Editor’s Note: When a game comes out on Steam as early access in an “Alpha” build, it is generally accepted that the game is going to be full of problems. However, when an organization charges full price for a game, it’s also important to note if the game is worth getting into, or worth waiting until it is during a more stable build.
Over on Steam, a little procedurally generated survival horror game caught my ear after hearing about it on a handful of gaming podcasts, and that game is Sir You are Being Hunted. Developed by Kickstarted-indie studio Big Robot (ironic name) and founded by British games journalist Jim Rossignol of Rock, Paper, Shotgun fame, the game is a darkly comical piece of work, and one that has me thinking about it as I’m sitting here typing out a preview.
Much like the introduction to Winston from Don’t Starve, in Sir You are Being Hunted, you play the role of an unnamed foppish British inventor who tinkers with the very fabrics of space and time…and somehow, robots. He creates a machine which does god only knows what, but the machine somehow explodes accidentally. This throws you onto a series of five archipelago islands overrun by Victorian-era steamwork hunting robots who’s sole goal is to hunt you down all while chattering about tea and crumpets. The goal is to traverse these five randomly generated islands, searching for the 25 pieces of the machine, reassemble the machine and have it take you back home. Sounds simple, right?
Like many good stealth/survival horror games, in Sir You are Being Hunted, you’re not outfitted with a chain gun and/or a rocket launcher, as it was literally five hours into the game before I found my first six-shot revolver. You are literally scavenging through the bizarrely British countryside for pickled eggs to eat and bottles of mead to keep your strength up and looking for anything to help you avoid the robot hunting parties while gathering the pieces to the strange machine. Every time you hear the sounds of a robot clanking around nattering to itself about the weather, you find yourself frozen solid, crouched low and hoping for it to pass by.
Currently, Sir You are Being Hunted appears to be broken down into two major sections: dilapidated town sections and pieces of the machine. You wander around the current island until you find a series of old homes, usually with a robot clanking around down the middle of the street standing watch. Your job is to quickly ransack the houses for loot as best you can (and loot is a generous term) to fill up your inventory with foodstuffs and hopefully either a weapon or a diversion of some kind (alarm clock you can set to bring the robots to you, a pistol with a few bullets). You then wander around the island until you see a smoke trail on the horizon for one of the pieces of the machine, which is usually guarded by at least two robots. Take distraction item, heave it at the robots, then haul ass and try to get the piece of the machine before you take too many shotgun blasts to the face.
They do a great job with the house searching mechanic in Sir You are Being Hunted. Instead of forcing you to enter each house and pick through each and every cabinet and chest you find, all you do is “use” the front door and it shows you every piece of loot and trash inside the house. Incredibly efficient, although kind of a shame that you can’t use the inside of the houses to hide inside. This does keep the action moving along nicely, and it becomes obvious that these houses just have a lot of junk in them anyway. I’m hoping as later builds come out, you’ll have a use for all the dead mice and crusts of bread you find, whether through recipes or what not.
I’m hoping there are more random robot parties roaming the country side as you gather pieces of the machine and take them back to the save point for reassembling. Sir You are Being Hunted appears to be upping the difficulty with each piece I bring back, and I just reached the point where I’m about ready to head to the next island via boat and the doddering robot hunters now have lethally efficient dogs with a much larger field of view and range on them. So there’s some good news.
I’m also hoping Sir You are Being Hunted allows you to set up a “one life” playthrough difficulty; as of right now, you can die countless times and the only real penalty is that it keeps track of the number of deaths you’ve had on the loading screen. On the other side of the coin, this game would be nearly impossible if this was the case due to the stealth mechanic needing some work.
One of the major complaints about stealth action games is when they don’t afford you enough detail letting you know if you’re about to be discovered or you’re hidden. Sir, You Are Being Hunted attempts to do so with a visibility meter, which shows concentric rings of red around an eyeball to let you know if you’re making a lot of noise or visible at long range. Ducking in “tall” grass is a great way to sneak up on robots without them noticing you until you’re fairly close, but what is “tall” grass and what is just scrub brush? I found myself looking at the terrain trying to move towards a piece and wishing for a crawl button to use what appeared to be waist high scrub brush, only to have the robots immediately focus on me. The robots will give a verbal cue letting you know that they heard something or that they are going to investigate, but too often, the second you hear that beep and a robot blurt out “What was that?”, you’re already in trouble and should make sure you’re ready to beat a hasty retreat.
I can understand that the robots can’t be too fooled by my throwing an empty bottle behind them, but if I do, at least afford me the opportunity to sprint head long at wherever I’m going while their backs are turned. It seemed more often than not, the robots would have an otherworldly ability to hear and see me moving despite my distraction drawing them away from wherever I was heading to.
I’m glad that Sir, You Are Being Hunted keeps weapons to a minimum in the game and that I haven’t fired a shot at a robot to date, but then you also need to make it so the stealth mechanic allows me to accomplish the objectives. If I can’t dual wield chainguns and blast the robots heads off, I should be able to sneak up on them without having to just say, “Well, here goes nothing” and crouch walk into the open field where a machine piece has embedded itself.
It definitely needs some spit and polish, but god damn, Sir You Are Being Hunted could be a remarkable entry in PC gaming field if they continue to build onto what they’ve created. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some machine pieces to find.