Big Robot’s lead designer James Carey has quite the mission statement for his studio’s firstperson survival game: “We want you to be absolutely scared to death, but laughing at the same time.” After we spend some time with the alpha release – crouching in a crop field, near death and about to blow our Rusty Trombone to distract the robots that are stalking us – it’s apparent that Big Robot is well on the way to striking that particularly tricky balance.
Set on a procedurally generated archipelago of five islands, Sir, You Are Being Hunted opens in the aftermath of an experiment gone awry. You learn from your manservant Walters, who acts as narrator and guide, that the focus of your research – a machine that can return you home – was scattered across the area in an explosion, and you must now track down the 25 parts. Finding them is made slightly easier thanks to the white smoke each hot metal fragment gives off, but there are other, more pressing concerns to deal with along the way.
You share the island with a collection of haughty robots, sporting top hats, hunting jackets and blunderbusses. You are their intended quarry. The mechanical aristocrats patrol these islands, their position betrayed by a distinctive digital chirrup as they march through the fields and woods that separate villages with quaint names like Nimby Knocking and Misty Swelling. If they find a piece of the machine before you, guards will be posted to await your arrival.
If you’re spotted, or heard, the robots will give chase, firing on and searching your last known position. Thankfully, you have plenty of options to swing the balance of the one-sided hunt in your favour. Villages can be looted for supplies, weaponry and ammo, among other things. You’ll need to eat regularly or face slow starvation, and bandages are essential for patching up a bleeding wound. But you’re not the only person searching these structures.
“If the robots walk past any building that has some loot in it that they like, there’s a chance of them stopping and posting guys to guard it,” lead programmer Tom Betts says. “But they like some weird [things]. On the whole the stuff they guard is worthwhile, but you might clear out a well-guarded location only to discover that they were just protecting a stash of trombones.”
You can engage robots in battle, but it’s a risky option better employed when your opponent’s numbers are low. Better to distract them by throwing a glass bottle, scaring flocks of birds from their perches, or lighting a fire at one of the many woodpiles (where it’s also possible to cook game). You can also use bear traps to temporarily disable patrolling robots, finishing them off with an axe.
At the moment there are only three other types of enemies, although more will follow in the run up to full release. The portly Squire will leave you alone unless it spots you looting, and it’s possible to use its desire for a quiet life against other, more aggressive robots. Later on, some parties have dogs with them, while a searchlight-sporting balloon roams the night skies.
Access to the four outlying islands comes from boats that also provide the only other save points besides the stone circle to which you must take your salvaged machinery. Currently, there’s a choice of three biomes from which to generate your world: Rural, Fens and Mountain. These will be joined by Castle and Industrial biomes later on.
In its current state, Sir, You Are Being Hunted’s surreal fusing of Westworld with Last Of The Summer Wine is atmospheric, but its simplistic components offer little of its designer’s intended replay appeal. The coming additions, in particular multiplayer, should infuse the game with the variety and depth it needs – but at the very least, as Carey points out, it will be “the world’s first firstperson trombone game”.