Review: Hob

From Runic Games comes Hob, a fantasy action puzzle-platformer that switches things up from the studio’s previous work on the Torchlight series. The game opens with a knock at a door, which the titular character answers to be greeted by a friendly, towering robot on the opposite side. Alien gibberish is related from the robot to Hob, who reluctantly follows the insistent robot. Quickly players are introduced to a land of ancient ruins that have been overrun by a purple mass of spikes, articulated claws, and a bubbling ooze which has seemingly infected a peaceful, normal life. Hob accidentally touches some of the purple stuff and the only thing the robot can do to save his life is to quickly remove the arm and replace it with his own oversized mechanical appendage.

Thus Hob begins, introducing players to a strange and mysterious world while also providing a method for being able to upgrade combat as the game progresses. While the game doesn’t provide a recognizable language, the world is rich with visual clues and details to guide players through an incredibly engaging and rewarding experience. Time and again I would progress into a new area and marvel at the design of the world only to be further blown away by how clockwork-like sections of the world would be introduced. Large swatches of map territory rise from the ether below to create new areas to explore and search for hidden collectibles.

In addition to a robotic arm, Hob is given pieces of rusted sword. The robot guide then stirs Hob into a workshop of sorts that conveniently is equipped with a forge so that the rusted sections can be reset into a working weapon. Once the key sword is re-forged, it is up to players to read the design of the game world and figure out various platforming puzzles in order to advance. Some puzzles are fairly straightforward–punch a block to make a section slide closer to the exit of an area, or grab a heavy battery and drag it to the device that needs power to activate a bridge or a turbine. With the robotic arm, Hob is also able to activate certain pressure plates to open new passageways.

After some basic early environmental puzzle solving, the now one-armed robot guide points out a location off in the distance, clearly indicating that is where players should make an effort to take Hob. Along the way, there are not only environmental puzzles, but also a wide menagerie of nasty creatures hell bent on stopping Hob. From annoying little dog-like mutts hiding in tall grass, to armored rolling balls of hate, to towering, club-wielding, jackal-like thugs, Hob has a wide range of enemies to slice and punch through. Once defeated, some enemies drop little green spheres which can be redeemed for additional attack combos or methods for dodging enemies. In many regards, Hob is similar to a Zelda game where heart pieces can be found in the world to increase Hob’s health and rusted out robots can be plundered for energy spheres to increase his energy meter. The robot arm provides a powerful punch that can be charged up for devastating hits on enemies, as well as a means to solve various environmental puzzles, but these types of attacks use up the aforementioned energy.

What I truly appreciate about the game is how smartly it introduces new mechanics, for both fighting and puzzle solving. The game expertly unleashes new enemy types (or similar enemy types with additional armor styles that need to be removed before damage can be inflicted on them) at a perfect pace where a challenge is introduced, but never feels unfair or overwhelming. Combat in some ways feels a little simple, pounding away at the Square button being the only real method for attacking enemies. Little shrines hidden throughout the world provide unlocks for complimentary attacks, such as teleporting through enemies, which can then be upgraded further by causing a stun to any enemy that is teleported through. Of course, enemies rarely appear by themselves, and players can utilize other enemies’ wide-swinging attacks to take out their own kind. Puzzle solving is handled in a similar manner, where simple, intuitive concepts are introduced early, and then over time are built upon so that several steps need to be completed before a solution is presented.

I think the biggest compliment to the puzzle solving is how well the game handles the camera. Often in an action-based game like Hob, players are given little to no control over the camera, the inability to directly move/point where the camera should be focused regularly becoming a cause of significant frustrations. Avoiding this issue, Runic clearly spent time working through camera placement and ensuring the most important aspect of any given puzzle is in proper focus.

One other fantastic aspect to the game’s nuanced puzzle design is the use of color and how light interacts with objects in the world. There is one section where Hob has travelled into a dusty, barren desert canyon where copper handles need to be used to rotate a platform. Initially walking past the handles, the copper blends in with the environment, but once the battery has been inserted and certain lights become energized, green light reflects off of the necessary part of the copper to provide a visual cue of what needs to be interacted with. This is merely one example of the game’s many clever and subtle level design touches. Careful thought even went into the UI; for example how the health and energy meters fade away when there is no combat.

Eventually Hob reaches the first vista point that the robot indicated for players to travel to, at which point the narrative clues players that they need to help clear the purple creeping ooze that has enslaved beautiful, delicate butterflies. Seven of them are located throughout the realm of the game. Along the way, Hob also uncovers the hulking remains of decaying titans, much bigger versions of the robot who saved Hob in the first place. Within each of these decayed titans are power cores which must be collected to activate a colossus in the hopes that it can help eradicate the purple swarm. Without spoiling the ending, I will just say that players are given more than one option for reaching a narrative solution.

For all of the praise that I have for the game, Hob is not devoid of some problems. On at least four different occasions the game inexplicably locked up and I had to close it down (fortunately I didn’t have to reboot the PS4). Another time the game hard crashed back to the PS4 UI, prompting a bug report. Aside from these prominent technical issues, I died numerous times due to poor clipping, where Hob would walk or jump into the environment and get stuck. Sadly, Runic seems to be aware of the issue because the game has what seems like a kill timer that kicks in if Hob is stuck inside the environment for too long. This is an unfortunate side effect and hopefully something that can be fixed in future updates, because there is a trophy for beating the game with fewer than 5 deaths. One other aspect I wish the game would include after the story is completed is an option to show any missed collectibles on the world map. There are 24 butterflies to collect and 3 full sword upgrades, and I somehow missed 8 of the butterflies and 4 of the sword sections, as well as a few health and energy meter collectibles. Having some sort of reference to narrow the search would be helpful.

Aside from the performance issues I encountered while playing the PlayStation 4 version, Hob is a smart and engaging video game that I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending. Fans of puzzle-platformers will absolutely marvel at the brilliant world design, while gamers with an affinity for action brawlers will find a definite challenge battling enemies during the latter half of the game (or they can bump up the difficulty right from the start).

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Beautiful world design
+ Smart puzzles throughout
+ Engaging combat

Cons:
– Performance issues related to crashes and clipping
– No world map unlock of missed collectibles

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS4, also on PC
Publisher: Runic Games
Developer: Runic Games
Release Date: 9/26/2017
Genre: Action-Adventure
ESRB Rating: RP
Players: 1

Source: Review code provided by developer

Buy From: GOG, Humble Store, PlayStation Store, and Steam for $19.99.

About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.