Hob is a top-down exploration game that has great art direction and a vague, but understandable story. The game, however, quickly becomes repetitive in its design, with the player constantly executing the same actions in different, albeit striking backgrounds.
The world of Hob is one in which technology and nature are, at the same time, entwined and in conflict. The first area is a lush forest, full of plants, trees and animals, but also ancient technological ruins moved by strange, glowing forms of energy. The wildlife can be peaceful, but also hostile, with goblin-like creatures just around the corner waiting for an opportunity to strike you down. And the whole world acts like an enormous jigsaw puzzle: the lands shift and move to fit together, allowing you to progress.
You look at this world in a top-down perspective, which reinforces its design based on verticality. There are tons of tall structures and holes that go deep underground. The lands rise and fall. You climb huge structures, make long jumps and descend through tunnels, stairs and decayed buildings.
The protagonist’s purpose is made clear right from the start. There is corruption spreading throughout the world, with a purple blob-thing with claws contaminating the environment, killing whoever comes near. It’s your mission to rid the world of this menace and save your people.
Hob’s story reflects the state of the world. The protagonist is a mechanical being, being helped by other mechanical beings. You can clearly see that it’s your people that are mechanizing the world, allowing chunks of it to move, rise and fall. There is a connection between machine and nature, but also conflict, as nature, with its purple toxic substance, is fighting back.
The game’s story is a simple one, which greatly helps its understanding, since it’s told mostly by gestures and undecipherable dialogue, spoken in gibberish. Its lore, which expands on how the world ended up in that state, is told by vague shining panels you can find in temples hidden around the world.
During the climax, you have an important choice to make, although one of the outcomes is of little consequence. The revelation that precedes this moment, however, shows how far one can go to destroy the other, corrupting even your own nature in the process if needed.
Although simple, Hob’s narrative still has some problems. The opening moments, for example, establish a strong connection between your character and a robot that makes a personal sacrifice to help you – a bond that soon begins to fade as the robot, after that, just walks around the world, pointing loosely at the faraway places you must go: if at the beginning, he’s a friend, now he’s just a pretty useless guide. Besides that, there is the fact that vague stories can clearly work – see Abzû and Journey – but Hob is vague in excess. As already said, the player can find some temple-like structures around the world, where the protagonist sits down to observe some glyphs shining. But what do they mean? There is a certain solemnity to the occasion, but the format is too abstract. Vague messages can make the player become more invested – trying to uncover their meaning – but for that to happen the messages must first at least look like messages. In Hob, the shining panels, at first, can just look like they’re activating something, just like the other glowing things in the world.
Which leads us to Hob’s most serious problem: there is no immediate logical connection between the player’s actions and their result in the world. By moving a lever you can make a whole continent rise from the abyss or just move some platforms around – and you usually can’t tell beforehand which of the two outcomes will happen. It’s not the case where the puzzle is “If I do this, that will happen”, being actually more like “If I touch glowing things, stuff will happen”. For a game that is all about its world, this disconnection to it is a grave issue. And there is the problem of repetition. Your actions are the usual Zelda actions: pushing blocks and moving levers. The results of those actions may be different most of the times, but what you do remains always the same: pushing blocks and moving levers. In Hob, you just proceed until you find a glowing thing and activate it.
The game is a metroidvania at heart, with tons of backtracking and wandering off exploring the world. You may find some upgrades that open new areas, like a grapple or a dash ability, but the most impactful moments in the game happen when you gain access to new areas not because you got stronger, but because you helped cure the world from its purple disease – like when you open gates to flood some regions. The collectables, however, are a bit problematic. Most are orbs that can be used to buy skills and new armor, and so they make for an indirect and thus unsatisfying upgrade. The others – skills, heart pieces, energy and armor – are all related to combat, improving your survival chances. However, the combat is not the game’s focus and for a good reason: it’s slow, easy and repetitive. You can easily kill every monster in the game by just spamming the attack button until they attack and you press the button to defend it. If they are armored, you remove the armor first with the appropriate ability. Therefore, making your character increasingly stronger doesn’t mean much. It would have been better if these skills were related to traversing the environment, instead of related to the overly-simple combat system.
Hob, then, is a beautiful, but flawed game, that presents a fascinating world, but fails to capitalize on it as much as it should.
May 03, 2019.