REVIEW: Hob

Sep
30

REVIEW: Hob

Huge open-world isometric 3D adventure puzzle platformer from the Torchlight team. Super slick and sophisticated, great graphics, absorbing gameplay.

Status: Released
Type: Single-player
Genre: Adventure, Platform, Puzzle
Developer: Runic Games
Publisher: Runic Games
Release Date: 26 Sep, 2017

Teething Problems

At first I hated it with a passion. The first thing that struck me was that I thought my controller wasn’t set up properly because my right-stick wasn’t moving the camera. OK, I thought, I’ll just switch from Xbone to Steam controller, that should get it working… nope. So then I delved into the settings only to discover that there was in fact no camera control. It just follows you around automatically, always pointing north. Things at the bottom of the screen and behind walls and trees are hidden. It feels very awkward at first.

I was tearing my hair out with frustration at being stuck in the same area, running round and round doing nothing but chop grass and murder the innocent local wildlife. There is a total lack of any kind of tutorial or guidance, you’re just thrown in at the deep end and expected to work it out for yourself. Many games have this method of easing you into the game by showing you things wordlessly and usually I’m a big fan of this but, as a developer, if you’re going to do it this way you’d better make damn sure that it’s foolproof and easy to understand. I’m not a total idiot. I’ve played many games in this genre and I’m generally familiar with the way these things work, but in the end I was forced to look for a guide to escape my misery. Trust me, if I had to do this, chances are you will too.

As if the confusion wasn’t enough, during this time the game was constantly stuttering and dropping frames to a rage-inducing degree (on a GTX1050Ti), and crashing to desktop every five minutes. I’m not alone, these were known issues reported by many others. Thankfully, this was a review copy. If I had paid for the game I would have certainly refunded within the 2 hour window, and would have missed out on one of the best games I’ve ever played.

The crashes were fixed within a couple of days of release, and tweaking my Nvidia driver settings has improved the stuttering issue. It’s still slightly noticeable when I transition between areas, but it’s no longer bad enough to interfere with my enjoyment of the game. As for the learning curve, after a while I got used to the visual cues I needed to look out for and the whole experience became much more comfortable. The camera view now seems to me how all games should behave. You don’t have to fiddle with the right-stick, you can just always see what you need to see. Anything the camera can’t see is a dead area anyway, there’s nothing there, so you don’t need to see it.

Discovering how to use the minimap effectively was the final step in gaining the confidence to tackle the game properly – it took me some time to realise this. The beauty of it is that, because the camera is always pointing north, the map is always pointing in the correct direction! Genius!

Yes, I do still get stuck now and then and succumb to YouTube but, unlike earlier, I kick myself knowing that I could have found that thing if I’d tried a bit harder.

Storyline

There’s no dialog at all in the game, so I’m just interpreting this from what I’ve seen. Hob is a little skinny fella, and at the start of the game he’s messing around with a purple poisonous plant which infects his arm. Along comes a tall robot who chops his arm off and transplants a huge robot glove. The robot leads him to a glowing mechanism, mumbles something unintelligible and shows Hob how to activate it with his glove. Then off we go in search of more mechanisms. Shortly afterwards he discovers a sword, so from then on he has a stabbing weapon and a punching weapon which are both put to good use.

As the story progresses, Hob occasionally meets his robot companion who briefly mumbles, points at something and sends Hob on his way to bring more of the world back to life. There are dead robots all over the place and of course the world is overrun with monsters and dangerous vegetation to be dealt with. It seems that this is a lost world previously occupied by a robot nation, but something happened and now the world and all its mechanics have fallen into disrepair, so Hob has been recruited to reanimate and save the world. I haven’t reached the end yet, but I suspect he’ll be the saviour of robot-kind eventually.

Gameplay

This is a game of exploration and discovery. You run around the landscape seeking things to interact with. You do a lot of leaping and climbing, parkour-style, to reach various types of glowing or metallic mechanisms. When you approach one of these hotspots a blue X appears (or kb/mouse equivalent) and you press X to make something happen. There might be a handle that you use to pull a giant stone circle into position, drag a block into an alcove to activate something, or punch a button to send something spinning.

The target items are dotted around the map, and when you discover/activate them they disappear from the map, so it’s always populated with yet-undiscovered targets, and new areas/items are revealed on the map as you unlock them in-world. The route towards these items is never as straightforward as it appears on the map, it always turns out to be convoluted, festooned with obstacles and requiring mechanisms to be activated to open the way.

Many games have 3D graphics, it’s not a big deal. However, this is not just 3D graphics, the world has vertical DEPTH. You’re always climbing to high points and descending into caves and secret passageways. Finding your way up and down is just as important as pinpointing your location on the map overview. It’s a labyrinth full of weird and wonderful contraptions, monsters, animals and fairies. Every time you turn a corner there’s something new, hour after hour. Did I mention how massive this game is?

As you move through the world you collect powerups, hidden butterflies and artifacts. You battle enemy monsters. You pet friendly wildlife. You activate all manner of giant mechanisms made of stone, shining metal and glowing buttons. But most of all, you explore every nook and cranny, high and low, punching your way through walls (and the ground!) to reveal hidden tunnels and pathways, and dragging blocks and contraptions around, fitting them into inactive mechanisms to bring them to life.

Combat

Every so often you come across a group of enemies. I’m playing on medium (default) difficulty, there is also easy, hard and very hard available. Medium is an apt description. There’s enough challenge that you have to make a few attempts but it never reaches the point of frustration.

Each type of monster has its own weakness. Some of them have to be punched, others stabbed, others you have to pull their kneecaps off before tackling them, or smash their armour and slash their naked bodies. They all have their individual victory cries and gestures when they win the battle, but once defeated their death is permanent and they’re cleared from the map never to be seen again regardless of Hob’s respawns. This makes them the best indicator of new areas because if you find a monster it means you haven’t been there before, and once you’ve defeated them you can look around for new collectibles and mechanisms in that area. The corpses take a while to decompose, so you can even identify recently-conquered areas from the older ones which are clear of bodies.

Controls

Keyboard/mouse is an option, but this really must be played with a controller. I can honestly say that this is the most satisfying use of a controller I’ve ever experienced. The combat-rolls, jumping, pulse-beam-grabbing, glove-punching, sword-slashing, power-dashing and all manner of other actions feel completely natural and intuitive, it really makes you feel at one with the character. The movement is fluid and responsive but it’s the small nuances that make it so great. For example, your walking/running speed is dynamic, linked to how far you’re pushing the left-stick. If you’re trying to keep your balance on a narrow pipe you can tiptoe along at a snail’s pace. Normal running speed is just right. If you want to get somewhere in a hurry, use right-trigger and you’ll sprint there in no time.

The piece de resistance is the controller rumble. It’s brilliant. You jump from a height and you feel your landing. Get too near a lightning emitter and it’ll tingle to warn you. When big stone mechanisms are activated, the grinding sounds are complemented by a heavy shake. I can’t get enough of it.

Sound & Vision

There are many good things to say about Hob, but if I had to pick one aspect that really sets this apart from other games it’s the world-unlock animations. In most games you have the normal gameplay but the cutscenes are separate entities, like glitzy movie shorts that are shown to you, and then you go back to the game. Here the ‘cutscenes’ can’t be called that because they don’t cut away from the game. You can actually continue to move the character around while it’s happening. The camera zooms out and the whole vista erupts with giant stones and grassland rising up from the depths or water pouring into dry beds to form lakes, changing the whole landscape. It’s a sight to behold, I tell ya. And it happens a lot.

At strategic positions on the map, usually in very high crows nest positions, there are vista spots. These are places where you sit on a ledge and the camera slowly turns and pans out to reveal a particularly spectacular view of the world with impressive distance perspective. Sometimes they’re vertical views, and if you suffer from vertigo watch out for those!

Most of the game has only ambient sound effects. I say “only”, but these are fantastic subtle sounds that connect you with the environment to make you feel like you’re there. Your footsteps echo in the underground caverns. Soft animal noises come at you from all directions in the jungle areas etc. There is very soft music occasionally but you have to pay attention or you won’t even notice it if you’re too busy concentrating on your tasks. They are lovely tunes if you stop to listen to them but I think they’ve deliberately been understated so as not to impose on the environment immersion.

Difficulty

Once you get over the aforementioned initial hump, I’d say the challenge is still medium/hard. There’s a lot of head-scratching involved in trying to discover that elusive mechanism to unlock the next area, but there are plenty of “aha!” moments when you work out how that clever thing works, or reveal that little hole behind a bush.

You can also choose your own difficulty level by a) tweaking the combat settings and b) deciding whether or not to try and capture all those hard-to-reach butterflies and isolated currency nodes dispensing green beads that allow you to buy new abilities and upgrade your weapons.

Steam

A mixture of 37 achievements which are as expected – some for normal game progression, others for advanced pursuits. No Trading Cards yet but I’m sure they’ll come. Steam Cloud available but no Linux support for me to use it with so far, and they’re not making any noises about having Linux any time soon either, sadly. Torchlight 2 has it though, so I’m not abandoning hope.

Value

It’s a steal. I would gladly pay two or three times the price, it’s head and shoulders above other games in this price range, both in quality and quantity. Don’t wait for a sale, get it now.

Verdict

It does have its problems initially, but by the time you’re a few hours into the game you’ll have forgotten all about them as you immerse yourself in this epic world of wonders. I really can’t recommend this strongly enough. This is my favourite type of game and as such I’ve played many of them so I have plenty of comparison. Up to now my favourites have been games like Conarium that dazzles with UE4 graphics and item discovery, or Figment that focuses on voice acting and music with some light puzzling and combat, but no other game I can think of combines such high quality of platforming, graphics, adventure and puzzling all in one package.

I feel so sorry for Runic. They’ve crafted this masterpiece and are greeted only by Torchlight fanboys flooding their forum with complaints about how this game shouldn’t exist and they should be working on Torchlight 3 instead. I think they would all immediately shut up if they had a chance to play this.

I’ve awarded this our (very rare) highest rating of Autosave, but I think we need to create a new rating above it simply named ‘Hob’, as this would be the only ever recipient of it.

It’s September now, but I’m pretty sure this will be my Game Of The Year.

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About JimDeadlock

My main focus is puzzlers or anything with puzzle elements in it. I also like forward-planning strategy and discovery/adventure. Games that engage your brain without too much urgency. || I’m a rabid Linux user and try to avoid Win-only games but I’ll suffer it if the game is worthwhile. || I don’t go for multiplayer games in general, and you couldn’t make me play FPS if you tied me to a chair and held a blowtorch to my toes. || Steam Profile

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