I creep in close to make sure the shots hit. Strafing out from behind a rock, I land four bullets of six. A second of triumph, before I realise they got me right back. Bleeding out, I turned to the nearby church, hammering shift like it’s pressure sensitive, eyes darting between the health gauge and the exterior of the building. No door on this side. 10 and falling. The right side is closer, there’s the door, but it wouldn’t…it does! Bandages!
Double clicking to add them to inventory, I back out and feel for the H key…
Too late. Dead. There are cries of anguish from behind me as I relinquish the headphones and re-enter the real world. “If only you’d used them from the inventory…”
People like robots. The ascription of Titanfall may be a bit shaky, but from the mechs of many people’s game of the show to Wolfenstein’s alternate timeline tech, hulking war machines are making a big comeback.
In development terms, Sir, You are Being Hunted couldn’t be much further from those next-gen shooters. Big Robot’s three man team, headed up by Rock Paper Shotgun founder Jim Rossignol, have been working on the game for close to a year. The result is a Steam early access title that’s under constant scrutiny and refinement.
It’s in pretty good shape already. I played the game for a good hour with all three developers at our backs. By its nature, I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen for a second.
You’re fighting moustachioed robots with top hats. Yet you could easily argue that it does jump scares better and makes dying more meaningful than any horror game on the market
First and foremost, Sir is a survival simulator. It’s about an English country gentleman, and the lengths to which one might go when faced with an army of similarly genteel robots. Much like Slender: The Eight Pages, you collect parts of a teleporter as a means of escape, the game becoming progressively harder as your quest proceeds. In every other aspect, it’s entirely different.
You start in the centre of five procedurally generated islands, the landscape of each new game world randomised. While seeking out the teleporter fragments and returning them to the ‘stone circle’ is your primary goal, there’s also a need to replenish your stamina with food items, and health with rare bandages.
To this end, you’re driven to the small villages and other, more isolated buildings on the hilly terrain. And the robots know it, sending an increasing number of patrols and various helpers to protect these vital clusters.
Chatting with lead programmer Tom Betts, one of the biggest surprises for them watching people play was just how tense the game got them. There’s an inherent urgency to Sir, and an equally old school approach to checkpoints, with manual saves only when crossing to another island, but horror seems never to have entered the equation.
You’re fighting moustachioed robots with top hats. Yet you could easily argue that it does jump scares better and makes dying more meaningful than any horror game on the market.
The low-fi, low budget approach may put some people off at £15/$20, but this constitutes so much of what makes the game great. The developers clearly considered the idea of explorable houses very carefully, and decided against it just because of the difficulties in doing so. But the way doors only act to bolster your inventory adds to the sense of loneliness and danger. You’re always outside, always susceptible. And always running.
You’ll go a long way to find a more frantic hour of gameplay – and that’s just the point where I died. With only the terrain and the odd wall to hide behind, you’re perpetually scouting the horizon, cranking the volume up on your headphones for that first beep that signifies nearby robots.
There’s also the constant awareness that the more time ticks past, the more enemies spawn, and the more dangerous they get. After twenty minutes or so, the patrols gain guard dogs; quieter and quicker sentries, but more easily dispatched. The guy who resumed my save lasted a bare minute before one jumped him from behind.
How you react to a single event can define your entire playthrough
Even the fetching of parts is complicated by that ever-present spectre of survival horror: inventory management. Sir’s no System Shock 2; the interface and gameplay are relatively simple to grasp. But even the most basic choices of which loot to keep and experimentation with food items are refreshing in a loosely termed FPSRPG.
In truth, the ‘shooter’ doesn’t get much of a look-in. Your pistol starts with six rounds, and the reticule is deliberately, prohibitively small. In scarcely attempting to be a shooter, the game delivers more quandaries than much else out there. Engaging in combat becomes an on-the-spot assessment of ammo in relation to robots, how close to get, and whether the damage in doing so is repairable.
It’s these moments that elevate a clever concept to a truly wonderful title. How you react to a single event can define your entire playthrough. The direction you run off in, what you choose to keep, the moments of panic and experimentation with combinations of weapons, traps and lures.
There isn’t an enormous amount of content thus far, but the unyielding difficulty and demands of an AI that actively seeks you out lead to a constant trial-and-error approach. Your enemies won’t leave you alone if you hide behind a house, either, demanding lengthy pursuits through obstructive scenery. They’ll even occasionally fight each other, creating diversions where you might otherwise have been encircled.
Play a game like FTL, and you know what certain systems promise, what particular responses to an event are going to yield. With every new outing of Sir, there’s a whole different environment to explore – and the Hunters always have the upper hand. It’s a challenge that I’m jolly well happy to take up.