The survival genre is the foundation upon which most of my favourite games are built. It has the ability to create interesting and believable worlds and forces you to live within them, learning how it works in order to survive. The indie scene has some of the best and most unique titles in the survival genre, and one of the best examples of excellent survival horror is Sir, You Are Being Hunted by Big Robot LTD, with additional updates being created by Den of Thieves Games.
SYABH drops players into an alternate universe on British-inspired archipelagos which are overrun by hostile British robots that are actively seeking the player. Your goal is to rebuild the standing stones by collecting various scattered pieces that will allow you to travel back home, all while your faithful butler updates you with guidance and charming musings on your situation. Recently SYABH has received a new patch as development has been taken over by Den of Thieves Games. As a result, the game has received some long-awaited updates that make it run better on modern hardware, as well as the announcement of a newly remade version coming early next year. With this in mind, it seems the perfect time to take a look back at this hidden gem.
A Haunting and Intoxicating World
What makes SYABH such a unique title is its fascinating and engrossing world. The game never tells you what kind of society your character comes from, which provokes questions of the world that SYABH exists in. Also, the environments you’ll explore throughout your playtime are both charming and incredibly creepy. You’ll explore British hamlets, fenlands, old castles and much more – all of which is oozing with charm and feels somewhat inviting until the frightening enemies make themselves known. The visuals are very simple but it works well within the universe. Whilst the building textures are certainly blurry and incredibly simple, it helps build this incredibly off-kilter universe and gives the game a unique visual flair.
The game’s map is split into five zones and, depending on how you customise your world at the start of the game, each region will be a different biome. These create vastly different locations that through the use of procedural generation will always appear different. However, the RNG nature of the map can cause some visual oddities, such as rocks clipping through a dock.
The game also features an unnerving score that occasionally makes itself known, especially when you are taking long trips around the island scouring for resources or stone pieces. The standout piece for me is King Zog, a track that slowly creeps in with an almost hypnotic beat – you might initially mistake it for the sounds of nearby robots or the environment, then suddenly it introduces what sounds like your character struggling to breathe. It’s a haunting track that helps create a more haunting atmosphere than the game’s initial premise might suggest. Composed by UK artist Forces of Good, the score at times even goes straight into Carpenter vibes, with the track LPR Zonal feeling like an unheard track from The Thing. The only real complaint with the score is that there simply isn’t enough, and hopefully, we can see more from this in the remake. What I find interesting about SYABH is how the game goes from a charming wacky survival game to a darkly comedic horror game as you progress. Enemies become more intimidating, and the game absolutely delivers on its namesake by making you feel watched and of course “hunted”.
In terms of the story, SYABH doesn’t offer much. Instead, it focuses on giving the player a series of questions with very few answers. Whilst looting the environment, the player may stumble upon letters that focus less on telling a complex narrative than telling the player a series of stories from the perspective of the original residents to the now-abandoned towns and regions you’ll spend your time exploring. It’s heavily implied, at least from the notes I stumbled upon, that these towns and locations were at some point taken over by these robotic hunters and the villager population has assumedly been hunted to extinction. While it’s possible I missed some of the more hidden lore, SYABH‘s lack of a story isn’t something that bothered me – if anything it made me eager to see more of this interesting world.
Charming Yet Frightening Enemies
Initially, the enemies you face in the game may appear quite humorous, for example, you may see a hunter taking a moment to have a cup of tea or a patrolling group of hunters may chat about the weather. It’s these charming moments however that hide the enemies’ more sinister presence. What makes the game’s enemies frightening is firstly that they hit very hard – standard hunters wield shotguns that can cause a lot of damage. Fortunately, you can dispatch these enemies and even take their weapons, but it’s the game’s later enemies that will truly inspire terror.
The game has numerous enemy types, each with their own set of strengths and weaknesses, and the game forces you to learn their patterns, figuring out how to outsmart them. The enemy that frightens me the most, however, is “The Landowner”, an enemy that was marketed as the game’s most haunting foe during its early access period. The Landowner is frightening not because of his attacks, but because of his unnerving movement pattern as well as him being an indestructible pursuer who will not stop once he sees you. His design is also considerably more frightening than some of the other enemies. The game also features other enemy types like dogs, trackers, patrolling hot air balloons and more – these enemies are incredibly unique visually and each one presents a different challenge.
You Are Being Hunted
Where the challenge of SYABH comes in is with its progressive difficulty that slowly ramps up as players collect more standing stone pieces. Each successfully delivered piece increases the number and variety of enemies, with enemies like The Landowner showing up after you’ve collected around a quarter of the game’s total pieces. This is where stealth plays heavily into surviving the game’s challenging foes. With environment exploits like thick grass being a useful tool in avoiding enemy patrols, the game also gives you multiple tools to distract your enemies such as glass bottles, or model trains. Furthermore, you are also able to use melee weapons to sneak up behind enemies, although this does seem to still alert nearby enemies. Additionally, you can switch on the ability to mark enemies using binoculars.
However, stealth often feels very difficult to use. There are no ways to dispatch enemies without causing lots of noise, and a quiet option to dispatch opponents like attack dogs would add some much-needed balance. But perhaps this difficulty helps in keeping the enemies threatening throughout the whole game. I enjoy the game giving you options for how to avoid fights, although in my case it often ends with me running through the nearest patch of grass or tall trees in order to dodge the massive amounts of hot lead being hurled at me.
One of my favourite smaller touches in SYABH is how, when exploring the world, you may startle a small cluster of pheasants and cause them all to scatter. Not only does this make the world feel lived in, but it also creates an opportunity to spot nearby hunters when they startle nearby wildlife whilst also penalising you for doing the same. On top of this, you can even hunt these pheasants as a food source. Unlike other survival games however SYABH doesn’t want you to ever feel comfortable by giving you a place to rest – you’re forced to always be on the move, and even things like bonfires won’t give you reprieve as cooking things on them will send up smoke signals, drawing hunters from all over the area. This keeps the game frantic, and later on, is a constant source of the game’s horror vibe.
Become the Hunter
Whilst the game never loses its horror edge and always puts the player at a disadvantage, there is certainly a level of progression the player achieves. By allowing themselves to become a hunter, using bear traps and hatchets you find in houses, you can take down many of those hunting you in order to acquire weapons and ammunition. These weapons help you even the score, but like any good survival game, you’ll need to manage your ammo and pick your shots wisely. When you do engage in shootouts, whilst incredibly basic, they feel impactful and all the guns have a good punch to them. Landing a headshot on a hot air balloon robot and watching their body tumble into the grass below never gets old. If you do want to take the more aggressive route you’ll need to be incredibly smart about it as ammo is incredibly scarce and all weapons hold only a few bullets each. This means that you need to focus on accuracy and perhaps seek to distract foes using things like glass bottles or alarm clocks that will draw them away from a nearby position.
I also really appreciate that the game gives enemies clear animations that signal opportunities to attack. For example, standard hunters will need to reload their shotguns after two shots, or they may become startled when you kill one of their colleagues, opening them up for an easy axe swing. The limited inventory space does a good job of making sure you never feel overpowered. It forces you to decide what kind of items you want to prioritize collecting – guns take up a lot of space, whereas distraction items take up considerably less space. You’ll also need to grab as many items as you can from nearby houses and cabins in order to maintain things like your hunger or having enough bandages on hand to heal a severely bleeding wound. More unique items can also be found in these houses if the RNG is kind to you, such as the tracker that points you in the direction of the nearest stone piece, or maybe a trombone that can be used to draw enemies.
For me, Sir, You Are Being Hunted is an easy recommendation for its tense but charming survival gameplay with easy mechanics that reward the player for engaging with the game world. Whilst on the surface it may not appear to be a straight-up horror game, its escalating tension and more frightening enemies help keep the game fresh as the player pushes towards the finish line. Some players may be put off by the simplistic visuals or lack of a traditional narrative, but those who immerse themselves in this whimsically dark world will be rewarded with a hidden horror gem.
Sir, You Are Being Hunted is available on Steam at a standard retail price of £14.99.
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