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Sir, You Are Being Hunted | Preview

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I knew I’d want Sir, You Are Being Hunted from the moment I first heard about it. Single player PC survival game set in procedurally generated English countryside? Tweed-punk. Robots. Cotswolds. Sign me up. So I signed up and backed the Kickstarter. I’m in the closed alpha. I backed the game on Kickstarter and bought my way into the closed alpha bracket.

Disclosure: I don’t believe that backing the Kickstarter compromises my impartiality, but consider this statement made.

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England has always been hyped up in the colonies, and I’m a bit of a romantic when it comes to the British countryside. I grew up in a small coastal town, surrounded by dairy farms. During winter the wind howled along the hills and carried the green chill of fields. But Australia is just too warm to emulate England totally.

I holidayed in the mother country once, a long time ago. I fell in love with the wind blasted moors, gently manicured woodlands, and that damp peaty smell of rural England. Quiet villages, stone buildings, warming ales, and gentry in tweed jackets and hats out for an afternoon hunt.

It’s this Romantic (big “R” Romantic) imagining of England that Sir, You Are Being Hunted harks back to, and it does so with significant attitude.

A Romanticised view of the English countryside. It's beautiful.

A Romanticised view of the English countryside. It’s beautiful.

You begin as a Sir (or Madam, if you so desire – both with respective gender-correct narration), unfortunately stranded on a loosely connected archipelago. A victim of an unfortunate experiment gone wrong, you must collect the 25 remnants of your teleportation device scattered across the five islands, and return them to the central standing stones. But lo, be careful! because Sir, you are being hunted.

The core of the game is survival. Sneaking, hiding, and running like the steely-jawed hounds of robot hell are behind you will be your default movement choices, often in that order. In between avoiding the unrelenting mechanical pursuers and quivering in the underbrush like a harried field-mouse, you will have to scavenge food, bandages, and ammunition from the environment while searching for the lost machine parts.

Scrounging around the buildings in uniquely British towns with uniquely British names is a tense prospect. Robots tend to camp out in the centre of town, guarding against would-be thieves looking for a crust of mouldy bread or a flask of lukewarm tea. Towns have very minimal cover, and the cover it does have makes it almost impossible to monitor the robot’s movements. You’ll be tempted to choose between a slow and measured approach to get to the plentiful inner houses, or employ hit and run tactics to snag as much loot as possible from the outer houses before scrambling away from the inevitable incoming shotgun volley.

Uniquely British.

Uniquely British.

There is a complicating factor to this frantic snatch and grab – inventory management. The 5×10 inventory grid fills up very quickly. Four slots for your binoculars. Four slots for two bandages. Five slots of food. Five slots for ammo. If you’re lucky enough, four slots for a handgun, three slots for a hatchet, and five slots for a rifle. That doesn’t leave much room for any loot you find while out scavenging. So you must be picky when deciding what to take with you. And since there is no dedicated stash, it’s helpful to find a nearby container to keep all your most useful finds close to your spawn point at the standing stones.

Items don’t repopulate, meaning whatever is in the world when it’s first created is all you have. That means that ammo and food doesn’t regenerate. Enemies, however, do. This leads to a delicate economy of time (food) versus recklessness (bandages and ammo). You can always kill the robots and hope their dead bodies yield some berries, bandages, or shells, but that requires confronting the mechanical killers head-on.

Robot combat is a precarious prospect. A single shot has a chance to cause you to bleed – a constant drain on health that only stops with a bandage. Or death. Robots aren’t invincible – a single patrolling robot or pair can be eliminated without too much trouble. The real threat comes from the noise of the fray, which attracts more robots, and the constant erosion of your bandage and ammo supply. The best bet on being spotted is the frantic dash. Run, run away across the moors, jumping hedges and ducking into long grass, and hoping desperately that the robots lose you. Hit and run run run.

The hunters become the hunted. Shortly before returning to being the hunters again.

The hunters become the hunted. Shortly before returning to being the hunters again.

While the survival elements are great, the genuine wonder of Sir is found in its procedurally generated world.

Sir’s British countryside is an approximation, a caricature, an archetype. Buildings and landscapes are distilled into essences and scattered onto the screen. Patchwork fields separated by tangled hedges, jagged stone walls, or ruined fences hold the islands together, condensing England’s ordered and structured land into a playground. The low-res textures aren’t ugly – it’s the feeling, the tactility of the thing captured. You can tell that it’s a red telephone box, a trodden cobblestone road, a wooden hunting lodge, a whitewashed manor house, a copse of gnarled deciduous trees. But it’s taken and filtered and reduced and twisted into a child’s dark fairy-tale version of reality.

As you drudge through damp grass and over high hedge rows, it’s striking how beautiful it can all be. The sun shafts through the fog, silhouetting hulking trees and old churches. Different shades of greens and browns are crisp and lively in the fresh morning, but turn wilted and sinister in the moonlight. Despite its technical limitations – and there clearly are technical limitations – or perhaps because of them, Sir, You Are Being Hunted runs with its low-fi aesthetic, and it works. I can forgive the low-res textures, rudimentary global lighting, approximated shadows, and low detail geometry, because it feels so wholly England.

A genteel land.

A genteel land.

There are limitations, though, and they’re not just graphical. The main one is that none of the buildings are enterable. Instead, looting a building is done by using the door, which opens the inventory screen. It’s not an ideal situation for a player, but it’s a hard limit set by system and production resources, and one that will not be overcome in the final product. Sir also isn’t able to remember the placement of enemies upon saving, leaving the brief time between enemy spawn and occupation of towns and supply routes open to exploitation. Saving has been limited to the central standing stones and the four boats too, meaning less convenience but more insurance against save scumming.

It is still alpha code, and it’s continually being worked on by Big Robot. There are one or two balancing issues, some stealth foibles that need tending to, and a number of bugs and glitches that still need working out. More features are on the way too, including full world generation customisation options, new enemies, new buildings types, and new biomes. But as alphas go (and I’ve played more than my share) this one is surprisingly solid.

Sometimes you can just tell from an early build that a game is a gem. Sir, You Are Being Hunted is a gem. With its solid survival mechanics, tense combat, unique conceit, and unlimited replayability due to its fantastic procedural generation, Sir, You Are Being Hunted delivers a potent package. I am perfectly confident in saying that Sir will satisfy the survival fans, the robot fans, and the British countryside fans, as well as appeal to those less familiar with this open exploration style of game.

Sir, I am being hunted, and I am loving every minute of it.

Sir, You Are Being Hunted goes into open alpha on August 19. You can preorder Sir, You Are Being Hunted from the Big Robot website right now for $20.

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Former Editor in Chief of OnlySP. A guy who writes things about stuff, apparently. Recovering linguist, blue pencil surgeon, and professional bishie sparkler. In between finding the latest news, reviewing PC games, and generally being a grumpy bossyboots, he likes to watch way too much Judge Judy. He perhaps has too much spare time on his hands. Based in Sydney, Australia. Follow him on twitter @lawksland.

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198X Review — A Nostalgia Trip Without a Destination

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198X

Some short stories feel more like chapters—snipped out of a larger work—that struggle to make sense on their own. 198X represents a translation of that ethos to video game form. As a result, the game feels unfulfilling, though that does not detract from the overall quality on offer. Ultimately, the player’s appraisal of 198X will depend on whether they place more stock in story or gameplay because while the former leaves much to be desired, the latter will be a hit for anyone with fond memories of the 8- and 16-bit classics.

In the framing and overall structure, 198X is decidedly modern, but everything else pulses with a retro vibe. At its core, the game is a compilation, weaving together five distinct experiences under the auspice of a story of personal development. From the Double Dragon-infused ‘Beating Heart’ to the turn-based dungeon RPG ‘Kill Screen’, each title feels slick, if a little undercooked. Those old-school originals could only dream of being as smooth as these throwbacks. However, the two-button input methodology results in the games feeling just a touch too simple, though their brevity—each clocking in at a maximum of 15 minutes (depending on the player’s skill level and muscle memory)—makes that less of an issue than it might have been. If more depth is present, it is hidden well, as the game lacks any sort of tutorial to guide players. Nevertheless, the stellar presentation goes a long way towards papering over the cracks.

The pixel art aesthetic of 198X is staggering. Each of the worlds that players make their way through is pitched perfectly to fit the mood it evokes. From the grungy brawler of the first game to the more melancholic mood of the open-road racer, the screen is drenched in lavish colour and far more detail than one might expect from such a seemingly simple art style.

Easily a match for the visuals is the audio. The in-game sounds of a car engine or bone-crunching strike are low-key, which allows the music to come to the fore. Those tunes are all from the electronic genre, simple, yet layered with enough depth to not feel tedious or tiring. Easily overshadowing all the rest though is Maya Tuttle’s voice-over narration as The Kid. Her tone is one of pervasive resignation that works to reinforce the same mood within the script.

That melancholia will surely strike a chord with anyone who has grown up on the fringes. The Kid speaks of once loving and now hating the Suburbia of their childhood, where memories of happiness collide with a contemporary feeling of entrapment. The words and lines are powerfully evocative—made even more so by the connection between the gameworlds and the prevailing emotion at that point. The problem is that they amount to nothing. The story comprises of these snippets—these freestanding scenes of life lived lonely—that never coalesce into anything. The Kid may find an arcade and speak of finding some sort of home and a source of strength, but it goes nowhere. The game ends just as things start to get interesting. Setting up for a sequel is no sin. Plenty of other games and media products—from Dante’s Inferno to Harry Potter—have done just that. However, to be effective, such first parts need to offer a story in and of themselves, not just the promise of a story to come, and that is where 198X falls apart.

With each game in the compilation being a straightforward, one-and-done affair and the overarching narrative feeling like a prologue at best, 198X is wafer-thin. The presentation is simply remarkable, and the package has enough variety to be worth a look, but the unmistakable impression is that something is missing.

OnlySP Review Score 2 Pass

Reviewed on PC. Coming soon to Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

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