Developer: Runic Games
Publisher: Runic Games
Platform: PC, PS4 [reviewed]
Number of Players: 1
Regular Price: $20
Release Date: September 26, 2017
Format: Digital only
Hob is an isometric adventure game in the style of Zelda with a focus on exploration and puzzle solving rather than fighting bosses and obtaining items. It's also janky as fuck, but I loved it anyway. I'm not sure where the buzz was for this game during its release, but I remember it being a big deal when it was announced in 2015 because it was the next game from the developers of the beloved Torchlight series. It seems like I heard less and less about it as the years went on, and then one day it was released with no fanfare. I picked up Hob during a sale on the PlayStation store and I'm really glad I did, because it's a delightful game.
Hob has one of the best worlds it has ever been my pleasure to explore. It's beautiful and unique in ways I've never seen in this type of game, as it blends nature and machinery seamlessly together to fascinating effect. It does have what I would call "dungeons" but, really, the entire world is one big puzzle. Literally. You'll piece together the world as you go, with landmasses shifting and clicking into place to open up new areas. As you get further, the world will start to wrap back around on itself creating shortcuts to places you had to go on a wild journey to access the first time. You'll find yourself backtracking to the same areas again, but they've changed this time and new possibilities for exploration have opened up.
Just one of the diverse and fascinating locations in the game.
The core of Hob is running around, solving puzzles and finding collectibles. There's tons of them, and they come at a good pace so I always felt like I was being rewarded for going out of my way, like in Metroid. Most of the time, the things you'll find will tie into upgrading your character to be more combat-ready. Like I said, the focus isn't on fighting enemies, so the game world isn't flooded with them, but you will encounter them and sometimes be required to defeat them before you can progress. Hob doesn't feature the most complex combat in the world, but it's way more satisfying than something like Zelda (or dare I say, even Hyper Light Drifter) because it's designed to be a little more complex than that. You can dodge, for one thing, perform combos with your sword, and have several different attacks. I enjoyed combating enemies and becoming more powerful, even if it wasn't the point.
But Hob has some serious flaws, which is why I called it janky earlier. For one, there's a lot of weird eccentricities that range from annoying to deadly. You can't hang from ledges, for example, so when you try to drop down your guy will always climb back up, meaning you have to physically jump down from some high spots which can get you killed. I'd often try to grab on to a block to push it only to have my little dude climb on top of it instead. Sometimes, I'd jump onto a sloped surface and go flying off it at mach speed into the ground and explode into chunks. There was one point where every time I traveled to a certain location, the game would play a cutscene, and on one occasion, afterwards, the camera got stuck and wouldn't follow my character. The physics are weird and sometimes I would clip through objects. Strangely, though, rather than fixing this jank the game seems like it was designed around it. Checkpoints where you can respawn are overabundant, and I never lost much progress when I died. Also, there's literally a respawn option in the menu where you can kill yourself if you get stuck somewhere. The whole game from the menus to the gameplay just has a weird lack of polish that seems uncharacteristic compared to the Torchlight series.
The typical view is isometric, but the camera can sometimes zoom out for cinematic effect.
But the worst problem of all seems to be a bug affecting the frame rate. Hob has (or can have) the worst frame rate I have ever encountered while playing a game, at least on the PS4 version. I'm talking single digits sometimes. Adding to the whole game's mystery, though, it doesn't seem to always happen. The first time I played Hob for a couple of hours, everything was fine. The second time I played for a longer period and the longer I played the worse the frame rate got until the game had enough and crashed. Upon restarting everything was normal and remained that way for the rest of my play session. Basically, every few hours I had to restart the game in order to fix the frame rate. At the time of writing, it's been many months since Hob released and the fact that this still isn't fixed means it's probably never going to be fixed. Runic actually shut down in the interim and I'm pretty damn sure their former parent company Perfect World is never going to bother, which is unfortunate.
Having said all that, none of these problems, as serious as they might be, deterred me from completing Hob. I even played it with horrible frame rate for hours because was enjoying exploring the world and solving puzzles so much. So yeah, Hob is janky, unpolished, and probably should spend at least a minute telling you how to play, but it still gets a recommendation from me. There's a great game under all that, and I say it's still worth playing.