Hob’s inspiration from classic games such as ICO and The Legend of Zelda, and even a hint of Journey, is very apparent from the moment you begin the game. Thankfully, despite the familiarity, it still manages to carve out its own identity despite having such a heavy influence.
Hob begins by introducing us to our androgynous hero, the red-caped protagonist whose name I presume is Hob; and the world around him/her. But this lush, colourful, and vibrant world is diseased with an evil plague – an infection rotting away at the natural beauty. As Hob’s curiosity overwhelms, he/she goes to inspect, accompanied by a friendly Golem, only to be attacked and nearly consumed by the same infection tainting the land. Heroically, the nameless Golem jumps in to help, eventually amputating Hob’s right arm and offering his own as a replacement.
But rather than being just a simple replacement, Hob’s new arm is the ground for much of the game’s platforming and puzzle-solving. And whilst some of it lacks any real challenge, and the natural progression is easily identifiable, some puzzles and pathways had me stuck for upwards of 10 – 15 minutes – though these times were usually related to me trying to navigate the map.
Unfortunately, as much as I’d like to say that whenever I was stuck it was always because of the game’s brilliant design, I can’t. I came across a number of glitches and bugs that hindered my progression, forcing me to restart the application to fix it. As I was playing the game over the course of four days, Hob’s version number went from 1.00 to 1.12 – but errors still remain: I’ve fallen through water and walked underneath; I’ve plugged in a battery only for it to glitch out and not trigger the event, but working fine after a reboot of the game. I’ve had enemies’ animations stop as they’re moving around, but still able to deal damage; and I’ve even died just by walking along – no fall damage, quicksand, or enemy attack – I just died.
And the frame-rate is also a problem. If there’s more than two enemies on screen at one time trying to attack you, the frame-rate, which appears to be targeting 30fps, plummets.
When Hob isn’t working as intended, it’s cute, fun, and full of great gameplay; the combat in particular was brilliant. Dodging around, knowing when to strike after learning the various enemies’ attack patterns, and trying out new moves was fantastic. The combat is fast, engaging, and, honestly, surprising.
Throughout the game you’ll unlock new abilities, some unlocked via story progression – such as the power-up punch and grapple hook – with others saved as a reward for going off on your own and exploring: teleport dash, dash strike, stronger attacks, etc. The non-story unlockable abilities are acquired by collecting and spending relic-esque orbs, which can be found after killing enemies or stumbling across shrine-like objects. Some of the more powerful abilities, however, also require additional items, which can only be found out in the wilderness. Having these not be mere collectables encouraged me to seek them out, to take time away from the main objective and hunt for what I needed to become more powerful.
It’s on these trips that you get to appreciate the true beauty of Hob. It’s a game that loves to casually throw out a vista — dare you to not press the Share button. There are even various points throughout the world where you can just sit on the edge of a beam or lean against a pillar and take in all the work that Runic Games has done.
The camera, however, is not the photographer’s friend. Stuck strictly to the player, immovable with the right analogue stick, it causes frustration when trying to look around for clues or hints, or to get a better sense of depth perception in a fight.
Returning to the main objective after my nice strolls, always brings back the question: “What exactly am I doing?” All dialogue in the game is unintelligible, and the only text displayed is that on loading screen, map legends, and the button prompt when you can interact with something. Because of this, I struggled to really understand much about the characters, about why I’m doing what I’m doing. Your Golem friend, who appears from time to time, communicates through moans and gestures, indicating which way you should go, but is unable to explain anything more. Perhaps this was because of the budget and they didn’t want to/couldn’t afford to hire voice actors, or maybe it’s simply a design choice. Either way, the story comes across simply as: I’m good, they’re bad, kill them. And though that’s not always a bad thing, Hob’s world was so intriguing that giving me more insight into the surroundings and background of the characters, fleshing out the story a bit more, would have given me what I was looking for.
Hob is an enjoyable experience, providing hours of great puzzling and platforming fun – despite the game’s face-value story and technical issues.