Scan Complete: Sir, You Are Being Hunted

It was way back in September of last year that I first took a look at the then Early Access open world stealth game Sir, You Are Being Hunted (http://scanlinemedia.com/?p=1078). My opinion of the game at the time was less than flattering- simply put, it was kind of boring. An Early Access game is by its very nature incomplete, and it’s not entirely fair to review it like a finished product, but I don’t think we have any obligation to assume that all the problems we see in it will clear up by the time it hits 1.0 either. It’s a great opportunity I have, then, to take a game I played and wrote about when it first hit Early Access, that is now “final” and released. Checking back in with Sir, what is there to say about it now?

Well, for starters, a lot of those problems haven’t been solved. The game eventually brings in more dangerous foes for you, but until it does, the islands you’re stranded on are covered with the basic huntsmen robots, who are a joke. I’m not referring to their comical design, though that is mildly amusing- my concern is instead the way an encounter with them plays out. Their AI and arsenal is so insufficient that if you have ANY means of offense whatsoever, you can take them apart in no time. Often, the procedural generation’s quirks mean that you don’t have any offense- I played a run where I visited three of the five islands over an hour and a half and did not find a single weapon. The next run I found a hatchet in short order, and the hunters were no longer any kind of threat. Their shots are pathetically predictable and easy to dodge, so with a little strafing you can blitz them, hack twice, and they transform into a pile of scrap. A boringly binary fight with your animatronic foes.

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When it chooses to amp things up, the game doesn’t get more interesting, it just gets harder. The gamekeeper robot has a robotic hound at his beck and call, which runs faster than you can and stuns you when it bites you… then runs away after a single bite. Given its speed and hitbox, shooting it (assuming you have a surprisingly-hard-to-find gun) is tricky, so it’s usually better to just take the bite, and then resume running when it bizarrely loses interest. There’s a robo-kraken in the water that doesn’t seem to obey any observable rules of engagement- usually it pops up when you’re nowhere near the water, flails for a bit, then vanishes- there’s a portly robot that doesn’t attack unless you attack first for some reason… none of the enemies are interesting to fight or especially challenging to avoid. On the whole, the game’s vaunted “learning AI” is just tedious to engage with.

The islands constructed by the level generator are barren and empty, with very little to do or see. The visual design is unique, but quickly grows tiresome- yes, grey robots on a vomit-colored sky is rarely seen and thus stands out, but the reason it’s not seen more often is because it looks bad. Even then, the style is inconsistent- in a world of Victorian steampunk, a modern day wind turbine is jarring and strange, and when the big red button on its base is non-interactable the player ends up even more confused. Why would you add a big button that you cannot press? Why is it there? Why are all the town signs in a jarring Arial font on a white background? Why is this promising concept with neat ideas so sloppy?

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That’s what it comes down to- the game is full of cool little features and seeds of greatness that were cultured by a team that simply didn’t have the skill or experience to make them what they deserved to be. There is a ridiculous amount of charm and potential in Sir. You can find a trombone and use the scroll wheel to control the slide, so that you play the full range of notes found on a real trombone. You can grab an alarm clock, manually set the alarm, and use it to lure huntsmen into a field of bear traps. The sound design for the robots is spectacular, with iconic and evocative sounds immediately informing you of the presence of hunters, and when they become alerted. The animations (except the clumsy backpedalling when the robots try to back away) are lively and amusing, with the clockwork high-stepping of the hunters on patrol causing the rifles on their shoulders to bounce slightly. It’s a funny game, it’s at times a fun game, and it’s thoroughly charming. I wish I didn’t have to sit here and tear it down, because I do like Sir, You Are Being Hunted. I just like it in spite of itself.

If you want to try something fresh, something different and interesting, Sir, You Are Being Hunted is absolutely worth a look. It amuses both in humorous tone and in satisfyingly unrestricted exploration, triggering that discovery itch- there are a lot of new ideas on display, though they are small rather than industry-changing. But if you’re like so many of us, drowning in options, with a dozen great games vying for your attention, you should probably give Sir a pass. In either case, you’ll walk away disappointed- the only question is if you had better things to do in the meantime.