Sir, You Are Being Hunted
Reviewed on: PC
Reviewer: Maiyannah Bishop
Review Play-Time: 10h
Developer: Big Robot Games
Publisher: Big Robot Games
Review Published: 2021-02-07
+ Potential for some really memorable encounters
+ Interesting variety of tools to approach steal with
+ Great and appropriate themeing
+ Well-performed narration
- Stealth itself is fairly humdrum
- Player can snowball easily with good RNG
- Really spotty production value on some audio
Editor's Note: Some typos in the abstract of this review have been corrected since the release of the review. Thank you to the reader whom caught what we missed!
Sir, You Are Being Hunted is an open-world stealth survival game developed and published by Big Robot Games. Some of you are probably wondering why I'm reviewing this so late, this is definitely not a new game, as it came out, well, frankly around the time I started doing Highland Arrow - but this was always one I wanted to write on, as I had a fair bit to say about it, but something was always in the way - there was always something more pressing, or something subscribers were asking for now, but there was always pretty consistently a few people who, knowing my penchant for stealth games, wanted to know what I have to say about this game. Well, struggling more than a little to put my thoughts on Cyberpunk 2077 to words in that review seemed like as good a time as any to finally tackle this very prickly game. Even as someone who loves the genre, I found plenty of thorns on this rose, and while I still do kind of think it is worthy of that description, those are particularly sharp and numerous thorns, and I find myself neither able to recommend it wholeheartedly, nor condemn it with the strong polemics I know people favour on the internet. But that's not what we're here for, I should think, there's much more entertaining people on YouTube do the funny memes about a game, its the analysis we came for, so lets get down to it shall we?
Sir, You Are Being Hunted bills itself as a "freedom sandbox stealth experience" and at least one word in that is an outright lie. Indeed, the very premise of the game, the tension it invites, comes at the expense of that freedom - you are constantly having to find ways around the robots that are indeed hunting you. So, we're already starting off on a bad foot here. And to acknowledge my own biases, this game was hyped to high heavens in certain circles I don't need to name about how great it is, and I'll tell you what, when those kinds of publications hype a game, it tends to make me more suspicions than hyped. But, you know, despite that I played about 8 hours of this when I first set out to review it slightly after release. I remember having a fair bit of fun, but also getting frustrated and kind of giving up. I kind of said: this game is damaging my calm too much, so I set it aside, intending to come back to it when I had more of a compunction to break everything down for review. And well, I guess I did, it just took me almost 8 years to get to it.
Coming back to the game after a while, a few things have definitely changed since then: the performance stuttering which was one of my chief annoyances seems to have been sorted out, there a lot more options for the game and display (though these are still fairly sparse) and there's now multiplayer. I don't have the prerequisite number of friends to roll my own multiplayer and there was literally no one playing it the handful of instances I tried looking at the public listings, so we're not going to comment on that much. Maybe its amazing, but I'll never know. As to the options, we'll circle back to that, lets talk about the game-play first.
The core stealth is serviceable, but shallow
Cutting to the heart of the gun-play is the stealth element. It is disappointingly your standard crab-walk steal for the most part. Avoid light, stay out of line of sight of the hunter robots, and avoid standing unrevealed for too long. Indeed, when there are hunters nearby, its actually usually more efficient, if you have the tools at hand, to simply dispatch them, rather than try to sneak past and evade them. This is often the case in these games, when stealth isn't an instant fail state, since sneaking is time-consuming and fighting usually isn't. In this case, which it needs a weapon of some sort, and you have to work out something of a proper pattern to dodge enemy attacks to be successful in engaging them, once you do, most of the standard encounters become trivial in nature.
I have to admit, this is the core failing of the game, or perhaps not failing per-se, but having such a fundamental element of your game be so humdrum is vexing. It's done well - there's a good soundscape telling you when things are clear, the robots give clear indication when they've found you that if you're paying attention won't surprise you, and so there was never such an encounter that really felt unfair. The AI is not particularly clever, but they will punish you for not paying attention to the stealth or getting greedy trying to grab something, so it presents enough of a challenge. There's a HUD indicator about visibility so it's not left up to the ineffable mechanations of fate or some sort of RNG. This is all good stuff - but it cannot really overcome the fact that the stealth itself just breaks down to the green light/red light sort of carefully and slowly walking out of sight. It ... becomes dull after a while, even for yours truly, who can probably do Life of the Party in her sleep.
Stealth in and of itself isn't the only facet of the challenge offered by the game, however: you have to escape, and to do so, you basically have to pilfer magic rocks to charge the magical moongate circles or whatever they are like Stonehenge batteries or somesuch; I have to admit there was indeed lore for these in the game, but mostly skipped it so I didn't become breakfast for the robot dog that was chasing me when it was being told to me, so I can't say that I either know it, or frankly, care about it, if I'm being honest. Nonetheless, this gives you pressure to scavenge from the various little towns in the game, and so you have a pressure on you beyond simply evading the robots. Indeed, the towns have all manner of useful items, such as food, bandages, and the like.
Early encounters are memorable, but lose their luster
You'll want to seek the towns out and ensure that you can pilfer them for necessary supplies, and with that, comes the risk of detection: either by the hunter robots, or one of the more interesting confrontations: the Squire. The Squire actually isn't hostile to begin with: only becoming aggressive if you enter the little town under their protection, after which they become one of the more difficult encounters you can have: you can't use the traps you find on them as they're too sturdy, their hits will make you flinch significantly, and they will hunt you relentlessly once engaged. Further onto the game, once you have the actual rifle, or some dynamite explosives, they are less of a threat, but unless RNG particularly favours you, then you're going to have a tough time with them when you come across them. The first time I did was probably my most memorable encounter in the game, becoming a game of cat and mouse between the houses of that small town, taking potshots with him with a revolver I'd found and himself back at me. It came down to the wire, with him getting the better of me with one particularly meaty shot and leaving me almost dead, and I finally got him, my reward being healing items I expended just getting my arse back on and a some food and ammo. I loved this encounter, and the Squire in general: being a robot that isn't actively hunting you, it makes you choose between having a fight to accumulate resources, sneaking around him and very cautiously plundering his guarded town, or avoiding the town entirely. It made me strategize a lot more than most of the rest of the game did.
This left the game trying to bottle lightning again with its other encounters, and while the Landowner robot you come across later was as difficult, it wasn't as harrowing, because when you survive that far into the game, you are well-prepared for such an encounter, or frankly you would not have got that far. Indeed, there definitely is a player power creep such that by the later group, as long as you are being intelligent in your fights: minding your positioning and carefully picking off individuals, you won't be much challenged. The second half of the the frustration I felt earlier is that the game felt obstructive: it doesn't seem to really understand how to adjust difficulty in a meaningful fashion as the player's power increases, so in lieu of more challenging opponents, it just dumps more of them. This is often the kind of difficulty ramp that feels lazy, and it definitely does so in this case. Rather than having to learn new skills to cope and adapt, or have to be more skillful in my use of firearms, the method I found of having an axe, waiting until a robot is isolated, and circle-strafing until I win, carried me through pretty much every encounter in the game. And so more robots did not feel like I was being pressed harder, but rather that the game was dragging things out longer.
The ultimate encounter, or the one I considered thus, is the Rider: a robot mounted on some steam-engine sounding metal horse, that will attempt to run you down. The rider is emblematic of this problem in that becomes obstructive. This isn't a dangerous threat so much as a road-bump, as it is actually fairly easy to lose the rider in a town, where it cannot easily fit itself in many of the nooks and crannies, giving you plenty of opprotunity to pick off the actual rider himself. There is a somewhat of a challenge in getting the rider rather than heavily-armoured train-horse-thing, but beyond that, it's actually one of the easier encounters so long as you detect them far enough out to make your move. And - that's where some unfairness does come up, or at least, it certainly felt unfair when the game seemed to be spawning them in behind me not all that far away at all. The game having a clear and crisp soundscape actually hurts it sometimes in this regards, as it makes it doing things like that more obvious.
Getting yourself going is the hard part
All of the above is not to say that the beginning of the game is not without difficulty, indeed, bootstrapping a run is usually the most challenging part. This follows a traditional sort of rogue-like trajectory in my experience: while the game starts out with a large perspective, many threats, and a lot to understand and manage. As you come more to grips with the mechanics, and what gives you better results, you have less and less challenge with the game itself. You get better in terms of judging encounters, you get more tools to deal with the various encounters, and you have more options open to you. Roughness in the beginning comes especially from lack of food because usually you'll need to get through at least a couple towns to have an appreciable supply of something worth eating. This renders the normal hunter robots and their dogs perhaps one of the more severe threats to the player, due to them being what stands between you and getting yourself going. Once you have some appropriate tools, you can snowball pretty hard.
You do end up with a handful of tools: you can find an axe, a revolver, a blunderbuss rifle, bear traps, pick up shotguns from the hunters, or rarely, find sticks of dynamite. Any of these allow you to stick it to the robots pretty well as long as you try to engage them in singles or pairs; the threat in combat comes more from numbers, as it is inevitable to get hit if you get several of them after you. The one thing the AI is very good at, is in flanking you when they have groups, so you always want to keep it down. But so long as you are patient and wait for an opening, even the axe can make quick work of them with the circle-strafe-agogo tactic mentioned above. Other tools include binoculars to see at a distance, bandages to staunch bleeding from hits, scanners to detect the robots, and pieces of map to fill in said with details. Finally you have pliers to free yourself from the bear traps if you do step on one, though that's easy enough to avoid as long as you're careful, and I ended up using them to disable them instead.
The production values of the game punch well above their weight - mostly
So if you've gotten this far, you might be asking yourself: if the gameplay is as "just ok" as this description seems to say, then why did this game get so very much positive press at release? Well, firstly, it did the circuit of youtube influencers and it's hard not to end up in a bit of a feedback loop - but more importantly, and more pertinently to the review, the game is really well-put-together in the production sense: the themeing is good, the artwork is well executed, and while the technical graphics were well below median even at the time of release, they knew their limitations and worked an art style out that respected their limitations.
Art style is always something of a subjective value judgement, so I can understand if people are not overly fond of that of Sir, You Are Being Hunted, however whether you love or hate it one has to concede that it finds a certain unique voice of its own, so to speak. Moreover, the silhouetting is strong and therefore enemies remain uniquely-identifiable even at a great distance, which is important to the stealth, or at a lower resolution, for those playing on older machines. There wasn't much of a soundtrack, but what is there is all the more noticable for it, and there's definitely a look and feel that the game reaches for that's well above what most indie studios of this kind of size generally accomplish - and they do it with something fairly unique.
Most of the themeing of the game revolves around imagery of rural England, evoking the feeling of the traditional English aristrocracy's fox hunt - and nothing does so with more vigour than what I can only describe as the aggressively posh-English accent of the narrator, who delivers each line masterfully and with a steadfast stiff upper lip that succeed masterfully at creating the impression it sets out to. It's a little let down by the one crack in the production of the game - poor audio mastering is rife pretty much across the board - but never present so much as to detract from any of the aforementioned. Whomever voiced this chap did a spot-on job, and it conveys the feeling as well as the art style.