Saturday 4 October 2014

Keep calm and avoid the killer robots

Having recently finished a ritual slog through the rebooted ‘Thief’ (How I forced myself to play through the entirety of that dross I can only attribute to some kind of rabid frothing loyalty to the genius of the original) anyone could be forgiven that thinking that stealth – and I mean real stealth (Forgetteth not Original Thief, Hitman: Blood Money, System Shock etc.) was surely dead. Perhaps the harsh unforgiving landscape of the original hard-core PC genre is simply too much for the AAA studios of today to stomach - given how most of their output has become about as creatively impotent as Michael Bay directing the latest Transformers snore-fest. Well it turns out not all is lost as once again an indie darling swoops in to save the genre with the excellent (if not perfect) Sir, you are being hunted.

But steady on now dear boy! What’s it all about?

Starting with a wonky hand drawn cutscene (Though narrated by an excellently plummy butler voice-over) the simple premise is presented: Being stranded on a series of very British Isles you are tasked with recovering a series of scattered mystical stone artefacts to activate a kind of magical Stonehenge endgame – a simple but effective plot device not only permitting but encouraging the open ended ramble you embark on. Oh - and all the while avoiding the murderous but delightfully polite gentlemen robots who, if you didn't quite catch it already, are out to hunt you.

Go on then, spill the beans! Is it any good?

Endeavouring to avoid the very British habit of meandering around the point I should start by stating the most important thing you need to know: The stealth works. And golly is it a thrilling chase! Sir, makes use of its gloriously procedural open(ish) world and enemy placement to generate a genuinely compelling rhythm of long eerie walks, interrupted by tense moments of avoidance as you slip by patrolling hunters and the occasional run in with live fire in response to which you mostly run for the hills (But often rather the safe bosom of stealth-friendly shrubs and long grass).

Details man, I need the details!

While a shocking amount of AAA games still continue to pile on such migraine inducing modern videogame tropes as overzealous tutorials, quick time events and general (Console era) hand holding, Sir, plays like a greatest hits of all the classic stealth and RPG mechanics of 90s with a dash of the modern survival genre throw in there for good measure. You will manage a classic grid style inventory system. Your enemies will not patronise you with obnoxious alert level visual indicators. You will bleed out in seconds unless you brought bandages with you (And can apply them fast enough). You will not be guided by point defeating objective markers. You will shoot, cook and eat pheasant if you want any chance of surviving your time in the country. In short – jolly good times ahead!

With its short but well-structured runtime Sir, can also evoke some very special moments of player agency. Its clever reinterpretation of the classic scaling challenge/empowerment mechanic, invite new opportunities for emergent character development: Building resources and confidence you can eventually embolden yourself to take on the hunters - the cathartic fantasy of transformation from prey to predator or Garret the Master Thief to Gordon Freeman if you like. However with stealth and avoidance mechanics as enjoyable as they are you’d certainly not be missing out to ghost you way through the entire experience given your ruthlessly oppressive and increasingly thorough adversaries.

Oh, and did I mention it’s quite funny? Yes indeed. It seems no one is better at capitalising on the pastoral, fox and hound theme than mocker-in-chief (And game designer) Jim Rossignol – a Brit himself. I’m not sure the quintessentially British sense of humour will tickle everyone’s fancy but if the image of homicidal robots drinking tea is enough to muster a chuckle you’ll probably be ok.

So, you’re saying it’s rather good then?

Sir you are being Hunted is an inspired stealth gem not to mention a legitimate vision for the genre’s future. Despite its modest graphics chops, Sir, evokes a mythical version of the British countryside we almost forgot existed. The pervasive sense of danger, juxtaposed against that ancient, almost ethereal beauty conjures a unique sense of place that will linger long in the memory after your short adventure/ordeal ends.

Well then - Bloody good show! Carry on.

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