First announced in 2015, Runic Games' Hob piqued our interest during its numerous appearances at trade shows like PAX. We recently had a chance to sit down and play a build of the game that will be appearing at PAX East, and came away impressed by Hob's puzzle designs and environments, and charmed by its sense of style.
Hob takes place in a mysterious, lively world teeming with bizarre wildlife and covered in ancient-looking machinery. Taking control of an unnamed hooded figure, players use a variety of combat and platforming skills to make their way across the treacherous landscape, restoring power to massive machines in the process. It is immediately reminiscent of games like Shadow of the Colossus and The Legend of Zelda with its sense of atmosphere and exploration, but it stands apart with an art style that is all its own, with it's surreal blend of calming, lush environments, and monolithic machines.
Combat will immediately feel familiar to fans of the Dark Souls series, relying on dodge-rolling and shield defense as players wait for an opening to attack. What Hob adds to the standard swordplay is a heavy attack with the character's giant metal hand, which can be used to break enemy shields or perform an area-of-effect ground slam. While I didn't encounter a lot of enemies during the demo, the combat in Hob feels simple and satisfying, with options for improvisation on the part of the player.
My time with Hob was punctuated by an overarching sense of curiosity. With some puzzles, combat, and platforming, the slice I played cast Hob's world as a believable, breathing place full of mystery. The demo begins with the protagonist sliding down into an open area with a large mechanical tower in the middle. Yellow grass lines small rocky hills, and the edges of the space are lined with threatening vines that will damage, and sometimes attack if you get too close. They can deal significant damage, but their flowers also carry small upgrades that will increase your maximum health.
While there are a few enemies to battle here, the primary focus is climbing the tower, and manipulating various aspects of it to progress. Hob hits a nice balance when it comes to the design of its individual puzzles, never being too hard to outright limit progress, but often causing you to look closely at the environment for the solution. The area ends with an elevator, which takes our protagonist into an underground dungeon.
The descent into the dungeon is one of the more impressive moments of the demo, as the camera draws back to give players a better look of the massive, dormant machines underground. I see faint lights and figures shifting in the distant dark, giving the area a much more foreboding feel than the last zone. While this area included some light puzzle solving, a majority of the gameplay centered on platforming. With spinning gears, teleporters, and floating plates, the section provides players with a good variety of perils to traverse.
Platforming in Hob feels tight, aided by the main character's ledge grab, which saved me from death more than once. Timing here is key, but thanks to responsive controls and fairly generous checkpoints, I was always ready to try again right after dying.
After finding my way through the dungeon, I'm taken back to the surface, now in another part of the world. This final area is more lush than the opening, with green bushes and trees, as well as a good deal of friendly wildlife roaming around. Opposed to the fairly linear platforming and puzzle sections before it, this area serves as a nice reprieve and begs to be explored for its secrets.
The demo ends with the protagonist inserting a mysterious sigil recovered in the dungeon into an altar-like structure, which transforms the landscape ahead of it, first raising up a large section of a forest before slamming it into place, setting the stage for another area and another adventure.
Interacting with the environment was one of the most enjoyable elements of my experience with Hob. The landscape is filled with a variety of wildlife that make it feel like a part of a real ecosystem. Some animals attack on sight, some ignore the player completely, and some flee when players draw near. Little touches like this go a long way toward making the game world feel believably alive, but one small aspect really impressed me.
During the first playthrough of the level, I accidentally killed a deer-like creature, leading other creatures like it to flee whenever I drew near. On a second playthrough, having not killed any of them, I was able to approach them and interact in a way I was previously unable to, where I approached the creature and was able to embrace it as a heartwarming animation played out.
Little is known about the story of Hob at this point, and I left the demo with more questions than answers. I think that's a good thing. While Runic Games stated that there is a greater "Darwinian struggle" at the center of Hob's story, it's apparent that they want to keep a lid on the greater secrets and reveals of this world until the game releases, and it's easy to see why.
From the archaic machines dotting the landscape, to the bizarre creatures and even the mysteries surrounding the main character, Hob's narrative strength lies in showing rather than telling. Hopefully, everyone will be able to walk away from Hob with their own interpretations when it releases later this year. I know I walked away from this demo impressed.
Hob is expected to release sometime in the spring on PC and PlayStation 4.