Hob is a top-down action-adventure game created by Runic Games, a development team that created ARPGs Torchlight and Torchlight 2. Runic was closed by their publisher, Perfect World Entertainment, as they allegedly wanted to focus on online, and MMO content. This closure happened only a mere two or three months from the release of Hob, which made a few waves at the time.
Hob’s story is told entirely without words. The camera uses motion and camera angles to direct attention, and and characters tell the emote and move in order to get their message across, a technique in this case that I didn’t find particularly clear or easy to follow.
The main story is basic enough, so players are unlikely to get lost on the main plot point; the land has become infected, and with the help of your trusty robot companion, you set out to cleanse it and save the world.
Hob shines when it comes to puzzles and exploration. Hob’s world is beautifully detailed, with lots of hidden collectables that will power up the character, for those that love to explore. Throughout the game you will gain more abilities that allow you to explore additional areas. This works similarly to a Metroidvania, where the new ability will allow you to explore some extra optional areas, providing some freedom, but also opens up the next main part of the map, directing the player towards the next main objective.
Hob’s map is clearly laid out, but I found that many of the areas look alike, and when unfamiliar with them, it is possible to get lost, especially after quitting the game, and then loading it on your next play session. Hob does provide a detailed map of areas that you have explored, and this map does pop up at certain stages in the story, but the game never advises that it can be opened, and as such, it is easy to miss.
When starting the game, it would be fair to assume that you’re on an organic planet made of soil, but after some time, you will reach ruins that are clearly “man-made”, and then, when diving into underground caves you will discover that the entire heart of the world that you inhabit is mechanical. This mix of the nature and machine not only makes the world you explore more interesting, it fits into the gameplay, as you will literally be restructuring the world around you when completing certain sections. This can range from raising or lowering small sections of the map to completely conjuring new areas to explore from the depths below. It’s definitely adds a sense of wonder, as you never know what will be around the corner next, and helps to push the player forward in absence of an evolving story.
The camera is fixed above the main character at a 3/4 perspective. Most of the time, this camera angle works well as the map is designed to have the player moving upwards most of the time, and when moving back toward the camera, there generally won’t be objects in the way. Those who love to explore may find issues with tall objects in the foreground however. Hob does make the objects transparent around the character that you control, but there are lots of areas in the game that have tall trees or structures in front of where you’ll be running if you’re exploring toward the camera.
Despite Hob’s perspective and style, there is a large amount of platforming. For the majority of the game, the platforming is fun, as the controls are responsive and the motion is fluid, but thanks to camera angles, and fall damage instantly killing you, the average player is likely to die many times attempting to make some jumps in the game. Death doesn’t set the player back too much, however, as the player will respawn with no penalty and no progress lost; enemies that were defeated stay dead, and collectibles that were collected remain in your inventory. There are also a lot of spawn points in the world, and these activate when walking near them automatically, so you won’t miss them or forget to activate them.
After a short amount of playtime, you gain a powerful metal arm that through the course of the game gives you multiple additional abilities. The first one you gain will be a punch attack that can demolish damaged walls, and activate certain switches. Every ability that is unlocked can be used in both exploration and combat, but the majority of them are situational, and the abilities drain a lot of energy. The energy pool can be upgraded in time, but in the early game, there isn’t a lot of energy to play around with, which prevents the player from really testing out the extend of these abilities.
Hob has 3 difficulties available when starting the game. Easy, Normal and Hard. In normal difficulty, the combat isn’t too punishing. There are enemies that can destroy over half of your health bar in one hit, but these enemies have extremely predictable attack patterns, and the dodge roll has a huge invincibility window. If the player expects to be able to win without dodging in and out of combat, even regular enemies will be able to heavily damage the player. Some enemies in game do have a lot of health, and even after upgrading the player’s sword multiple times, will take a huge amount of punishment. Other enemies require the use of abilities, such as the punch glove to destroy armor, adding some strategy to the combat, however the punch in particular has a large charging delay, which before getting the punch charge speed upgrade, is very slow, and almost can’t be used without backing away from enemies, allowing them to walk into range, which breaks the flow of combat.
With the negatives aside, the combat is fun. There are enough enemy types in the game to keep combat fresh for the duration of the story, and toward the late game, the enemies are paired with each other to create new challenges. Swinging the sword is fast, and dodge roll can cancel any other action that you’re in, which makes the combat smooth and responsive, and very forgiving, making successful combat feel incredible.
When delving underground, it feels like you’re playing a dungeon in a Legend of Zelda game, and as such was expecting a boss fight at the end of these areas to solidify my victory, but Hob does not deliver on this expectation. As Hob is primarily an adventure game, it is possible that the developers tried boss fights, but found that they did not work, but for a seasoned gamer, I would have loved to see some boss fights, as both the combat and ‘glove’ abilities could create some interesting challenges.
Hob is not completely bug free,but most aren’t game breaking. Throughout my play, I fell through the floor twice, which caused an instant death. At one stage an upgrade station didn’t activate properly, completely removing control from my character, and I was forced to restart the game, but I imagine that this is a rare occurrence. Overall, bugs won’t dampen the enjoyment too much, as they should be few and far between.
There aren’t a lot of modern games like Hob, from this review, if you’re on the fence about it, I highly recommend checking the Youtube review at the top to get a better idea of what the game is like.
Hob’s beautiful world and smooth controls are definitely going to push all the right buttons for some players, but others looking for a more action or story-oriented game might lose interest before getting all the way through.