In most games, dying is a sign of failure. In Plain Sight, it’s the key to victory. This strong debut from indie developer Beatnik Games puts players in control of a robot armed with a katana and a self-destruct button. Each time you kill another robot, you steal its energy. But your ill-gotten goods aren’t turned into the points you need to buy upgrades until you blow yourself up, preferably taking others with you.
The multiplayer game’s strategy is based on striking a balance between risk and reward. You can multiply your score by amassing higher energy totals and killing other robots in your explosion. But if you’re packing a lot of energy, you grow in size, literally making you a bigger target. Attacks can be blocked using short-duration activated shields, but all hits are one-shot kills. Differences in tactics can result in fast changes in score, with a big explosion allowing a trailing player to shoot past an early leader. Spending points also lets you customize your play style. While in a longer, high-point game, you can collect all the upgrade options, early in a match, you’ll have to choose between defensive upgrades, such as a warning signal when an enemy is targeting you, and aggressive ones, including faster explosions which let you nuke enemies before they can run away.
While a brief tutorial teaches players what keys to press to move, charge, and explode, more complex moves have to be mastered in an offline practice mode. It’s good that the controls are so easy, because gameplay is dizzying. Many boards are filled with floating objects, each exerting their own gravity to pull in jumping robots. Each robot leaves behind a colored trail to show enemies where it’s gone. Trails can be key to finding the action, but they also add to the visual clutter.
Along with free-for-all death-matches, where up to 20 players can whale on each other, game modes include team death matches and capture-the-flag. The same absurd landscapes that make death matches a chaotic blast hurt capture-the-flag, as it’s easy to get lost when trying to get to a base. The most bizarre game option is Ninja! Ninja! Botzilla, where one robot wearing a Godzilla mask and carrying a flaming sword tries to kill all the ninja robots. Defeat Botzilla, and you get to take his place and assault your former allies.
One of the biggest problems with Plain Sight is that not enough people are playing yet. There are too few multiplayer matches going on at any given time, and if they’re going on behind firewalls, the game won’t permit access. But the simple joy of watching your suicidal robot go boom is well worth the $9.99 price tag.