets twisted into curls and tugged into straight lines with each confused jump or furious charge. A scrap of four robots dashing and backflipping away from one another viewed from your own erratic, airborne perspective is a thing of wonder.
In fact, the first thing I recommend you do if you buy Plain Sight is turn off the chipper brass soundtrack, which totally undersells the experience, and play something big and beautiful from your own music collection instead. I went with Jónsi's Go, and the game was transformed. My non-gamer girlfriend called Plain Sight one of the most beautiful things she'd ever seen, and I think it might be the prettiest game I've ever played.
The combat's final twist is another wonderful piece of design. Shattering another robot like a stomped biscuit doesn't actually contribute to your score in and of itself - it only nets you their energy. Every robot spawns with 1 energy. Smash a pair of robots, you'll end up with 3 energy. If one of them then respawns and kills you, they'll end up with 4 energy.
The more energy you have, the bigger you get, meaning you can chuck yourself about quicker and travel further. You become more fearsome with each kill, basically, and each subsequent kill comes easier and easier.
The way you translate energy into points is by self-destructing. A tap of the E key doubles your robot over as uncontrollable power (or remorse?) builds inside them, and then you detonate into a perfect sphere which has a size in accordance to your stored energy. Also, for every robot you catch in your blast radius, your score is multiplied once over.
This is a solid gold game mechanic. It's spectacular. There's the thrill when you've amassed a wealth of energy and are just looking for someone to catch in your lethal explosion. There's the exquisite pain when you're skewered by some little 1 energy robot a split second before you explode, and he gets all of your energy. There's the heroic "NOOOO" moment of when the robot you were hounding abruptly detonates at the exact moment you get your lock and charge straight at him, and you end up disappearing into his apocalyptic sphere and doubling his score.
Finally, your score itself has an extra purpose too. Any points you earn can be spent upgrading your robot (only for the rest of the match) with anything from double and triple jumps to a shield or a shortened detonation time. Neatly, there are three supercharged upgrades waiting patiently for you at the end of all the defensive, offensive and movement upgrades. Get all the offensive upgrades and you'll unlock the upgrade that causes your explosion to actually suck in nearby enemies. Nasty! The nice thing about this is that it encourages players to specialise, which is always interesting.
Throw in five different game modes and that about sums Plain Sight up. Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch ("Weakest Clink") and Capture the Flag probably need no introduction, but there's also Lighten Up and 'Ninja! Ninja! Robozilla!'
Lighten Up has players attempting to detonate on a small target area with as much energy as possible, and the biggest explosion wins the round. 'Ninja! Ninja! Robozilla!' is probably the weakest of the five, with players taking turns to control a giant, superpowered robot wearing a Godzilla helmet as everybody else tries to whittle them down to size. The mode's welcome for variety's sake, but when the period spent actually searching for the Robozilla player is abruptly followed by them using nothing more than their size and stats to crush you, you're not enjoying Plain Sight at its strongest.
Plain Sight at its strongest is a staggeringly wonderful thing: the drama and animal agility of the aerial combat, the inventive visuals, the gambling and daring that's inherent in any victory as you hoard energy then risk a timely detonation. The only problem is that Plain Sight doesn't always fulfil this potential in the same way that you can rely on, say, a round of Smash Bros. to provide its brand of chaotic, madcap fun with every single match.
For instance, playing Plain Sight online in some of the more cramped or cluttered maps never feels as stylish as it should. This being the internet, players display trademark psychotic aggression and as a result Plain Sight's duelling-samurai aspirations are replaced somewhat by the sense of trying not to get stung in the middle of a swarm of bees.
More pervasive is the disappointing feeling that you're not quite as in control as you'd like to be. Your robot's jumps and charges make up for in enthusiasm what they lack in precision, and because everyone's capable of moving so speedily it's impossible to form a really cohesive mental map of your surroundings. There's a frustration in setting your sights on a particular player, only to find five seconds later that you've ended up locking onto a different player in a bizarre online videogame re-imagining of three-card Monte.
Plain Sight sits simmering on the hob like a pot of genius soup that's lacking something, and I don't think even the developers could figure out what. It's too fast, but the speed is part of the appeal. Locking on is difficult, but if it wasn't you'd get blown up all the time by other players. There's nothing for it but to accept Plain Sight for what it is - a fun, smart, inventive action game that comes with a big grin and a cheap price tag.
I still want to give it 12 because I can't shake this dim belief that Plain Sight is what more multiplayer games should be. Why restrict ourselves to earthly, familiar scenes when we can control extraordinary robots and duel in a gravity playground? Why keep death as such a one-dimensional, sad event? We have a medium where we can do anything, and be anything. Plain Sight is made by people who understand that, I think.
Maybe they'll also understand that I'm a professional. I hope so.
8 / 10
Plain Sight is available now from Steam and other digital distribution platforms for £7.99.