I’ve had a strangely avoidant relationship with Sir, You Are Being Hunted, the ‘tweed-punk’ survival FPS from Big Robot Entertainment. As soon as it was announced, I was intrigued. The pitch, essentially, is S.T.A.L.K.E.R, set in rural England, with the player constantly on the run from an ever-multiplying horde of robotic hunters, which scour the land in a thinly veiled parody of the traditional (but, thankfully, now illegal) fox hunts which were a common sight in country villages until recently. Sadly, when the Kickstarter came around, I was without the means to buy in. Clearly, this was a personal affront, and I therefore went on a campaign of ignoring the game really, really hard. I ignored the posts on various gaming blogs. I shunned the Twitter accounts. I even turned my back on the pre-orders, with their promise of early access.
But now, having finally given in and played a good 20+ minutes at their Rezzed booth recently, I can ignore this game no more. Now I, too, have become hunted.
The first thing I see as I’m dropped into the world, after a brief tutorial, is a spotter balloon. These hot air balloons drift menacingly over the landscape, lazily running a spotlight over the ground below. They’re easy enough to avoid on their own, but can be a real pain if you’re cornered. I decide that the best course of action is to find a village, where I might be able to stock up on supplies. Sure enough, I quickly stumble upon a road, which leads me to a town. I go on a quick looting spree while nobody’s about – no weapons, but I do find some tea, a bit of food, and a few empty bottles, which I soon discover I am able to throw, to distract enemies. Unfortunately, the noise I make in discovering this sends a flock of birds flying from a nearby tree. Red visors begin to appear on the horizon, letting me know in no uncertain terms that the chase is on. At its heart, Sir is a stealth game, so in keeping with the spirit of the thing I immediately run away and hide in a bush.
For a sci-fi world, the game’s logic is nicely grounded in reality. For example, those birds I startled earlier weren’t just there for atmosphere – if a robot sees a group of birds suddenly take flight, they’ll know that something loud must have sent them flying. This also means that if you’re walking along, and you see a sudden flock of birds, it’s very likely that there are robots nearby. There’s plenty more cool stuff the developers talked about that, sadly, wasn’t on show on the floor. Aside from a greater variety of robotic hunters, one of the things that interested me the most was the concept of various ‘factions’ of robots, mortal enemies that will open fire on each other on sight if they meet each other in the field. I’m sure there will be plenty of interesting ways to manipulate the game’s systems in such a way that two factions will clash, the resulting clean-up no doubt turning up quite a bit of loot.
At their Rezzed developer session, the Big Robot team said they wanted to evoke the feeling of old school Doctor Who – a clearly recognisable English landscape, but with a twisted, sci-fi edge. The robots themselves tread perfectly that thin line between terrifying and ridiculous, managing to make me laugh one minute and scare the shit out of me the next. They’ll meet each other, shake hands and jovially sip a cup of tea, but the minute they hear you sneaking about they’ll drop what they’re doing, their red visors visibly lighting up with rage as they turn to track you down. The half horror, half comedy thematic discord is one of the most intriguing things about the game – it’s a lovely, thoroughly recognisable bit of British countryside, in which it is entirely possible to starve to death while being chased by vicious robot dogs.
That session is available to watch right here, by the way, and it’s thoroughly worthwhile:
Meanwhile, my tactical bush withdrawal has failed to shake off my pursuers. I’m on the run. Bullets are clipping at my heels as I sprint towards the shore, wishing I’d saved one of those bottles I found earlier. Somehow, I make it onto a rowboat waiting by the shore, which takes me to another of the game’s biomes – a mountainous area, with fewer villages but a lot more forest to hide in. Breathe. Take stock. The robots didn’t follow me. I’d love to explore every nook and cranny, but at this point I’m beginning to feel the pressure of the gathering crowd behind me, all itching to have a go. I’m quite keen to try out some combat before I go, so the developer behind me cheats in a few guns, and I set about turning the tables. Robots, You Are Being Hunted. I stalk through the long grass, planning to ambush a small group of robots moving along the coast. I announce my presence with some dynamite, before letting off a few rifle rounds into the smoke.
The weapons are naturally crude – no laser sights or ACOG scopes here – but they are effective enough, meaning that an armed player has a decent chance of taking down their pursuers. Extended firefights are generally a bad idea, though – even with my cheated inventory, I found my ammo running low pretty quickly. In typical non-cheaty gameplay, I’m told, they expect the player to be able to take down one robot fairly easily, and upgrade their equipment by the time-honoured process of nicking stuff from corpses, but overly aggressive players will attract larger and more powerful groups of hunters very quickly.
As the smoke clears from testing out my guns on whatever robots I could find – the shotgun in particular is really quite satisfying – I reluctantly stand up and let somebody else take over. I want to play all day, I really do, but that’s just not possible in a convention atmosphere.
Sir, You Are Being Hunted went on to win the Game Of The Show award, well deserved in my opinion. It’s a fresh look at the survival genre, and one that will no doubt provide me with hours of fun/terror.
It’s available to pre-order at the Big Robot website, where you can also find many more screenshots, trailers and gameplay footage.