Sir, You Are Being Hunted hands-on preview

Joe Donnelly September 9, 2013 - 3:00 pm

Big Robot’s Sir, You Are Being Hunted is a gentlemanly endeavour which does not mince its words. You are being hunted. A lot. At first glance, Joe Donnelly envisioned strolls through Old English hamlets and pastoral fields with the odd splash of combat. He spent most of his time hiding in a bush.

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As I lay crouched in the long grass just meters up the road from one of the small Old English towns scattered across the procedurally generated landscapes of Sir, You Are Being Hunted, I was transported back to my childhood.

I was back in the Glasgow housing scheme that I spent most of my youth running around with my mates. Every now and then, gangs of lads from neighbouring areas would encroach on our patch, and for all I’d love to tell you we defended our plot with pride, we didn’t. More often than not, we hid elsewhere. Back then, I liked to think I could talk the talk, but I sure as hell could not walk the walk. Sir, You Are Being Hunted made me realise that little has changed.

Because if you swap the hoodies and baseball caps for top hats and tweed; tenement flats and decrepit swing parks for hamlets and moors; and skinhead neds (or chavs, as my English counterparts would say) with knives and baseball bats for shotgun-wielding moustachioed cyborgs, herein lies a pretty accurate reflection of my younger years.

My point here is that you should expect to spend most of your time hiding, powerless, and shiteing yourself from guys who are bigger and stronger than you in Sir (or Madam if you toggle the title screen) You Are Being Hunted – after all, the clue is in the title. If, for any reason, you think this is false prophecy, then think again.

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For this was not the first time I’d found myself crouching in the pasture. In fact, just two minutes prior I’d broken cover making a beeline for one of the abandoned houses up ahead. I’d then began stealthily raiding the place for loot before being spotted by an overhead robot watchman, hovering above in a hot air balloon.

And then all hell broke loose. Sirens blew, gunshots rang, and red spotlights scoured the once tranquil plaines. Panicked, I fled into the open and heard the unsettling mechanical bleep/bloop of robots, followed swiftly by the loading and firing of shotguns – I didn’t dare check how many pursuers were hot on my heels – and as the buckshot ricocheted off of a nearby wooden fence, I leapt back into the green.

This is how I spent the majority of my time with Sir, You Are Being Hunted. And, perhaps surprisingly, I loved it.

Tweed punk

The idea behind Big Robot’s Kickstarted hunt ‘em up is to locate the missing parts of a machine, and return them to the ‘Standing Stones’ – a mysterious monolith located in the middle of the map – in order to get transported home in time for supper. The parts, which were lost along with yourself during a calamitous experiment, are now strewn across five Wind in the Willows, pastoral England-inspired procedurally generated islands.

Each island has its own ‘biome,’ which alters the landscape in a variety of ways. The current build includes: ‘rural’, which includes forestry and villages; ‘mountain’, which allows for hills and quarries with rocks and reeds aplenty; and ‘fens’, which generates a more flat expanse. This variety means each archipelago can be vastly different which in turn means so can each playthrough.

From the kick off, it’s fairly obvious that this sharply dressed army of blood thirsty robots has already wiped out the entire human populace within the area, and – unfortunately for you – shows little sign of slowing up. Looting the abandoned homes of ex-villagers is essential for survival, as starvation poses a serious threat. Like me, you may not drink tea in real life, but you’ll be damned delighted to find a flask full of brew to wash down a delicious ham joint before your vitality hits zero. You even might get lucky and find some weaponry, but I’ll get to that later on.

In order to focus development time on the over-world, Big Robot has opted to render the inners of buildings off-limits (something it has addressed at length), with looting instead comprising of an inventory screen whereupon items can be swapped into your own collection of goodies. Each item requires a set number of empty inventory blocks, marking hoarding as risky business, particularly as the machine parts which you seek command a ridiculous amount of space.

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‘Visibility’ will be your go-to feature throughout the game’s entirety, and the amount of time spent with it blank, the better. This becomes particularly important as you progress, as the packs in which the Elmer Fudd-like robots band together steadily increases, eventually incorporating hunting dogs who are even more relentless than their owners.

So, the big question is surely this: why don’t we grab some guns and take these bastards down? Well it doesn’t quite work like that. For one, actually locating firearms in Sir, You Are Being Hunted is completely down to pot luck, as items are also generated at random. Finding a decent amount of ammo is almost nigh on impossible. And even if – through some winning of the Euromillions jackpot two weeks on the trot stroke of luck – you somehow manage to fill your chamber: try taking on more than one automaton at a time. I dare you.

Other weaponry such as dynamite, axes and even bear traps are also available, and can actually be used to better effect than guns. Nothing beats the joy of luring a robot into a bear trap before setting about him with a hatchet. Of course, this method has its share of difficulties too, as after one ‘well thought-out’ plan of attack went awry, I found myself legging it from a canine, only to be caught in my own trap. I can confidently state that this is the first – and hopefully only – time I’ve uttered the words, “Bollocks. I’ve stood in my own bear trap.”

For the practical reasons outline above, getting close to the robots isn’t advised, however it is one of the game’s most appealing features. Some of the patter exchanged is priceless, as they grumble about how the land has changed over the years, and how rotten the English countryside weather is. “Lost the bugger” is a phrase you’ll fall in love with, but the monotonous, methodic and systematic cackles of a robot aware of your presence is enough to turn your stomach, almost reminding you it is all a game, they have the upper hand, and it’s only a matter of time before you’re hightailing it across the field. Again.

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The map system does a fine job of illuminating just how alone you are on the archipelago, as – aside from the Standing Stones and rowing boats used to travel between islands, both of which act as the game’s only save points – there are no markers. Each trip to and from the central obelisk will force tactical planning and place-marking of identifiable monuments in order to locate the next machine part in turn.

My one concern for Sir, You Are Being Hunted is how it goes about keeping things fresh, as there is scope for the game to become repetitive in its current state, but it is early doors yet.

Big Robot has coined something beautiful in “tweed punk” giving us something that should in every sense be incongruous, but somehow seems to fit even more snugly than the immaculate attire strapped to the dapper ensemble of killer robots.

Here we have a game which doesn’t spoon feed you – it’s very difficult, but it’s not impossible. I can’t think of a game where patience is rewarded so well, and even after multiple deaths, compelled me so much to try again. Each death prompted a new plan of attack idea, which nine times out of ten fell flat on its face. But that didn’t matter, because the joy of pulling off that ten percent chance was unparalleled.

The game doesn’t necessarily adopt the most orthodox of the genres core themes, however Sir, You are Being Hunted is a fine example of survival horror – one which actually makes me glad I grew up Glasgow, and not wherever the hell this countryside nightmare is meant to take place.

Sir, You Are Being Hunted, by Big Robot, is due for release sometime in 2013 for PC, Mac and Linux

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