By Tom Hooper aka Atomp
First of all, what a name: Sir, You Are Being Hunted (SYABH). Great, even if it is a mouthful. The game is a first person sneaky, collecty, tactical survive-em-up. A bit of background and trivia here; the game was originally a successful Kickstarter project showing again that crowd-funded game development can work very well. Project lead Jim Rossignol is a writer for the popular Rock Paper Shotgun site. Both of these facts bode well for the future. Now the game: the player is planted on one of five procedurally generated islands and given the task of collecting a series of components from around these islands in order to rebuild the machine which so rudely planted you in said predicament to begin with. The spanner in the works is that these islands are teeming with robots, but not just any robots. These are robots designed around the quintessential English gentleman and they will hunt you down in a manner most appropriate to the theme. This couples with the fact that the islands are generated in biomes resembling traditional English environments–countryside, industrial, mountainous etc. These are areas that are fairly unexplored in terms of game design and it’s nice to see them represented so well here as they tend to work with the overall S.T.A.L.K.E.R feel of the entire game. The game is still in development and the development builds are available to those who buy the game now. As such, anything I review here could change in future builds.
I’ve played this a few times as the development process has progressed and I have to say that the core gameplay is polished and clear even at this stage. The stealth system operates on a visibility meter and sound. The visual stealth functions on all the elements you would expect with foliage providing varying levels of cover, the day/night cycle providing varying results, an effective line-of-sight system and different exposure for different postures. For example, crawling through long grass in the dark will provide almost perfect cover and allow surprisingly ballsy missions into groups of robots without being spotted. On the other hand, sprinting through an open field will attract a great deal of attention and will probably result in the rapid acquisition of unwanted shotgun pellets. The systems in place covering the sound are equally detailed and provide varying results depending on surface, distance, movement speed, movement type and a variety of other modifiers. The overall gameplay tends to revolve around understanding how these systems operate and interact with the game environment and AI.
The game is often reluctant to provide the player with any significant firepower and generally the use of firearms will draw in far more enemies from the local vicinity, making the game much more stealth focused. For me, this is great as the enemies are genuinely dangerous and will kill you very quickly for brash behaviour, making SYABH a fairly difficult experience. This is no run and gun shooter. Instead, SYABH requires careful consideration of the options that your inventory of looted equipment and the environment provides. As development has proceeded, the devs have also been experimenting with new enemy types, each with different ability sets and tactics. The standard hunter will generally move in packs (discussing weather, wealth and taxes) and fire on sight whereas the larger squire enemy will remain neutral unless he catches you looting a building. There are many more enemy types, but to list them here would impede your discovery should you play the game, so I shall restrain myself.
To give an anecdotal example of how the game can work, I had an issue where a machine component was surrounded by robots in a field of long grass. My first move was to wait until nightfall (not that long as the day/night cycle is quite short). I then used an alarm clock to provide a timed distraction. This allowed my to place the clock and move away from it before it went off and drew the robots over. After the clock went off, the robots left the machine part to investigate and I moved closer. In the long grass and at night I was almost entirely hidden from view. The robots quickly tired of the alarm clock and returned to the machine part before I could get close enough. At the same time I was running rather low on vitality (essentially hunger), so I downed a bottle of whiskey. After waiting for the drunkenness effects to wear off, I lobbed the now empty bottle at some nearby trees, drawing the robots away long enough that I could move in and snatch up the machine part. This whole sequence played out with a distinct knowledge of the very short lifespan I’d have if I were to be seen. Luckily, it’s not quite rogue-like saves can be done at the drop point for the machine parts, boats for inter-island traveling and on inter-island traveling. Although normally I’d be all for quick saves at one end of the spectrum or perma-death on the other, in this case I feel like these would ruin the tension and challenge or cause multiple rage-quits, respectively. The save system in place is fair and balanced (literally, not in the Fox News sense) and presents a decent level of challenge and loss upon death whilst not resulting in too much loss upon death and inciting rage-quits.
The aesthetic of the game is distinct and while it is not always the prettiest of games, it is an indie title and the team obviously know their art style. I’d say that the graphical fidelity of the game is exactly what it needs to be, the environments are as grim as necessary, the atmosphere never lets up for a second and the enemies are appropriately comical and threatening in equal measure. The interface design is very good at this stage, having been improved significantly over earlier versions that I played. The entire user experience is very smooth and intuitive. The sound design is of particular importance here as the game relies heavily on it to draw the player into the environment and build atmosphere, while also being tactically relevant. The ambient sounds are exceptionally well done, never missing a beat on producing exactly the atmosphere necessary for the biome and time of day. The other sound assets–robot sounds and the such–are also very well done, being distinct from the environment for tactical significance whilst also integrating into the overall soundscape. I’m particularly fond of the voice acting on the various different robot types. The conversations are great if a little limited in variety.
The game is available on Windows, Mac and Linux and the system requirements are not particularly frightening; Core2 Duo, 2GB RAM and a ShaderModel3 compatible graphics card. This is a low end gaming desktop or mid-range laptop spec and should be achievable for most unless you’re using a toaster. Purchasing could not be easier as there is a Humble Store widget on the page with the stated price of £12.50 (approx $20.00). The game is also available through the Steam Early Access scheme for a similar but more expensive £14.99 (approx $24.00). In short, if you have any inclination towards anything remotely S.T.A.L.K.E.R-like, stealthy or survival… then give SYABH a shot.
Steam Early Access Page: