Hob’s silent, red-hooded hero inhabits a world of seamlessly integrated organic beauty and mechanical marvels that have fallen victim to the corruption of time and mysterious, fungus-like growths that have gummed up the landscape. Before we set out on our journey, we are not told the history of this world or how it came to be in its current state, but once we begin the adventure any concerns over lack of explanation vanish. Like a living puzzle, the world of Hob is in need of a solution, and in a quite literal sense, we become the only ones with the key.
Very early on in the game, our hero becomes much like the world around him: a fusion of biology and machine-driven wonder. You acquire a mechanical arm that gives you abilities needed for combat, puzzle solving, and advancement throughout the game’s environment. You are also equipped with a unique sword that looks, quite appropriately, much like a key.
Combat in Hob is fluid and simple, but manages to keep you on your toes. Enemies can surprise you. For instance, I ran into one long-limbed, goblin-like creature and approached it with some confidence only for it to wipe out my life bar with one fatal swing of its club. Later, creatures appeared donning rock-like shells that could only be broken by a punch from my mechanical fist. From there I could swipe at their skin with my sword, or send them reeling with another powerful punch. Fallen enemies will drop life as well as collectibles used to buy upgrades.
During the game you can trade in certain collectibles for improvements to your arm as well as other combat abilities. For instance, very early on in the game you can upgrade your arm to produce a shield that can be used to block enemy attacks. You can also acquire a more advanced rolling dodge or longer sword combos. The sword itself can also be advanced in a sense. You will find sword pieces throughout the game that can be melded into a new weapon using a forge located at your home base.
Of course, combat isn’t the main focus of Hob; the world is a puzzle and you will need your wits and your metallic limb to find the solutions. You will use your arm to unlock glowing orbs used to activate old machinery, open heavy doorways, smash through walls, and even move whole parts of the environment at once.
Like the story itself, Hob’s puzzles operate off inference and exploration. You will dive into dungeons where you will discover new abilities needed for further exploring the upper world. During one such visit to the underground, I obtained the ability to super-charge my mechanical fist, allowing me to punch certain sections of the environment marked by a copper button. Doing so opened up new areas, or gave me the ability to cause the sides of walls or cliffs to crumble, forming a ladder. I used this same ability on enemies afterward for a powerful attack.
Because the player is given little to no explanation, each puzzle holds a new surprise. You often see devices, but may not be quite certain what they do until you activate them. Along this vein, I managed to activate what turned out to be teleportation devices that sped me around the environment at the speed of light. Another time, I activated what I thought was a fixed section of the environment, only to find I could use my robotic arm to drive it around like a four-legged spider.
The camera is fixed in a top-down position, allowing a wide view of the gorgeous landscape. On occasion, you can sit as the camera lowers a bit, focusing out at the world beyond. Green trees and distant cliffs appear mixed with the coppery glint of ancient structures. The environments vary depending on what section of the map you are in. In one area, intermittent lightning strikes beat the rocky ground amidst electrified diodes and deadly copper-colored floors that looked like intricate motherboards. The colors in the game are vibrant, and even the darker areas have frequent moments of brilliant contrast. Along with our hero’s red hood, pops of fluorescent blue and green and even pink juxtapose with the more subtle colors of nature, rock edifices, and dastardly opponents.
A map of the landscape helps you keep track of your location and is a rather helpful aide if you are unsure where to go next. The game isn’t huge by modern standards, but spawn devices located in each area allow for fast travel that is rather useful, particularly when you want to get back to home base for your next upgrade. Along with a map, the inventory screen will also show you how many collectibles you have, along with sword pieces and other items.
The game’s platforming elements are not overly dense, but I found jumping and climbing operated smoothly and accurately. The only time I had an issue was a few times when climbing down a ladder I accidentally got offside just enough to land on a nearby electrified floor. One other minor complaint is there is not a separate button for climbing onto objects. So, there would be times I was attempting to push or pull a part of the environment and ended up climbing on it instead. Of course, both of these are easily corrected by simply being a bit more careful, so they are minor issues if that.
It is difficult to play Hob and not immediately make the comparison to the adventures of another silent, green-clad hero. Anyone who plays the game will get a strong sense of classic adventure/puzzle games such as The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the past, or even certain elements reminiscent of games like Spyro. However, that is not to say Hob is a Zelda clone. In fact, quite far from it. Like all well-developed titles, it utilizes the best of the past and mixes it with it’s own, unique style. Hob is a game that pays homage to it’s predecessors while stepping out on it’s own as a memorable title by virtue of it’s engaging design, beautiful landscapes, and interesting characters.
Hob does not have much of a story to tell, but that doesn’t mean the journey is any less satisfying. Brilliant use of inference, fluid combat and well-designed environmental challenges make the world of Hob come alive. You might not know exactly why you are there, but you are glad you had the key to the puzzle.