Developer: Big Robot Ltd
Sir, You Are Being Hunted is as British as tea and biscuits. As old-school Amiganauts to a man, we're thrilled to see another fiercely independent game hail from our green and pleasant land, thick with unmistakeably UK-centric humour and quaint facetious charm. This hard-as-hobnails stealth experience forces us to survive minute to minute in the dank gorse, heather and dark satanic mills of the British countryside, pursued by gentlemanly tweed-clad robots who'll politely yet brutally murder us for sport before pottering back to the club for some brandy and tax evasion.
All while giving us a few empty bottles, some bandages, dead rats, Fray Bentos pies and a trombone to live on. How I wish for a spear and bow of burning gold!
It's very much a balls-to-the-wall pure stealth survival game predicated on nervy preparation and panicked improvisation, made doubly compelling by its anarchic sense of fun, but can Sir, You Are Being Hunted sustain its tension for more than a handful of hours?
Author's note: In the interests of full disclosure, be aware that I backed Big Robot's Kickstarter campaign at the $15 tier. I don't consider this to be a conflict of interest and have written this review with both eyes open... but you should be the judge of that. - Jonathan
After being marooned on a desolate procedurally-generated island network by a botched teleportation experiment, we find ourselves learning the basics from a sardonic butler, who cooly explains the state of play before postponing dinner plans by a couple of hours. The only way home is to reassemble the transportation device at a stone circle in the middle of the map, which has been sadly scattered around the archipelago in massive smoking fragments. It'd be an easy enough job, if a bit of a slog, were it not for an army of shotgun-toting robotic toffs and guard dogs who live for the thrill of the hunt.
The first thing you'll notice is just how wonderfully British everything is. 'Tweedpunk' is the aim of the game, and it lends Sir, You Are Being Hunted a truly unique personality. Aristocratic robots make idle small talk as they stroll through the tall grass, leading mechanical hunting dogs who actually say "woof, woof" instead of animal howls. Road signs and item descriptions are packed with gentle references and jibes. You will find many, many biscuits. The juxtaposition of quaint familiar surroundings and silly humour with murderous automatons is both lovely and profoundly unsettling in all the right ways.
Like an episode of Last Of The Summer Wine crossed with 28 Days Later, perhaps.
However, this thin veneer of civility is spread thin over an exceptionally difficult and bloodthirsty experience. Once spotted, your mechanical pursuers will hound you without mercy, meaning that keeping out of sight and planning your approach is the only way to stay alive. You'll use binoculars to spot randomised patrols, work out their routes and slink past when the time is right, using foliage and a simple visibility indicator to maintain stealth. Though hatchets and even firearms can be found if you look hard enough, you'll likely still be no match for the robo-gentlemen and baying hounds, meaning that you'll have to take brutal advantage when absolutely necessary. Various seemingly useless objects can also be used to distract enemies out of position, rewarding experimentation, exploration and curiosity in each new run.
Naturally we're talking about the best case scenario here. More often than not you'll run into a patrol when you least expect it, forcing you to take desperate flight into the fens pursued by multiple adversaries, whose AI is both tenacious and unyielding. Sometimes you'll cower desperately behind a bush or low wall and pray that you're not spotted - after all, any injury will bleed out if unattended. Usually your escapades will be brought screeching to a halt by buckshot and bites, requiring plenty of restarts and resulting in oh so many humiliating game over screens.
It's tense and frequently downright terrifying - especially since everything can go horribly wrong in a heartbeat.
Survival boils down to more than staying hidden, mind, since you'll also need to stay fed. Avoiding death and assembling teleporters is hungry work, so you'll have to ferret through houses (little more than glorified treasure chests - don't expect any interiors) for supplies, cook food and make some tough choices along the way. Scoffing down a dead rat might be disgusting, but when it's all you've got, you'll have to make do. Limited inventory space requires you to ruthlessly ration your supplies and make difficult decisions at every turn.
Again, you can find plenty of biscuits. And then dunk them. We like this immensely.
As such, Sir, You Are Being Hunted rewards patient and borderline-masochistic players willing to bang their heads against the odds and eventually emerge triumphant; free to go off track and seek unscripted thrills. Unfortunately, despite this strong setup, it sadly falls prey to a couple of annoying concerns.
The biggest problem is actually a bigness problem. Each island network takes an age to generate and requires you to laboriously backtrack enormous distances to return each device fragment (sometimes requiring map transitions by way of boats), meaning that a successful playthrough can potentially last several hours. Which, frankly, is an awful lot of time to waste if and when you blunder into a patrol or succumb to starvation. We're therefore encouraged to backtrack further between sparse save points - and though there are plenty of hazards along the way, tension will give way to tedium sooner or later.
It's a crying shame, because a much smaller map with fewer objectives would have allowed Sir, You Are Being Hunted to adopt that addictive Roguelike-esque structure of short recursive bite-sized runs, opposed to being too big and barren for its own good. I even found myself missing quicksaves, which would have totally broken the game (well done for not implementing those), yet saved on backtrack boot leather.
This effect is amplified by our fickle friend procedural generation, which works well in games that present you with a totally new and unique map or visual theme each time, but falls slightly flat here. Each map may be different in terms of layout, but feels exactly the same due to the recycled assets and drab art style. Replayability suffers as a result - what's billed as infinite replayability feels like playing the same game every time.
These issues stop me from recommending Sir, You Are Being Hunted over more carefully-curated survival, stealth and horror games, not to mention STALKER, Metro and some of the better DayZ clones. But recommend it I shall, because Big Robot's creation manages to intelligently package survival, stealth and horror into something totally unique that will likely earn its budget price tag.
So long as you're a glutton for punishment. And biscuits.
- Compelling randomised stealth and survival in massive maps
- Unique and very British personality
- Pleasingly difficult, usually tense and frequently terrifying
- Maps are slightly too large, backtracking is rife
- Tedium and repetition can set in
- Random generation draws on recycled assets, drab visuals
The Short Version: Sir, You Are Being Hunted brings rock-hard stealth survival to our pleasant pastures and dark satanic mills. Though overly large maps and lengthy backtracking can replace tension with tedium, its unmistakeably British character and unique gameplay fusion wins out, at least for patient players.
Where else can you find dunkable biscuits and tweed-wearing aristocratic murderbots?