Beatnik Games is an eight man indie studio based in London and their first release is Plain Sight, a multiplayer arcade game that'll remind you of old school quick fix party games like Bomberman and Mario Kart.
There are five modes but the running theme is that you're a ninja robot on an oddly shaped 3D object with gravity physics that'll turn your stomach and you get points for destroying other ninja robots. Your main method of attack is to charge at an enemy with your katana and when they smash into tiny bits you'll steal their energy, but as you accrue energy you'll increase in size and become not only an easier target but a more tempting target. It's a "Weakest Link" scenario as you get nothing for having energy until you bank it to turn it into real points. When the fear of someone stealing all of your energy with one slice of their Hanzo steel gets too much you can choose to explode yourself, exchanging energy for points and gaining a multiplier if you manage to catch any enemies in the blast.
It's dead simple and within five minutes of play, or even five minutes of watching someone else play, you'll know everything you'll ever need to know. In that sense it's just like the games that would have us crowding around a console and fiddling with multitaps in the early 90s - great fun for an hour or so but before long someone would whine that they were bored and wanted to play Zelda instead.
Plain Sight's simplicity is a blessing and a curse. It's a brilliant, uncomplicated concept for a game and it's very enjoyable in a pick up and play sort of way but there's no depth to keep players interested over a period of weeks and months. That leaves the server browser of this online multiplayer focused game looking very empty. You can play offline against bots and that's still fun in small doses but the devs themselves refer to it as only a "practice mode."
Visually Plain Sight is very smart. Its polygon count isn't going to make you gasp or anything like that but it has a very distinctive artistic theme and colour is used sparingly but stylishly to convey gameplay-relevant information. As you leap around the environments you'll leave a coloured trail that changes depending on how much energy you're hoarding and that's a clear sign for your opponents to follow, if they're not overcome by the prettiness.
The 15 maps are geometric monstrosities to rival the tutorial levels in Psychonauts but in terms of hardware performance they're very simple, so it won't be hard for anyone with some remotely modern kit to find a graphical setting that allows the game to run like Usain Bolt.
There are two things that I'd like to see added to Plain Sight to turn it from a good game to a great game and it looks like both could be in the works. There is already a "perks" system in the game which allows you to pick special abilities to aid you in a match but you lose them as soon as that match ends. The Beatnik Games blog offers the very welcome news that work has already begun on a patch to expand on the perks system and add some persistence. That's exactly the kind of development the game needs in order to keep its players interested and I look forward to seeing its effect on Plain Sight's online multiplayer community.
The other thing I'd like to see in the game is local split screen multiplayer. Obviously that's not the sort of set-up that's of much benefit to PC gamers but Plain Sight is coming to the PS3 and Wii in 2011 and the living room may prove to be a better home for it than the office.
If you shop around you can find Plain Sight on the PC for as little as £6.90 but as a Steam fanboy I'd recommend spending £7.99 with them for the bonus of built-in Steam Achievements. They also offer a four pack for £23.99 if you fancy establishing your own little multiplayer community. If you're not on board just yet, do consider the console version when that comes around. There's the seed of a sleeper hit here.