They got me in Royal Fitchet in the end. It was between this little cluster of scruffy houses and the thin high street of Odd Bottom on-the-end that the pipe-smoking robots first appeared, marching in an unbroken line over a soggy horizon and sending me running for cold shelter, past a placard politely requesting passers-by to 'Please Drive Slowly' where the letters 'r' and 'v' had ominously dropped off. A couple of angry cracks of rifle fire later and I was left bleeding out in the shadow of Fitchet's war memorial, thinking I should have swallowed down a spoonful of marmalade when I had the chance.
Sir, You Are Being Hunted's procedurally generated maps capture well a sense of drab English countryside, and more importantly they generate moments that can scratch their way into your conscience too. An open-world, open-ended stealth game, the freedom that's granted players in Big Robot's development debut is cleverly tempered by oppressive systems and a stuffy world of stale tea and biscuit-crumbs. In its current alpha state it's sparse, but there's potential here for one of those brilliant occasions where game mechanics are met and married with a memorable environment.
Having generated a new archipelago you start each game by a set of stones, with a fuzzy back-story delivered by a fuzzy-voiced narrator who sounds like a detached and potentially psychotic robo-Jeeves. Dotted around five separate islands, each connected by rackety wooden boats, are numerous artefacts to be collected, the ultimate aim to piece them all together so you can escape this dreary hell. Doing so isn't easy.
There's a real cruelty to Sir, You Are Being Hunted that's not necessarily hinted at in its twee tweed dressing. Its robot hunters, their heads sending sharp red light cutting through the murkiness, are powerful and attentive, enforcing a more traditional and slow-paced brand of stealth on players. There are old school systems in place - line of sight can be broken by crouching in the many patches of long, thick grass, and an on-screen meter encourages you to stay stealthy by keeping your movements to a minimum - which are useful when working your way around robot patrols.
Robots tend to wander in groups, clumping around artefacts or waltzing single-file down rural streets. They're often in the way of what you're after, basically, whether it's an artefact or the loot that's found by patting down the doors of the various abandoned buildings that are generated across the landscape. And so progress is about carefully put together plans being messily picked apart by Sir's systems, a ring of well-laid traps and a couple of shotgun bullets in your pocket meaning nothing when you absent-mindedly send a flock of birds noisily scattering and drawing unnecessary attention to yourself.
Yes, it's hard. The loot's plentiful, but worthwhile items are a little scarcer - guns and ammunition are rare, but thankfully tea, biscuits and clanking bottles of stout are more plentiful, meaning you'll at least have the means to patch yourself up when stumbling into the floodlight of a floating sentry balloon and being torn to shreds by any robots in the immediate area.
In its alpha state, Sir, You Are Being Hunted's a great proof of concept, then. It's slim, but Big Robot's injected real meaning into each element. Right now there's three biomes that serve as the foundation for each of the islands: rural, with its outhouses and murky villages, wide-open fens where it's just as easy to spot enemies as it is to be spotted and craggy, jutting mountains. They're diverse and immersive places - and frequently beautiful too as dull sunbeams creak through untamed undergrowth - with two more types being added over the next six months as the game's rolled out.
More enemy types are due, too, adding to the hunters and the fast-moving dogs that sometimes accompany them, plus there's the addition of NPCs planned too. It's going to be fascinating seeing how they're going to be woven into Sir, You Are Being Hunted's ecosystem, which in its current minimal state already captivates with its grim country, slow stealth and sudden shocks. There's a balance, albeit a cruel one, that makes inhabiting Sir's world a tense pleasure - and there's the potential for it to grow into a truly great one.