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When a robot dons a top hat, you know he’s up to no good

Big Robot

As a neurotic person, I’ve had my fair share of irrational fears in my day. When I was very young, I was convinced I would have a heart attack (not likely for a 6-year-old, my pediatrician assured me). A few years later, a fake-but-convincing-to-me found-footage “documentary” about a suburban family fending off an alien invasion left me sleepless for days. Even today, at 30, I freak out when I see a mouse indoors.

Throughout it all, though, I’ve never been frightened by the thought of robots in top hats stalking me through the British countryside. That changed recently, though, after I played “Sir, You Are Being Hunted,” an inventive new survival-horror game from Big Robot that’s available for PC, Mac, and Linux.

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The plot is simple: Some sort of experiment has gone “horribly wrong,” as a narrator addressing you directly puts it, and you’re now alone on one of the islands of some archipelago in the United Kingdom, where you must retrieve the pieces of a big, important machine that has exploded, showering the earth with fragments. Unfortunately, the surrounding fields and fens and forests, as well as the little villages dotting the landscape (some with creepy names like “Much Dreading”), are infested with robots dressed in fancy clothes out for a hunt, and here and there in the sky you can see giant balloon-things with searchlights. You are the prey.

The feel of the game is, overall, wonderfully out-there and scary. To the extent that anyone can say what it would be like to be thrust into this sort of danger, “You Are Being Hunted” feels authentic. Much of the early gameplay involves sprinting or creeping around, traveling from village to village, ransacking buildings (which, disappointingly, you can’t enter, but that present themselves as little pop-up inventory windows filled with goods) for supplies to help you survive: traps and bandages and food and weapons. The robots are generally too powerful to face head-on. Better, if you’re spotted by their creepy, laser-pointer-y glares (the terrifying effects of which are ramped up wonderfully during the game’s nighttime), to run and hide, aided by a visibility meter that tells you how good a job you’re doing of not being spotted.

I had a very good time — albeit a mostly unsuccessful, death-and-injury-filled one — darting around the treacherous countryside of “Sir, You Are Being Hunted.” The game did have some rough edges, though. The graphics, nice in a macro sense, leave something to be desired when you get up close to objects. The narrator’s voice sounds weirdly washed-out in the introductory sentence, which spoils the mood a bit. And a lot of the time the vast, open-world nature of the game leaves it feeling a little empty; the feel these sorts of nonlinear games are supposed to inspire is one of eager exploration. You can generate a new “world” any time you want, customizing the procedurally (that is, randomly) generated landscapes, so no two full playthroughs of the archipelago are alike. Still, despite all these options and the sizable real estate to explore, sometimes “Sir, You Are Being Hunted” felt more successful as a proof-of-concept than as a full-blown game with momentum all its own

On a broader aesthetic level, though, there’s something very cool going on here. Maybe it’s the fact that so much of the game’s look and tone are cyberpunk-ish, and yet instead of being in one of the smoggy or foggy cities usually native to that genre, you find yourself in rolling countryside. It’s a weirdly powerful twist to be navigating open fields, often with very little cover, rather than wandering roofs or back alleys.

My sense is “Sir, You Are Being Hunted” still has a few major updates ahead of it. As of May 1, it’s on “Version 1.0,” which suggests more work and patching-up to come, and that some of the rough spots could eventually be smoothed out. It’s already quite playable, and I recommend checking it out — even though those robots did kick my butt.

Jesse Singal can be reached at jesse.r.singal@gmail.com.
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