Sir, You Are Be­ing Hunted

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Two aris­to­cratic ro­bot hunters pa­trol a patch of gloomy coast­line, mov­ing back and forth around a smok­ing crater. We ap­proach, us­ing scat­tered boul­ders as cover. When we’re close enough to make a dash for the crater’s edge, we ready an empty bot­tle from our in­ven­tory and fling it high over our head. We wait for the sound of break­ing glass. The ro­bots turn and run off to in­ves­ti­gate, and we leg it to the crater, stay­ing low. Then we pocket an­other frag­ment of our ru­ined tele­porter and sprint back the way we came.

Sir, You Are Be­ing Hunted is a first­per­son stealth and sur­vival game set on an ar­chi­pel­ago of ran­domly gen­er­ated is­lands, each mod­elled af­ter a cor­ner of the Bri­tish Isles. The pro­ce­dural gen­er­a­tion is meant to cre­ate an ex­plo­ration chal­lenge that’s dif­fer­ent in each cam­paign you play, and in a sense it suc­ceeds. What the un­der­ly­ing tech­nol­ogy fails to pro­vide, how­ever, is a var­ied range of stealth en­coun­ters. The sit­u­a­tion de­scribed above is one you’ll run into many, many times. Yes, the game’s al­go­rithm is ca­pa­ble of turn­ing out lonely fen­land, iso­lated ham­lets, and in­dus­trial hin­ter­land, but you’ll spend the ma­jor­ity of your time snatch­ing things from craters on rocky shore­lines.

A breezy in­tro­duc­tion sets the scene. You’ve been stranded on the ar­chi­pel­ago fol­low­ing a tele­por­ta­tion ac­ci­dent, and only by gath­er­ing up the scat­tered pieces of your de­vice and re­turn­ing them to a cir­cle of stand­ing stones on the cen­tral is­land can you get back home. The di­men­sion you find yourself in is pop­u­lated by ro­bots dressed like English gen­try that hunt hu­mans for sport. Avoid­ing roam­ing bands of these hunters as you seek out tele­porter pieces pro­vides the ini­tial chal­lenge. Once you’ve lo­cated a part, you’ll then need to fig­ure out how to dis­tract or de­stroy any guards stand­ing be­tween you and it.

Your op­tions are limited by the re­sources that you’re able to gather from build­ings along the way. On your trav­els, you might find a firearm – a ri­fle, re­volver, shot­gun or blun­der­buss – that al­lows you to con­front hunters di­rectly. You might find an axe and at­tempt a qui­eter ap­proach. Or you might find noise-gen­er­at­ing gad­gets – empty bot­tles, toy trains, an alarm clock, a trom­bone – and go for mis­di­rec­tion. Early ex­per­i­ments with these op­tions are the most ex­cit­ing, and your first suc­cess is likely to mark the game’s high point.

Sir, You Are Be­ing Hunted’s weak­ness is that, de­spite the fo­cus on ran­domly gen­er­ated to­pog­ra­phy, it’s a game about time, not space, since you are run­ning against the clock. Your char­ac­ter has a con­stantly de­plet­ing Vi­tal­ity me­ter that must be topped up with scav­enged food in or­der to main­tain health re­gen­er­a­tion and stave off star­va­tion. The va­ri­ety and den­sity of hunters grows as you progress, and so the pres­sure builds to stay one step ahead of the pack. Op­ti­mal play is there­fore a mat­ter of gath­er­ing each frag­ment as quickly and ef­fi­ciently as

Al­though its chal­lenge might not sur­vive sus­tained play, the sense of be­ing a tres­passer never fades

pos­si­ble. Ex­per­i­men­ta­tion is time-con­sum­ing by na­ture, and thus the most re­ward­ing way to play is also the least ef­fec­tive. In some cases, sim­ply run­ning past ev­ery en­emy is the best way to sur­vive.

The cost of fail­ure is restart­ing at your most re­cent save point – ei­ther those cen­tral stand­ing stones, or at one of the boats that links the cen­tral is­land to its four en­cir­cling ones. The threat of forced back­track­ing can cre­ate real ten­sion when you’re car­ry­ing mul­ti­ple tele­porter frag­ments, or if you come across rare loot in the wilder­ness. The lack of a quick-save op­tion is to the game’s credit, too, cre­at­ing chase sce­nar­ios where you’ll re­ally en­deav­our to es­cape rather than quit­ting to the menu to try again. It’s a stop­gap mea­sure, how­ever, and can’t make up for a gen­eral flaw in the game’s de­sign, namely that im­prov­ing as a player is a case of elid­ing me­chan­ics rather than ex­plor­ing new ones, so that as you progress, you’ll find yourself do­ing less, not more. It’s at your dis­cre­tion to set rules for yourself – no sav­ing, for ex­am­ple – but the struc­ture dis­cour­ages this. Find­ing ev­ery tele­porter piece will take be­tween two and six hours, depend­ing on how quickly you take to the game, mak­ing Sir, You Are Be­ing Hunted too long to be played as a rogue­like. Oc­ca­sion­ally, the sim­u­la­tion will throw a sit­u­a­tion at you that war­rants a di­ver­sion from the crit­i­cal path, such as a fire­fight be­tween ri­val ro­bots that leaves corpses to pick over for ammo. In­volv­ing yourself can be a fast way to die, how­ever.

Sir, You Are Be­ing Hunted’s great­est strength is its at­mos­phere, which war­rants it rec­om­men­da­tion de­spite its flaws as a stealth game. Al­though its chal­lenge might not sur­vive sus­tained play, the sense of be­ing a tres­passer never fades. Its dream­like evo­ca­tion of ru­ral Bri­tain favours styli­sa­tion over re­al­ism, but it’s tremen­dously po­tent nonethe­less. The game’s colour pal­ette sug­gests Bri­tish comic books of the ’80s and ’90s – pas­tel pinks, or­anges and muddy greens that are sharply bi­sected by the an­gry red of a roam­ing ro­botic eye.

Muted back­drops serve to high­light the char­ac­ter­ful sil­hou­ettes of your en­e­mies, from those gan­gly ini­tial hunters to ro­bust town-dwelling squires and squat game­keep­ers. The tow­er­ing landowner, a cane-wield­ing ro­bot trailed by a pack of hounds, is tremen­dous vis­ual short­hand for ‘stay away’. There’s some ex­cel­lent sound de­sign, too, and use of head­phones is es­sen­tial if you want to get the most out of the ex­ten­sive use of au­dio cues. It’s just a shame that this sense of threat doesn’t man­i­fest in ways that re­ally af­fect you as a player.

Sir, You Are Be­ing Hunted needs some­thing more – a change in ob­jec­tive, fo­cus or chal­lenge to sus­tain en­gage­ment be­yond the point when snatch­ing tele­porter pieces from ro­bots on the coast loses its sense of mys­tery. As it is, it’s caught in an awk­ward hin­ter­land of its own.

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