Your merciless foes
Jim Rossignol of Rock Paper Shotgun also runs a game company, called Big Robot. For one month last year, Big Robot ran a kickstarter project to fund their game Sir, You Are Being Hunted (now available both directly from Big Robot and through Steam). I backed that project. This summer, just a few days ago in fact, Big Robot released an alpha of their game to their backers. Can you see where I’m going with this? Good.
What follows is a collection of my first impressions of Sir, You Are Being Hunted, a game about traipsing across faux-British countryside in search of important MacGuffins while being mercilessly pursued by a very large number of robots with guns.
First things first, I should remind everyone reading this that the material I am playing with is in alpha. As Big Robot so conscientiously points out on their opening splash screen, the game itself is not finalized and there are plenty of placeholder assets in use. And while they insist that there’s much more to be done, the truth is that they already have a fun (and really f***ing hard) game.
I want to start with the environmental bits; watching the sun crawl into the sky is a delight, its reddish rays peering up over the horizon and casting moving shadows across the world as I frantically scan for spotting balloons. The weather is convincingly dreary, with rain sweeping in every so often just to freshen things up a bit. And though the day cycle is surprisingly speedy, the night and day effects are quite nice as eye-candy. I’ve spent a good while just staring at sun- and moonrise, at sun- and moonset, stalking through the gloom by the light of will-o’-the-wisps, and lots of time quavering and watching the grayish pastels of the sky as I crouch in tall grass and wait for a patrol to pass me by. One thing that I noticed was that night and day don’t actually offer tremendously different light levels at the moment, so it’s never so dark that you can’t see. I’m perfectly ok with this, however, since I spend so much time staring through binoculars and trying to get visual confirmation on the positions of various robots that having things get truly dark would be painful.
I also spend a great deal of time listening to the world around me. Big Robot claims that they still have a good deal to do on the audio, and I look forward to seeing what they come up with, but your ears are already your most important asset in this game. The tweedling beeps of the robots will quickly engender fear and caution, and you will learn to reflexively throw yourself down in shrubs at the first sound of a robot alerting to your presence. Bird song and cawing crows simply add to the milieu. According to the devs, you can do tricksy things with crows in such a way as to distract the robots, but I have yet to master the fine art of specific crow-scaring. Which is to say that I stumble across them at the wrong moment and pull more robots down on top of me.
The robots all have hilarious things to say, commenting on the new taxes, their wealth, how lovely a day it is for a hunt, etc. Big Robot is quite cruel to have made it so rewarding to try to listen in on them, since we all know how that one ends. I was tremendously confused the first time I ran into a robo-hound, but then I grinned as it started gnawing on me because I finally realized what it was that I had heard. You see, there’s no attempt to make a robotic dog noise: instead, the dogs quite simply say “Bark” in a voice much like those of the other robots.
And then the dog ran back to its master and brought a patrol of robots down on me, and thus went another game. I’m afraid I’ve been dying fairly frequently. In fact, that reminds me of another note in favor of the game; nearly every death has felt momentous. I usually see it coming about 30 seconds ahead of time, but despite the fact that my life appears to be so cheap (listening to the robots congratulating each other on bagging me in their buzzing British tones really rubs that in), I nearly always feel deeply invested in staying alive. Each death forces me to pause, and I often have to take a break and relax before I plunge back in.
I die so frequently for several reasons. For one thing, outsmarting robots is hard, and there are lots of them, and they show up everywhere. Ok, maybe that was several things. You have a few minutes at the beginning of each game to rush about and scrounge up what you can before the robots arrive and begin their malicious wanderings. After that, most of the machine fragments you’re seeking (those MacGuffins I mentioned earlier) are guarded by at least two robots, and other robots patrol around most houses or other potentially valuable areas. All of this makes collecting the many things you’ll need to survive a great deal more difficult, if by difficult I mean potentially lethal.
Also, well done Big Robot for including a button which allows you to change your gender on the menu. A simple click, and suddenly Sir, You Are Being Hunted is now Madam, You Are Being Hunted. Even better, the voiceover in the intro reflects this change, addressing you as Madam as well. The only sticking point here is that I think the robots still referred to me as male while I was playing as Madam. This is somewhat more acceptable, since I can imagine British gentlemen hunting-robots being remarkably callous and uncaring about their prey (they already are), but aren’t most hunters pretty aware of the sex of the thing that they are hunting? That’s part of why we have such distinct names for male and female animals, isn’t it?
The only thing that I can think of at the moment that I really really want, to make my life in this game easier, is an automatic inventory shuffling device. Wasting time fiddling with my inventory as I try to loot food and escape is all well and good as a tension device, but having to keep my inventory in tip-top shape just so I don’t get caught with my proverbial pants down is a little wearing after a while. And perhaps there might be something I could find to carry additional goodies? Or even a strap for my binoculars, so that I don’t have to take up those extra four squares of space and can instead sling them on my chest. Your binoculars are probably more valuable than any gun you’ll ever find, even though I don’t always act like it, so being able to carry them and free up that space seems worthwhile. Four squares of inventory space is 8 shotgun shells, or two hams, or even bandages and whiskey! These things are important.
I know this is just an alpha, and I know that there’s supposed to be a good deal more to do, but this is already a very fun game. If you like the idea of sneaking about, judiciously distracting and / or murdering your robotic enemies, and fleeing across the countryside while you try to rebuild your mysterious device, this is most definitely the game for you.
FLEEING FROM GENTLEMEN ROBOTS IS HARD. THEY ARE CRUEL AND CALLOUS BEASTS, AS ARE THEIR ROBO DOGS.
Oh, and just a pro-tip to anyone else who wants to try this out… running down a robot with an ax is hard. When you have the ax, I mean. If you don’t drop them immediately, they’ll just keep backpedaling while their compatriots pump you full of buckshot. I found this out the hard way.