As a boy, I often wished that Isaac Asimov had written The 39 Steps. Luckily, along came Sir, You Are Being Hunted, a procedurally-generated survival stealth game in which tweedy robots hunt you across a desolate archipelago.
You’re a posh inventor of some description. The exact description depends on what starting gear you want to pick, but usually fits into the kind of character breakdown you’d find in a casting for Downton Abbey. Alcoholic gameskeepers, tinkering boffin, dowager aunt, that kind of thing. Essentially the characters you’d find in an H. G. Wells novel, or littering the asylums of Lovecraft.
You’ve gone and broken your latest device in testing, and it’s hurled you into the outer limits of somewhere that might either be remote Scotland or darkest Norfolk. Gentrified robots have taken over the world, killing everyone in the nearby villages and industrial towns, and now you have to roam the wreckage, searching for the fragments of your mysterious device. Whilst avoiding the killer robots, of course, and not starving to death or dying of stealth-action-induced fright in the meantime.
The game is still in alpha, which means some features aren’t included yet. Despite that, it’s already a pitch-perfect bit of sneaky fun. I say this coming fresh from the Thief reboot. That may be graphically far shinier, but it comes at the cost of making you run corridor levels in order to deliver scripted shocks and story.
Sir is, by contrast, entirely free-roaming. Your five islands, across which you must search for your device, are superb looking. It’s hard to remember that this is computer-generated content at times, when you keep running across such haunting, silent scenes.
And it’s not just for show, either – the wildlife startles at your approach. Meaning it is startled and also that it frequently startles you – pheasants, particularly, keep frightening the bejeezus out of me as they clatter into the air.
Being frightened by pheasants is, of course, the least of your worries. Obviously, there’s a host of robots in tall hats out there, searching for the ultimate trophy for their wall at home. They’re a cowardly lot, hunting mostly in packs and fleeing and yelling for help if wounded. And they’re slow, much slower than you, so you can usually get away from them if spotted.
But there’s a lot of them.
Lurking ones. Fast ones. Jolly ones. Big ones. Little ones. Some as big as your head, assuming you have a terrifyingly vast and tentacled steampunk head. No spoilers here (you can easily find them elsewhere), but there are some devious and creepy things out there looking for you. They don’t all get on; sometimes you’ll hear gunfire and discover a battlefield of sparking corpses ready to be looted. But they’d generally much rather shoot you than each other.
Which is why you’ll come to appreciate much more than the artwork on those twisted woods, tangled hedges and calm-looking cornfields. Although you don’t generally have much in the way of firepower, depending on what starter build you’ve chosen, you can usually take a robot or two in a gunfight. There’s no way you’ll have enough ammo for all the robots, though, so you’ll need wits too.
And food. You’ve got a stat called Vitality that adds one of the best bits of game tension to the mix. It’s always ticking down. If it’s over fifty, your health regenerates. Less, and your wounds don’t heal. Most of things that can hurt you cause bleeding wounds, which must be bandaged to prevent them getting worse. So you’re pretty frail.
Food and drink replenishes your Vitality. Buildings across the islands contain vital food, items and ammunition that must be looted in order to survive. Vittles for Vitality, ammo for your tawdry guns, and items to create distractions.
It’s classic stealth territory here. The well-flung bottle, mandatory in all stealth games since 1835. The wind-up alarm clock with adjustable timer, giving you the chance to set it, sneak to a good position and then get to your goal while the guards are looking for it. The clockwork train, to send the robots on a wild
toy train goose chase.
I say I say I say
It’s also a very funny game.
That’s quite an achievement, given that the atmosphere of the creepy wilds is so good. But its very British sense of humour is also present throughout and makes what might otherwise be an overwhelmingly bleak environment soft enough to be Fun. It’s all a bit Wallace and Grommit, in fact. The game’s short introductory sequence is voiced by a politely alarmed butler, deferentially concerned for your well-being, but far too English to show actual alarm. Spot on.
Amongst the bric-a-brac in the deserted houses are haggises (haggi? haggix?), fish and chips, commemorative coronation china and various other UK odds and ends that really help lend the Archipelago a sense of place. Using a trombone to draw the robots off into the scrub so I can swiftly double round and get my objective is ridiculously entertaining, especially as I can use the mouse wheel to vary the pitch.
Tired of sneaking? Well, combat is pretty good, as well – it’s not the prime focus of the game, but it hasn’t been neglected. Now and again, you’re quite capable of taking down small groups of robots as long as you’re quick and careful.
Not Finished Yet
If I have a niggle, it’s that there’s maybe a bit too much space to cover. Your device has split into twenty four bits, and each must be found and taken back to your original starting point, a sinister standing stone. This is a good, if challenging mechanic, but it does mean you’ll inevitably end up treading the same ground quite a bit. There’s a Rural, Highland, Fen, and Industrial biome so far. They’re great, diverse enough to break things up, but a touch samey after a while. If I could change this in the game setup, maybe even vary the number of islands at will, I’d be delighted.
The robots ramp up in difficulty the more fragments you collect, the worst ones showing up later. And you’ll run shorter and shorter on supplies, having to rely on hunting rather than scavenging to survive (even cooking and crafting in upcoming patches). All the same, it can get a little drawn-out. I’ve yet to actually finish a run before getting sidetracked into another game.
But that’s not to say it’s not a great experience – it’s a survival game, after all, and husbanding your resources, stashing for later, and avoiding the use of firearms whenever possible are all very much a part of that. Just ask Robert Kirkman.
With an affordable price tag, more gameplay additions and a ruined castle biome still to come, this is well worth picking up now or later. I’m looking forward to Big Robot’s finished project.
- Excellent Stealth Gameplay
- Excellent Robots
- Excellent Humour
- Excellent Setting
- A bit Long
- A bit repetitive