Developer: Runic Games
Publisher: Runic Games
Release Date: 26/09/2017
Format(s): PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), PC
After having massive success in the ARPG genre with both Torchlight and Torchlight II, Runic Games are back with a new release that’s a bit different to what you’d expect from them. Introducing Hob: a colourful platforming-adventure that trades dungeon crawling with jumping, battling, and puzzle-solving across a wondrous and colourful world.
Runic Games have set the bar high in their previous releases, so naturally expectations have been very high for Hob. Worry not though – not only is the game stunning to look at, but it’s a lot of fun to play too.
There’s not a whole lot that is explained about Hob’s narrative from the get go, with the titular protagonist just being freed from a darkened area by a giant robot and then led through the opening area of the land. It all goes pear-shaped though when a monstrous infection that seems to have taken over a lot of the world attacks you, in turn forcing the robot to amputate your arm in order to save your life. Fortunately, the robot also sacrifices his own arm and places it on your body, which is both a blessing and a curse – it means you have to take on the role of trying to rid the world of the deadly infection that is plaguing it.
Almost the entirety of the story is left for the player to interpret, with no dialogue spoken throughout the whole of the game. Instead, it’s the different character’s actions and the way that the world changes that tells you the tale. It’s effective story-telling; not fully understanding what was going on just made me even more intrigued to see what would happen next. There’re definitely plenty of secrets to be discovered about Hob’s world, and you’ve got to be watch closely if you want to discover them all.
One of the most distinct and wonderful features of Hob is found in its art style, which utilises bright colourful visuals to create a charming little world. Everything looks incredibly pretty and you never know what you’re going to see next. Whilst the game doesn’t necessarily offer anything you wouldn’t have seen before from an environmental standpoint, it all looks so damn good that it’s hard not to be impressed by it all.
It actually feels like you’re exploring this living, breathing world too, with the game full to the brim with different creatures and plant-life that have made the strange little environment their home. Some of the animals were adorable; I’d feel so guilty when they’d get caught in the middle of a battle that I’d almost be tempted to re-load my save rather than see their lifeless corpse haunt the beautiful world.
The stunning game world is complimented by some fantastic level design, with Hob featuring plenty of intricately designed areas that are absolutely full to brim with hidden secrets to uncover. It’s almost got a Metroidvania-like vibe to it in some ways, with the game having an open world that is never fully revealed to you until you’ve unlocked the abilities to explore deeper and deeper. Don’t get me wrong, there’s quite a linear feel to it with the player essentially having to follow a set path in order to progress, but there are certainly plenty of detours available for those who know how to best utilise the protagonist’s abilities.
However, Hob actually goes one step further with its Metroidvania-like choice of design: a lot of the land isn’t just inaccessible because you might not have the means to reach it, but also because it might not even be visible yet. A lot of the world is broken off into segments which will only rise up once you’ve activated special devices. Once it comes in though it’s certainly noticeable, with a huge chunk of land rising above you and showing everything that powers it underneath, before coming back down and lining up perfectly with the ground where you stand and slowly letting nature take its course and bless it with greenery and wildlife. It looks ridiculously impressive in-game and just does a fantastic job of showing off the massive scale of Hob’s world.
There’s plenty to uncover across this massive world, with a ton of different collectibles to find, upgrades to discover, and beautiful vistas to gaze upon. Almost all of them are found in unconventional locales that you don’t necessarily have to visit either – it’s easy to follow the set ‘story’ path of Hob, but to get the most satisfaction out of it you’ve got to be willing to explore further afield. Almost everything that’s worth finding is hidden behind some enjoyable platforming section or puzzle, so it’s worth venturing out into the wild just to get the most out of the game. Seriously, if you see what looks like a hidden or hard to reach platform just TRY and jump out to it; you never know what you might end up finding…
The only issue I really had with Hob’s world was that it could look a little samey at times, so I often got lost when exploring the constantly terraforming world. You’d see familiar sights over and over again and think you were heading in the wrong direction, but the truth was that you’d simply unlocked more of the world but might not have noticed how far it’d reached. It’s certainly a peculiar problem to have when playing a game, but the fact that new areas were rising out of nowhere could make it a little bit difficult to figure out if you’d actually been to a location already or not.
Outside of simply exploring the world, you’ll also be taking part in plenty of platforming, puzzle solving, and combat scenarios. The platforming is simple enough, with it mainly consisting of jumping, climbing, and dashing around. There’s never a demand for absolute precision with very little in the form of tiny platforms for you to jump between, but it still requires you to be quick and accurate if you want to succeed. The level design is incredibly clever, so even the simplest of platforming mechanics are effective in the game. Outside of a few camera issues here and there, it’s all very competent.
The puzzling is enjoyable too, but like the platforming doesn’t offer anything that’s over-complicated – they’re typically just a series of logical enigmas that require you to move around some blocks, pull some levers, or just react quickly. That’s probably selling them a bit short because the scale of the puzzles can be quite impressive, but they’re never too trying from a gameplay perspective; instead, they just demand that you think logically. It’s probably the best kind of puzzle for this kind of game and the fact they’re not overly-convoluted actually makes them a lot more fun to solve.
Much like most other aspects of the game, combat in Hob is simple yet effective, with your little character able to pull off simple combos and defensive manoeuvres in each showdown against the evil cretins that’re found all over the world. There are a decent variety of enemies on offer that all need to be taken out in their own way too – some have shields that need breaking, some might have bombs that need avoiding, some might be hiding away in the tall grass, whilst others are huge and strike out at you with their long reach… there’s quite a lot to think about, even if the combat mechanics themselves are simple enough. Despite this though it could feel a little too easy at times; sure, you’d need a strategy, but typically you just needed to patient and then mash away at the attack buttons when it’s the right time to strike. I will warn you though, even though Hob looks cute it’s actually pretty brutal – expect to see the bloody remains of your enemies across the environment after slaying them.
You’ll discover new abilities as you progress through the game too, though you need to unlock them by using the skill points you earn from defeating enemies or that you find hidden in the environment. A lot of these simply enhance the speed and strength of your attacks, but there are some that give you new moves such as using your arm as a shield or being able to teleport behind your opponents. You can also use the upgrades you earn naturally through the game; being able to smash at an enemy with your giant punch or rip off their armour with your grappling hook power is certainly a lot more satisfying than just using them in the environment all the time.
Everything about Hob feels simple in design, yet it all comes together to offer a deceivingly complex experience that is constantly changing as you progress through the game. You’ll always be intrigued at what’s going to come next, whilst the overlying sense of mystery about the world will keep you grasping at straws as you look to uncover all of its hidden secrets. That fact that the game is just so damn fun to play makes the whole journey feel a lot more worthwhile.
Runic Games did something a bit different to the norm with Hob, but it makes for a fascinating experience that I really enjoyed. It could be a little too easy in places and there were some moments of confusion when exploring the huge world, but none of these issues have stopped it from being one of the most charming and entertaining releases that I’ve played this year.