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Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4
Genre: RPG/Action
Developer: Runic Games
Release Date: Sept. 26, 2017


PC Review - 'Hob'

by Cody Medellin on Oct. 30, 2017 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

Hob is a vibrant, suspenseful adventure game where, as players delve into the mysteries around them, they discover a planet in peril. Can it be mended, or will the world fall further into chaos?

Runic Games has become a trusted indie developer, largely due to its Torchlight titles. The first one proved that Runic knew what made the isometric action RPG tick, while the second game was loved and gained fans after Diablo III initially disappointed. With two successful titles in the genre under its belt, the development team decided the next offering should be different, and while Hob is different in many ways, it shares one similarity with the team's earlier work: It's a darn good game.

The first thing that will stand out is how ambiguous the narrative is. Players take on the role of a nameless, silent hooded protagonist who has either been rescued from a cave or awakened from slumber by a hulking but benevolent mechanical creature. The first few moments of freedom are spent wandering around the world, but it doesn't take long before you're attacked by a mysterious growth. From there, your robotic friend pins you down, cuts off your rapidly infected arm, and tries to treat you while you're sedated. You awaken to find that your arm has been replaced with one of his robotic ones, and without much explanation, you try to fix this new world.

That ambiguity carries throughout the rest of the game. Your robot friend speaks in grunts that you somehow understand but they're never translated. Unlike most adventure games nowadays, there are no journals to give a sense the world's history or what kind of calamity the protagonist faces. There are two endings to the game, but they are also devoid of text or dialogue, providing only a faint idea of what's going on in each scenario. The lack of a definitive tale can be upsetting to those looking for purpose, but anyone who embraces that same openness will appreciate this.

Hob plays out from a top-down perspective, and in a way, it takes some inspiration from Nintendo's The Legend of Zelda series. Your arm is initially used to grab and move heavy items, but it doesn't take long before you get some new powers. You can break down fragile walls and ground to reveal new passageways with just one punch. Later on, you gain the ability to grapple and swing from certain spots on the map, and you gain the ability to warp from one designated spot to another, sometimes in a chained sequence. In combat, you can block and execute a sword swing combo reminiscent of the way the hero in Nintendo's grand adventure handles a sword. You can also perform a rolling dodge, which is useful in evading an enemy's charge.

The inspiration isn't superficial, as the gameplay and balance are also emulated. The combat feels right; the surrounding swarms feel manageable, and no cheap hits are doled out simply because you were busy attacking an enemy. There isn't a huge variety of enemies, but you'll enjoy the fights. Likewise, the puzzles are well thought-out, but nothing is too frustrating to solve. There may be a puzzle or two that requires quick reflexes, but nothing will stump you from the get-go.

Perhaps the biggest inspiration from the Zelda series is that it refuses to guide you around. You have a map, and it often points out the next major point of interest, but it doesn't provide a direct path to get there. The game leaves it up to you to stumble upon the next major thing, and you'll often end up in an area that you can't access yet. The sense of discovery, even during temporary dead ends, is rewarding anyway, as you're either treated to a vista of your surroundings or a power-up to increase aspects like your arm's energy meter or your own health.

Hob also takes some inspiration from the PS2 classic Ico when it comes to the combat system. Despite your skills with a sword, you don't do much fighting in the game. Instead, a good chunk of your time is spent in exploration and trying to find the best route to get from one place to another. Enough of these sections lack puzzles, so your time is spent taking in the environments, and a few spots are carved out so the camera pulls back and provides a good view of the landscape. Interestingly, the game also throws in a bunch of wildlife to keep you company, so you can enter a valley and see a few animals going about their business.

This results in frustrating moments because nothing is happening. While you're trying to find a new upgrade or a way to a new area, you'll be otherwise unengaged. Killing the animals nets you nothing, and they aren't a nuisance, so offing them seems cruel. Cutting the grasses and trees seems like a callback to the Zelda series, but unlike there, you get nothing out of that here. Should you get lost and fail to find the next area, the game starts to drag. Luckily, those sections are few and far between, so they aren't too big of an issue in the grand scheme of things.

The only other problematic part of the gameplay has to do with the camera. It's quite fine in the exterior world, and the camera behaves quite well in most of the underground portions. However, it doesn't stay on top all the time, and it opts for lower angles, which can sometimes make it difficult to judge the distance between gaps. Other times, the same camera angles seem to misrepresent land elevation, and that leads to you falling to your death — from not-so-great heights.

Graphically, Hob is quite stunning. The backgrounds exude a great amount of detail while still displaying a wonderful array of colors in this lightly cel-shaded world. Hob himself animates beautifully, with loads of detail being shown off at every movement. The various particle effects add to the scenery, and the gore stands out because of how well it contrasts with the cleanliness of the surrounding areas.

The frame rate is where the game begins to visually fall apart. Even with a GTX 1070 set to ultra on 1080p, the game hits over 60fps but stutters often enough to make the frame rate drop well below that number. Most mind-boggling of that the frame rate can drop when nothing is happening in the game scenes. This is definitely a case where optimization is needed to make the title more enjoyable.

Elsewhere, the soundtrack evokes a sense of adventure in every part of the world. It's a rousing mix of somber and adventurous tunes in the appropriate places, and silence creeps in from time to time to let the sound effects enhance the mood instead.

Hob is a solid adventure game. If you can live with brief moments of frustration when you're lost and nothing is going on, you'll often be rewarded with a large chunk of the game where the pacing is just right and the balance between combat and puzzle elements is fair. Despite a few issues with stuttering, the presentation is exquisite, and the game comes in at a satisfying length. Adventure fans would do well to give Hob a look.

Score: 8.0/10

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