Hob Impressions—Masterclass in Wordless Adventuring

Game: Hob

Developer: Runic Games

Publisher: Runic Games

Reviewed: PC

Hob is the type of game that happens when you’re not looking. You’ll slip into its shifting, cel-shaded forests, become one with its quiet, absorbing trance, cast experiments on the stone playground surrounding you, and marvel at its fantasy. You’ll lose yourself in an ancient world where actions outshine voice. Runic Games’ third offering instantly feels like an arthouse hit, and as you keep playing, you’ll be more and more convinced its enigmatic approach to puzzle and narrative design is more than skin deep.

Like a secret whisper, Hob‘s story swings into motion, signalling at far more mature introspection than you might expect; depending on your interpretation, its a commentary on disability, or a coming of age journey wrapped in a fight for environmental preservation. The world is alive with yellow sparkling dust, bulbous, vibrant trees, tiny gazelle-like creatures, puzzles lined up without any concrete clarification. There’s a buzz in the air, charged with static electricity, amperes fluctuating wildly whenever you unlock a new area to explore.

Mechanical altars act as autosave points. They’re fairly distributed, and it’s not easy to die unless you bump into the noxious overgrowth one too many times, or accidentally plummet into a canyon. The difficulty lies in the puzzlework, and even then, it’s a careful blend of intuition and thinking outside the box, so it never leaves you dumbfounded or confused. You’ll be climbing vines, pushing blocks, traversing semi-formed bridges, and diving into breathtaking levels of verticality—underground caverns included. The world itself is a giant puzzle, and by mechanical extension, you are part of it, too.

Hob favours dreamy exploration over any kind of strictly enforced levelling system. Sometimes, the forests and electric citadels are so expansive you’ll get lost, but luckily, there’s a map to save you. Light RPG elements complete the gameplay package. In the workshop, you can upgrade swords, abilities and cloaks—provided you’ve collected enough green coloured currency. Its availability is scarce, so finding it is all the more rewarding, not unlike the armaments which exist to strengthen your biomechanical arm.

When you die, you emerge from the mechanical altars in a cloud of smoke, like when Casper’s dad was resurrected. All around you, rabbit sugar gliders launch into flight, and flower-tailed rats scurry away in fear. As you progress, more powerful enemies materialise and threaten to halt your adventure. Sometimes, you’ll have to outsmart them using the machines of the earth, and other times you’ll have to wait until you’ve upgraded your abilities sufficiently.

Meeting fairy tale creatures: Hob is a truly gorgeous puzzle platformer that is utterly worthy of your time.

At the beginning, you’re not alone. You follow in your guardian’s footseps in silent, wordless bounds, mute like Link in The Legend of Zelda. In Hob, environmental queues act as pointers on what to do next. They’re occasionally vague and fringe on obscure, but are still able to be grasped. Supplying power to circuits, warping across chasms in timed sequences, and plugging yourself into antiquated technology to transform the world’s appearance will keep you enchanted and constantly tinkering away.

Only tiny things broke the immersion. Enemy remains not disappearing (and lack of collision detection as you step through them) are technically more realistic, but in game design their removal is far more common. The static loading screen when you enter and exit from certain places or transition to a new area make Hob feel bumpier than it should be. On the plus side, the camera work is phenomenal—as it should be. In a top-down game that’s constantly switching viewpoints as you tuck into crevices, explore caves, shimmy down makeshift ladders and break through walls, good camerawork is essential.

I won’t dare to spoil Hob. It’s far too precious. Hob is what happens when the fairy tale beauty of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons intersects with the all encompassing spirituality of Journey, and in my eyes, it will be a huge treat for fans of puzzle bound adventures. It’s the kind of game that can’t be properly defined with words. Play it, you’ll see why.

Hob is out now for PC and PlayStation 4.

Full Disclosure: A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for purposes of this review.