I can see two bright red, horizontal cones between the pines. Like the brake lights of a tiny car, they burn through the fading dusk light along a route roughly parallel to mine. They belong to a robot returning fruitlessly from a fire I lit in the beer garden of a deserted pub less than 200 metres away. And we’re now converging on the same point.
I own an axe that’d make short work of these trunks, but nothing that would safely bring down a bot without the element of surprise. And so I move slowly but deliberately through the trees, willing my invisible legs to carry me faster - but unwilling to resort to the distastefully noisy sprint key.
I reach the clearing with a few seconds to spare - just enough time to duck down next to a small crater, stuff a still-steaming dark blue macguffin into my bag, and resume my walk along the same trajectory.
I’ve been heard, but not seen. I leave this bot’s neck of the woods with repeating monotone barks reverberating in my headphones, like Bilbo escaping Gollum’s clutches in the Misty Mountains. Looking up ahead I spy a church - very real salvation. And on my scanner, the far-apart radio blips of another distant object.
This is Sir at its best: a generator of high wire near-collisions, born of half-made plans made in a world built for you and you alone.
You begin Sir as one of those scientists who tests all of their wares on themselves. Your first brush with teleportation hasn’t gone particularly well. You’ve been stranded on the archipelago - that is, a cluster of five topologically varied, randomly determined island biomes - and must collect all of the scattered pieces of your device if you’ve a pheasant’s chance in hell of returning home.
That means creeping about a nightmare rendering of idiosyncratic Britain. You’re equipped with next to nothing by default, and so can expect to scavenge weapons and survival tools from nearby villages and pubs.
Hunger is an ever-present worry, as the only way to keep your health regenerating and yourself unstarved is to remain well-fed. And all the while, you’ll need to avoid playing grouse to an inventive array of paranoid androids. These blunderbuss-armed aristobotic landowners ramble across the landscape, or lie in wait, and come programmed with all the complex search behaviours you’ve seen in proper stealth games. They’d consider your panicked demise jolly good sport.
Open combat with them is not only uncouth but undesirable - an all-too-easy-to-follow recipe for serious bleeding only curable with valuable bandages. It’s simply not done.
There’s no respite. Not really. Once in a while you’ll stop and listen for bleeps and bloops and only hear the robotically granular but nonetheless comforting twittering of the game’s birds. But that church I found won’t provide shelter, per se. Buildings in Sir don’t have interiors.
It’s an unusual design solution in an open world survival genre more often preoccupied with geographical simulation. But you’ll soon come to understand that in Sir (or Madam - a binary button on the main menu allows you to switch gender), a house is not a house. Rather, each door is a tombola: an inventory screen filled mostly with mouldy bread and green eggs, but redeemed by the occasional shotgun.
Sir subscribes to the ethos of RPG item management fondly referred to as ‘inventory tetris’. You’re given a finite grid of squares and an unpredictable range of items of dramatically varying sizes and values to cram into them.
With no levelling or inherent skills, you are the contents of your backpack. So choosing what to take with you and what to leave behind is a continuous, nail-gnawing toss-up between pragmatism and aspiration. An empty blunderbuss is lovely - but oughtn’t you really take a couple of extra bandages and a bot-distracting glass bottle instead?
Where Sir differs from its inspirations, however, is in incorporating the aspect of Tetris everybody else forgets: time pressure. In this game, item rearrangement is carried out against a backdrop of ever-vigilant synthetic gentlemen. You’ll tend to find that greater rewards are matched by greater risk: villages and pubs promise a colourful array of gear, but also attract large congregations of hunters.
That’s especially true in the radius of those mysterious objects you’re looking for - parts of the teleportation device that explosively disassembled itself immediately prior to the game’s opening. Some pieces are jagged splinters that’ll slot nicely between two hunks of meat in your bag. Others are hulking geometric lunchboxes you’ll likely have to chuck out something desirable to carry. But you won’t know which until you get there, and find yourself trying to tidy up your belongings before the guards you’ve briefly distracted return to their posts.