Hob is an action game by Runic Games (the studio that brought us Torchlight and Torchlight II) with a fair share of platforming. Whether you are into treasure hunting, combat or into moderately challenging puzzles and obstacles, this game delivers all of it in a balanced and enjoyable way. This game is a story of losses, reclamation and curiosity that lead to great deeds without making a player assume a role of exceptional, powered-beyond-reason 'chosen one'. Instead, there is a little hob who proudly holds his sword and looks at the sublime corrupted world with eyes wide open.
It may seem at the beginning that there is virtually no story past the 'tutorial'. The overall red thread is the classic 'good vs. evil' collision, yet there is more to it. A little creature called hob gets accidentally assigned to a quest of purging the corruption by an industrial robot. Luckily, the hob finds no shortage in help when most needed, and as the robot points him at places to go, he explores the twisted paths and distant corners of terrain. All while aiming to change the world, one way to another.
As briefly mentioned in intro, the main mechanics of this game can be summed up as platforming and action ones. When it comes to exploring the surroundings or pushing through industrial serpentines to find the needed trigger, Hob feels like a Zelda game that got a complex system of aimed teleports. Players will often find themselves climbing damaged walls or juicy green lianas, timing their sprint jumps from one floating platform to another and rushing ahead competing with a ticking timer. Apart from that, advancement requires force-smashing buttons and walls, pulling levers, pushing rotating mechanisms and so on.
The exploratory part feels specifically tailored for playing with a gamepad. A lot of turns and round shapes implemented in the level design combined with the game's perspective make the keyboard+mouse combination challenging to use. That said, the default binding navigation to RMB and the pointer in an isometric-RPG-like manner allows for a much smoother run.
There is a map to help players set a path in between seven major zones of the overworld. Sprinkled across it are marked objectives and a spot to go back every now and then — the workshop. In there hob can forge a sword, change his look and, most importantly, get new skills or punches. These can be acquired in exchange for green orbs dropping from defeated enemies or statues hidden in backwoods corners. The initial set of new tricks and kicks is rather narrow, but it can be expanded. The similar types of statues contain schematics for new upgrades, so be sure to look out for these if you want more diversity and flexibility in combat. The gauntlet is also upgradeable in special machines resting in depths of some dungeons.
As the hob might fall or, again, thanks to the perspective, run into corrupted area or bare electricity, it is useful to scout for hearts. These can be found on the map as well, buried inside seemingly carnivorous plants. Some puzzles also require spending some mana, which replenishes in a short while and can be increased just like health points. Adhere to your best friend — yes, the map — and you may notice small gear-like symbols. These are the details of broken
droids robots you are looking for, and even though they don't boost the amount of mana a lot, it's still enough to activate abilities with little breaks and give enemies some hard time.
What Runic Games should be truly credited for in the 'walking sim' part of gameplay is how non-repetitive it feels. There is not too much climbing or coursing from one button to another to progress. Even though each location (especially the dungeons) focuses on one mechanic, the game still manages to even it out in order to keep it fun, varied and tense — but not too much. There is a zone where the hob needs to control a giant machine that looks like an odd offspring of a UFO and a mechanical spider; some minutes later a player will find the creature running from one complex network of teleports to another. Even if it is not an example of insane number of cascading mechanics that challenge a player's creativity, they still fit well in all of the combinations present. And trying them out is also rewarding, since Hob offers a lot to satisfy one's treasure hunt itch.
The technicalities is where the adventure may get frustrating. For a truly enjoyable experience players really better switch to a gamepad. Traveling in the world of Hob is a risky business that needs finely tuned controls with the precision of a protractor. This does not largely affect the combat, but calculating angles for a proper jump is even less exciting than it sounds.
The fights to a large extent are not that quick-paced, matching the overall unhurried tone of the game. There are various types of mobs to get in a player's way on Hob. General minions, like scorpions or cubs with striking resemblance of Gengar, usually take three hits to die and their only advantage are swarming numbers. Rolling or using warp would surely do the job, but isn't fairly worth it.
The hob will also encounter bigger enemies that need alternative approaches. For instance, fully armored ones need to be lured towards gears as they charge, the jumping bug-stick like creatures throw boomerangs — which means a lot of rolling. Whatever adversaries come across, there are plenty ways to confront them and experiment with combat tactics. Warp can be used to teleport behind a slower mob, jump bash — to throw away swarming minor enemies, sword thrust — to ambush a 'bad guy' and make a powerful hit. The more you find schematics for the workshop, the wider is the variety of moves to use in a battle situation. And like puzzles, these are refreshing but not overly challenging.
The most obvious thing that aggravates the exploration is the order of objectives and the general delivery of distance. The map may show that the point of interest is nearby, but in fact it might take a ridiculous amount of backtracking and unnecessarily stretched navigation to reach it. Using fast travel 'elevator' only helps that much and sometimes event puts the protagonist even further away from the mark. The same goes for teleports: the potential position to get to is sometimes even visible in the distance, yet the hob gets thrown around the dungeon like a tourist who got 5 flight connections for the savings sake.
The major flaw that affects the gameplay on the core level are massive performance issues. For a reason yet unknown, many players have the game automatically run with integrated graphics cards. There is a solution for this problem, of course, but it is also not permanent, so one would have to reassign the game to a more powerful GPU at each launch.
Graphics and sound
The world of Hob is captivating, whether you looks at rocks, coated in greenery, waterfall or a steampunk-like industrial realm. There is a handful of lookout points where the hob can sit down and have some quiet time contemplating the view. Oddly enough, the visuals are not flaunted as much as one would expect from a game with no speech involved, but they softly envelop a player's sight with delightful not-too bright colours. The characters design also draws a clean line between villains and all 'evil' in general and heroes. Yet all of them carry out the overall visual charm of the game with uniqueness inherent to their role.
Akin to the story, the audio is rather understated. It mostly consist of the general ambient sound, like tweeting birds, the machinery, rumbling animals and whatnot. This faintness does not mean weakness, however. It successfully creates a lively environment, where the electric zaps divert player from getting electrocuted and the quiet winds never fail to send shivers down the spine. It complements the exploratory part the most and perhaps, this game begs for some more meditative music than there is.
Calling Hob one of the most outstanding action platformers of our time would be an overstatement. While it juggles the neatly intertwined mechanics sensibly, it does not feature any jam-packed fights or really anything that would make players — especially those with a gamepad — put some serious effort into their playthrough. That said, it is definitely an eye candy and a masterfully done transition to a new genre for Runic Games. Its faint, yet distinct tone is soothing, and the developers' approach to story and lore drives to explore the coils of the game's terrain. In overall, Hob makes for a delightful visual experience and a mildly challenging adventure with a couple of tricks up its sleeve.
|+ Enjoyable balanced gameplay||– Performance drops|
|+ Charming visuals||– Navigation takes too much time|
|+ The 'silent' story delivery|