I don’t know exactly what’s in the house at the base of the cliff I’m standing on, but there are enough robots guarding it to tell me it’s something valuable. As the aristocratic mechanical sentinels stalk back and forth across the grounds, I grab my binoculars and scope them out. There are at least 6 or 7 down there, far more than I can hope to take on, so I’ll have to distract them somehow.
Fortunately enough, I’d picked up a trombone earlier that should be fitting for the occasion. Standing at the edge of the cliff, I blare out a simple tune that echoes hauntingly across the valley beneath. The robots are instantly alerted, and head towards the noise at speed, rifles loaded. Meanwhile, I sneak down the other side, sprint to the house and grab my prize – a sniper. Ducking out of sight of the few robots who stayed behind, I head back out into the bleak world of Sir, You Are Being Hunted.
The game’s basic premise boils down to little more than a series of fetch quests through a hostile, procedurally generated world. You begin each game with the mysterious narrator telling you that his experiment has failed. He’s fled the island, abandoning you, and your only hope of escape is to collect fragments of a machine that have been scattered across the game, and bring them back to a set of ruins at the centre of the map.
While this sounds very simple, there’s a hidden depth to Sir that the first hour with the game only hints at. The world is full of a variety of items offering a reasonable breadth of potential strategies. If you want to try to go toe-to-toe with the game’s robotic guards, you can collect up both melee and ranged weapons. If stealth is more your thing, there are plenty of items that you can use to create distractions such as an alarm clock and the aforementioned trombone.
While the gameplay offers some depth, world-building is possibly one of the weakest aspects of Sir. Although there are areas of the procedurally-generated maps that look pretty, much of what you’ll see feels shallow and empty, bathed in the dull greys, greens and browns that defined late-90s action games. Attempts have been made to suggest the existence of a once-inhabited world through the inclusion of small settlements and houses dotted around the map, but these are mostly just shells, offering little realism. It’s a shame, as encounters in these spaces are often the most rewarding moments of the game, and I feel that would only have been improved on by giving the player greater access to them.
The strength of Sir, then, lies with the robots. From the earliest moments of the game, their menace is nearly constantly felt, even when they’re out of sight. Their success comes from the fact that they feel incredibly alien, pursuing you with an inhuman detachment. Their movement is deliberately awkward and jaunty, their communication reduced down to the most basic rudiments of language. Their red eyes are cold and automated in a world that does its best to feel organic. Often they’re entirely silent, scuttling around (or sometimes gliding over) the world in their never-ending hunt.
Crucially though, the robots also feel fiercely intelligent. It’s rare to find them wandering aimlessly around the world, and even rarer to find them on their own. Robots hunt in packs, and if they find something of value they stay close because they know you’ll come looking eventually. Only once did I find a robot by itself, and even then it was guarding a fragment, forcing me to use up some resources to sneak past it. Mostly though, groups of five or more can be found patrolling houses or villages, meaning that making progress is often incredibly dangerous. While robots aren’t particularly fast, they’re reasonably accurate, and are pretty decent at finding you once you’ve been spotted. They tend to shoot on sight, with the noise often drawing in nearby allies, so you can be quickly overwhelmed if you overcommit to an objective. As such, fighting is rarely an option, as while it’s possible to take on one or two enemies at once if you catch them unawares, groups that are any larger will quickly cause problems. With healing resources rare at best and actively dangerous at worst, misdirection tends to be the most reliable way of moving around the map. You’re made to feel outnumbered, outmanoeuvred and out-gunned at almost any given moment. It’s an important part of the game making you feel like the victim.
Sir, You Are Being Hunted takes a bit of time to warm up, but there’s some genuinely good ideas present in its first hour that offer plenty of potential to build on. Its weakness lies in its world. An often barren, colourless map is admittedly in keeping with Sir’s menacing aesthetic, but it feels at odds with the far more charismatic robots, and is too large for the game’s inherent simplicity. Sir lets you know that the world you’re in isn’t going to be fair on you, but the opportunities it gives itself to let you work with that are few and far between.