Up until now, I’ve done the full review treatment on a game for one of two reasons; either it’s been incredibly fun and I just can’t shut up about extolling its virtues, or it’s a lukewarm to steaming pile of mismatched parts, a broken POS. Hidden in Plain Sight (80 MSP) marks the first time I’m doing a review for initially selfish reasons. To start, it allows me to use the HIPS acronym throughout, which, like COPS (Castle of Pixel Skulls) from the previous Rundown, gives me access and carte blanche to increasingly bad jokes that you’ll have to suffer through for the duration.
Secondly, take a good look at the box art for HIPS. Forget screenshots, or the marketplace description, that ‘pits players against each other in tense battles of guile and subtlety’, as accurate as that is. Rather, pay particular attention to the skeleton with its arm around the girl. Here, the main menu.
Look at it, just don’t look like you’re trying to look at it.
The skeleton’s out of place, sure, probably freezes often in the winter months, but that’s not what unnerves me. No, that honor belongs to the girl, with that creepy wide smile or whatever you’d call it. I actually fear for the skeleton’s safety. Add in the old guys pulling magic out of a hat, ambushed by ninjas, the surprised and/or horrified knight (my reaction as well), MK’s Sub-Zero (?), and a mohawked-man conversing with royalty and sporting a very long tooth, and you’re staring at one big collage of weird, my motivation for writing this.
It’s just off. If I was handed a VHS with a slideshow of these images, and watched it on a dare, I’d immediately get a call saying I had seven days to live. That’s the vibe I got.
Now that I’ve established my lack of comfort with the start screen, it’s time to discuss the game proper. HIPS is an overhead-view version of Clue where players take a proactive approach to finding a culprit, namely by killing them. Unfortunately, that last statement gets the piss taken out of it once you see the game is local-multiplayer ONLY, requiring you to be an adequate social butterfly, or have deep pockets to purchase companionship.
I didn’t come this far along the path of intrigue and oddity to get shutout, so I adapted to fit the style, enlisting the aid of a most unlikely source: my brother. A ‘wrong place wrong time’ scenario for him, since the kid has literally only played a handful of games in his lifetime, making him a less than an ideal adversary for any versus type, but, as they say, desperate times. We cycled through all of the modes starting from the top, playing four to five rounds of each. Instead of summing it up in a few short paragraphs, I’ll highlight and explain the rules and conditions in all five.
Ninja Party (and the rest of the modes as well) plays similar to the mobile Assassin’s Creed multiplayer game released a few years ago. As Ninjas, everyone is asked to make the rounds of the level, touching various statues, trying to look as inconspicuous as possible while weeding out their competitors. Complicating this, of course, is that everyone looks the same. Winning involves either touching all statues, or being the last person standing, and there’s a smoke bomb for making a potentially daring escape.
Catch A Thief splits players into two teams; Thieves, obviously, that blend in and try to collect coins incognito, and Snipers, who have three bullets to find their prey among the crowd. While you’d think Snipers have the advantage, it’s actually tougher to gauge the liars, especially if they’ve got the ‘A.I. shuffle’ down pat. Thieves that collect coins (which don’t disappear when initially touched) will give off a chime every time, and Snipers that move their crosshairs over the already-picked coins will make those coins vanish, putting you on the trail of the thief. A fun mode.
Developer Adam Spragg gives you the details.
Knights vs. Ninjas is another Assassin’s Creed variant, wherein Ninjas blend and attempt to assassinate the roaming Royalty, protected by Knights. While Knights can kill Ninjas outright, Ninjas can only stun their pursuers momentarily. Matches got quite tense going after the last of the surviving Royalty.
Death Race is just that, a race (well, more like a brisk walk) from one side to the other, with the blend formula in effect. There is a run button, which can help once you’re near the end, but it’s a dead (excuse the pun) giveaway otherwise. Another neat twist is that each player has sniping abilities (one shot- make it count), moving their crosshairs up and down the line to sniff out enemy racers. It’s actually quite strategic, as you can also target yourself, a nice tactic for disguising your big push to the finish line.
Assassin plays like a combination of all the modes. Again you’re split into teams, Snipers and Assassins. Snipers have the same goal as last time, three chances to discern the enemy, who assassinates the various NPCs in the level. The twist here is similar to coin collecting, in that when you attack, a sound can be heard, but the target won’t actually drop dead until a Sniper’s crosshairs move over them, setting off another tense run in hunting down the killer.
Where’s Waldo? Man, how should I know? I don’t even know who I am.
Much like Shakira wisely said before me, HIPS don’t lie. Rush to your objectives or the goal, make any sudden, un-A.I.-like moves, and your rivals are going to notice who doesn’t belong real quick. Deception is key, and, given the proximity of the competition, so is your game face. Well, in between the laughing and shouting. Looking over, even my brother is enjoying it, starting to play like a real HIPS-ter. If getting him to play a videogame and crack a smile doesn’t speak to a game’s worth, I don’t know what will.
There’s no doubting its creepy art, but once you delve into the game, it’s undeniably fun, and the added layers of complexity to each of the different modes do well to extend its lifespan. It’s truly a shame then that it’s so limiting. For the majority of us, the solo crowd, lack of online support and zero A.I. bots offline render it simply unplayable. Of all the local-only XBLIGs I’ve played, HIPS has to hurt me the most. Were it online, I’d probably be at it now, praising it non-stop. Since I’m not, I’ll assume all the risk and say that if you should actually have three spare controllers and three acquaintances, Hidden in Plain Sight is probably the most fun you could have with that setup.