Sir, You Are Being Hunted – What We Think:
While we included this stylized first person stealth shooter in our Most Anticipated Games for 2014 list, the game has now matured to an official version 1 release which means I feel justified in reviewing the game in earnest for what it has become.
You are on a remote island among a series of similar islands in some kind of alternate universe British archipelago, and are tasked with seeking out runes to aggregate into assembling some kind of power stone that will allow you to escape.
Starve Run Out Of Food
You are starving and in a survival mode, so you must seek out sustenance and supplies from abandoned houses whilst avoiding highly sensitive tin men that patrol the muted landscape, ready to kill you on sight.
Lest these Victorian-dressed mechanical nightmares fail to set your nervous system to stun, there are also dogs and
dirigibles hot air balloons on patrol, so simply biding your time in the deathly pallor of the underbrush just won’t do for long, particularly because your Vitality is constantly dropping at a rather alarming rate. Much of the game is spent creeping around, as your meager defenses prove generally futile in countering these patrols.
You can use various methods of distraction like throwing a glass bottle or an alarm clock away from you, alerting the tin men and drawing them from a desired point of interest.
The Hunted Becomes the Hunter
Once you have acquired some weapons, however, this changes. Armed with a rifle or shotgun you can wander around with a little more command over the outcome of such encounters. Just remember to reload between encounters as reload times are satisfyingly tedious (I tend to be a stickler for the realism of such details). The game’s strong leanings on stealth become far less relevant once you are in possession of a ranged weapon, and thus, in extending to this domain, the game could improve on its hybrid FPS/stealth nature.
If I had a wish, it is that there were also an encumbrance factor added to the game – for example run speeds could be affected not only by what you have in your inventory, but also what weapon you are holding in your hands.
Follow The Jaundiced Mortar Path
The aesthetics remind me of Return to Oz – that fever dream of a movie that brought clockwork Steampunk aesthetics and Fairuza Balk into the pantheon of Frank L. Baum‘s film adaptations. I bring up this comparison because Sir, You Are Being Hunted manages to invoke a similar combination of wonder and dread as that film. It also manages to induce periods of boredom, frustration and anxiety inducing chase scenes.
Glowing blue Will O’ Wisps not only add a magical flair to the dreary vistas but also offer nicely subtle hints as to the location of remaining machine parts/runes you seek.
Sir, You Are Being Vague
While Sir has managed to do some things quite well, it lacks any real narrative depth, save any that might develop from your own imagination. The setting did remind me of John Christopher’s “The White Mountains” and Tripods series of books, but only because that was a favorite of mine, growing up. There are hints about a very grim past however, peppered throughout via mailed letters you might pick up along with other subtle cues from cleverly distressed road signs. I won’t spoil those breadcrumbs here.
Narrative aside, the magical nugget that purports to set this title apart, however, is that the actual islands from which you are attempting desperately to escape, are procedurally generated, thus rendering every playthrough a “unique” experience. Because of this, there is no real way to defer to a walkthrough to save your hide. You must be alert, aware and cunningly ruthless, or ruthlessly cunning to outwit and outpace your pursuers.
The problem I find is that it really doesn’t make the game more interesting. I can only imagine how dull it might become if the islands were the same every time, but for all the programming ingenuity required to move things around a bit, it isn’t the big feature that one might hope for.
In order to survive, you must salvage stuff from various buildings, barrels and boxes. None of these are more than window-dressed crates. Inside you may find a flashlight or bear trap, matches or a food item. You will also find a lot of “useless junk” that really does serve no purpose beyond forcing you to manage your inventory or painstakingly drag and drop any good stuff into your grid based inventory box. It is essentially flavor art with little value adding benefits.
The inventory system is my least favorite element in the game’s current release. I found it clunky and buggy; often the labels on items wouldn’t display (and then would under the same circumstances).
Doesn’t Pass The Sniff Test
Food may be found in one of three states – edible, dubious or junk. You can take a chance on dubious stuff, but in almost all cases I found it dropped my vitality by a lot, and so, again, mostly its just useless, and not a very interesting system.
There is a provisional crafting mechanic in the game; if you find a fire pit, and you have a one-use match, you can light a fire and cook any game or fowl flesh you may have on hand. Lighting a fire will cause a big old flame and the smoke will alert others to your presence for a great distance.
Sir, You Are Being Streamlined
Something about this game still feels unfinished. Since I first played this game in beta, more patrol types have been added, as have several new starting characters, which are really just inventory shortcuts that allow you to start with a variety of item lists to save you some salvaging time.
Despite the fact that the patrols are nicely done, and there are some real moments of excitement, there is just a lot of sameness about the world. Nonetheless, if you stick with it, the experience does tend to linger after you have shut down your play session. As you might infer, I am a little divided about the cumulative effect overall.
I tried to play the game with an XBOX controller, but found it trying at best. I didn’t have the precision or even enough options to manage all the different actions required to stealth, run, attack, inventorize, use the hotkey assignments and craft for it to be comfortable. Moreover, in Big Picture mode on Steam, I found any text-based popups to be too small to read from any distance, so I eventually went back to keyboard and mouse controls.
The real design stars here, are twofold: the sound design and the enemy AI.
The eerie music – presented via the 3D sound design – really enhances the world but more importantly offers important cues for what is going on in the world around you. The robots give off bleeps and blips to indicate when they have spotted you in which case playing possum may be your best option for staying alive. I’d even go so far as to say this game wouldn’t work with the sound off. In this sense it is reminiscent of Amnesia which also relied heavily on auditory stereo and proximity effects.
In regards to the AI, the riflemen are a truly fearsome lot. Their aggro range is huge and will seek you out in non-repetitive, dynamic methods long after you have drawn their attention. Not all creeps are as clever, some in fact do myopic patrols along paths. But those that do seek you out legitimately keep you on your toes. In other words if WoW’s Murlocs had this level of AI, Stormwind’s noob zone would be a truly dangerous and heart-pounding affair.
After much ballyhoo, I must admit that ultimately, once I had caught my breath, I found I was rather…how might one put it…nonplussed. I found there to be too much style too little substance and this is underscored by the game’s own sales pitch – “Powerful, brutal AI! Tea and biscuits!”
Lest it seem like I don’t like the game: I must state for the record that I, in fact, did have my moments of obsession with it, all the while wishing so desperately for it to be expanded, smoothed out and iterated further. There is huge potential here and so my final score is based solely on the fact that I look forward to that potential being gradually realized by the fine ole’ chaps at Big Robot.
Watch the “Sir, You Are Being Hunted: v1.0 Release Trailer”