Runic Games is a name familiar to those that have spent time with Torchlight and Torchlight II, which released in 2009 and 2012 respectively. The developer has stepped away from their action role-playing, Diablo-esque roots to journey into an atmospheric land of puzzles and platforming. This new venture is Hob. A silent, cloth-covered protagonist travels out into a vibrant world, consisting of rock formations buried beneath evergrowing greenery, teeming with bizarre critters and hidden arcane secrets.
This world is beautiful in its striking art style, which carries some similarities to the team’s previous project, and the opening moments absorb the player as they take it all in. It’s an instance of pure zen as things kick off, watching our quiet character interact with the alien equivalent of a giraffe. And then the serenity comes to a crashing halt, as the red-hooded hero is infected by a poisonous, purple mass. This leads to an on-the-spot amputation of the character’s arm at the hand of his robotic friend. When we return to our character, he is sporting a large mechanical arm gifted by the stone automaton.
Despite the unfortunate events, the protagonist eagerly sets out into the alluring yet dangerous environments with a new, multi-purpose appendage. The stone arm makes up half of the available arsenal, with a sword being thrown into the mix shortly after starting the adventure. The combination of the two creates an experience reminiscent of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Sword slashes (including cutting down tall patches of grass), rolling dodges, the flow of enemy encounters, and general puzzle solving all carry the vibe of the classic title.
Combat in Hob is standard fare as far as adventure games go. While fairly simplistic, it is effective and surprisingly bloody. The giant arm and sword can be used in tandem to take down the peculiar lifeforms that inhabit this foreign world. And there is a fair amount of variety in these strange adversaries, ranging from lunging minions to towering monstrosities capable of one-hit kills. The sword’s basic strikes can be upgraded with newer combos, adding extra flair to each engagement with these creatures. Other upgrades come in the form of a shield for more defensive options and increased mobility. You won’t find the most expansive moveset or unlock path waiting to be unlocked, but fortunately that’s not really the game’s focus.
Hob is all about exploration and puzzle solving. The game is completely void of dialogue and sports very little text. Subtle gestures from characters and the environment itself push things along. In order to unravel the tale underneath the surface, the player has to engage directly with their surroundings and take in the sights. This minimalistic approach has its pitfalls, however, as navigating the world can become confusing as you are getting your bearings in the beginning. I imagine this aspect will vary to certain a degree between players, and so will any frustration that arises from it.
It’s a good thing that entertaining puzzles are littering the place begging to be solved, some of which restructure entire areas and create new pathways. Much like platformers of days past, obtained skills play a part in solving the environmental puzzles, opening up new areas that branch away from the hub. This starts out simple enough, with the opening portion seeing the player cut down trees with their new sword or blast through walls with a charged fist. Sometimes the solution is as simple as dragging a stone slab to jump up to a new level while later parts require the reworking of entire sections via switches, greatly upping the level of complexity and interaction. This is very much the core of Hob and it is where the game shines the brightest, partially blinding the view of its lesser parts.
Sadly, one of those lesser parts comes as a direct combatant to the title’s essence: the camera. The fixed camera typically works in favor of Hob and its direction. It keeps things fairly close, choosing certain moments to pull back to reveal the true extent of the environment. However, in a game revolving around platforming, which itself relies on accuracy and timing, the fixed view can hide dangers or platforms. The missing on-screen information can lead to some embarrassing and avoidable deaths. The most common death came from misjudging gaps due to the camera, while a handful happened because a hazard was residing just outside of the viewable space.
Still, even when factoring in the camera’s intermittent uncooperative behavior and the lacking directional cues, Hob manages to shine thanks to its colorful personality. It borrows enough mechanics from the greats while molding it into a setting that hooks the player. That’s why, in spite of its shortcomings, Hob will draw you in and keep you invested until the end.
Hob is Runic Games’ first, and only, departure from Torchlight. And by most accounts it is a success. Hob packs so much personality into its world despite never uttering a word, letting every carefully placed object and interaction speak for itself. The game loses itself in moments where its camera works against its own goals and the ease with which a player can become lost before grasping the layout. However, the competent combat and engaging puzzle solving save Hob and make it a notable platformer to lose yourself in.
7.5 Alien Giraffes Out Of 10
Release Date: September 26th, 2017
Available Platforms: PC (Reviewed), PS4
Publisher: Runic Games
Developer: Runic Games
Disclosure: Hob Was Provided By The Publisher For Coverage Purposes.