Sir, You Are Being Hunted
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.