I’ve recently been scampering around the hunting grounds in the upcoming PC game; Sir, You are Being Hunted. The game is currently in early-alpha and I’ve had chance to sink a few hours into it to give you lucky people my initial impressions.
Everything about this game is quintessentially English. From the predominantly fen-like rural setting, to the fact that a flask of tea will almost fully heal you. It instantly feels comfortable, like a pair of old slippers. In front of a fire. With a border collie.
Then you get complacent, and the shooting starts. You’ll be standing at a door in perfect solitude, birds lazily flapping above and the next moment, you’re being peppered with shotgun pellets from an ever increasing wave of robots out for your blood.
Let’s back up a bit though. Sir, You are Being Hunted, is a new game from the (unsurprisingly) very English brains of Big Robot with Jim Rossignol; co founder of the excellent RockPaperShotgun gaming blog to the fore. It puts you as, well, that’s not immediately clear, but you’re someone who’s been in an experiment. It went wrong (as all experiments want to do, I’m a scientist – I know), and now you’re stuck in what appears to be rural England, with nothing but your wits and if you’re lucky; a flask of tea.
You’re tasked with gathering a number of mysterious fragments while dodging robotic hunting parties.The robots that I’ve so far encountered come in a few distinct flavours. There’s the hunting party type, replete with shotguns and smoking pipes. The next flavour, and easily the most dangerous, are the floating blimps. Their searchlights constantly scour the area looking for you; a loud alarm the result of getting too close attracting all hunting parties in range. Penultimately there’s the hunting dog. I’ve only seen one, but it chased me across half the Heath land before pinning me down and I only escaped by jumping off a cliff. Finally, there’s a large robot, possibly modelled on a mayor or lord with what appears to be a large revolver. I say appears as I’m too scared to go anywhere near him….
After a while I decided to start playing with the mechanics to see how things escalate and to see just how dangerous the robots are. Quick and deadly would be the two answers there. You’ll desperately want weapons, but they are exceptionally rare. So far i’ve only found a revolver, two hunting rifles – in the same house, and a broken shotgun. The pistol is nigh on useless, a single robot taking multiple hits to go down. Head shots are exceptionally difficult, so I can’t speak to their effectiveness with the pistol, but with the hunting rifle however it will down a robot in one. Not that that seems to help you though as you’ll soon be swarmed with more robots.
There’s a potential balance element here that will need more attention; the robots seem too quick. They’re exceptionally deadly anyway so giving them what almost seems like comparable speed is a misstep. Whenever I escaped an encounter, usually by the skin of my teeth, the robots generally caught up before I’d had a chance to heal or loot a new house. The answer in these instances is to just run further, but then you often just blunder into another hunting party or move so far that it will negate any advantage you gained from drawing the original party away from the little hamlet you were invariably aiming for. You see, they’re very good at spotting you out of cover, but moving in cover is slow, so escaping requires running which just guarantees you’ll be spotted again. At times it can be a vicious circle which only ends in your death. This wouldn’t be as bad were it not for the fact that you are forced into encounters about a third into the game, as the majority of the hunting party’s move to guard duty on the very houses you need to loot to survive. When you find another party guarding the artefact you need, things just feel a bit unfair.
I have one more worry: I’m just not sure just how much game there is here. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great stalking through an area, trying to get past the robots to gather up fragments and supplies, but will it still be fun after twenty goes? Or thirty? I’m just not sure.
The feedback you get is good though, a simple interface keeps track of your items, health, vitality and ‘stealth level’, the latter only being slightly undone by the ambiguity over just how far and accurately the robots can see. It’s simple with the blimp- as it’s got a spotlight to indicate its cone of vision, but nothing so easy to define with the robots. Even though the robots have red shining eyes there seems to be no relation between that and whether you’ll get spotted. Perhaps a similar mechanic to the balloon’s search light could be employed here.
That aside, it does a LOT well. The sense of fear and dread is at times palpable, and the graphics, although simple, can often be staggeringly beautiful. It is still in early alpha, so this is all subject to change and indeed, the issues that concern me may be very easy to fix. It may be overly simplistic just to hope that the pay-off from evading the robots will be enough to keep the game interesting over the mid-term. If you had more ways to distract the robots, or perhaps turn one to your side, then I think things would be more interesting. Giving the player a larger toolset in these circumstances is always a good thing. The random nature of the items could still be kept, but with more options than simply run or hide, I think a lot more could be wrung out of the experience.
Overall though I think this game has great promise. The basis of a very solid title is already here, and i’m genuinely excited to see how it develops. It’s just what is done with this from now that will decide whether its a game to hunt for (so so sorry) or one to miss.