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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (402)

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The Deep Paths: Labyrin... 3/5
The Vagrant 4/5
Avadon: The Black Fortr... 2/5
Mass Effect 3 3.5/5
Mass Effect 2 3.5/5
Mass Effect 2.5/5
Knightin'+ 3.5/5
Indivisible 3/5
Final Fantasy XIV Onlin... 2/5
A Total War Saga: Troy 3/5
Stardew Valley 3/5
Soulcalibur VI 4.5/5
Owlboy 3/5
Battletech 3/5
Bloodstained: Ritual of... 3/5
The Legend of Zelda: A ... 4/5
Hob 3/5
Assassin's Creed Odyssey 4.5/5
Ittle Dew 2 4.5/5
Luigi's Mansion 3 4/5
Xuan-Yuan Sword: The Ga... 3/5
Star Trek: Bridge Crew 3.5/5
King's Quest: The Compl... 3/5
Strange Brigade 4/5
Metro Exodus 3.5/5

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Hob   PC (Steam) 

Runic’s Off-Key Swan Song    3/5 stars

“Hob” is the Swan Song of Runic Games, the Indie developer cum subsidiary of Perfect World Games cum defunct non-entity behind the popular ‘Torchlight’ Hack ‘n Slash series. I was initially interested in “Hob” before its release, when previews and speculation compared the game favorably to the still-unsurpassed pinnacle of the ‘Zelda’-style Action/Adventure genre that is “The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.” A meager two months after the game’s release in September 2017, Runic was dissolved by its parent company, and, like so many other neglected and abandoned games, “Hob” never received much attention by way of Steam sales. Fortunately, someone at Epic Games took a big pile of Chinese money to someone at Perfect World, thus giving Epic the right to give away free copies of “Hob” during one of the Epic Games Store’s weekly attempts at baiting people into becoming customers. Not only did I receive a game that was actually on my wish list at one point, but I was spared the disappointment of having paid for it.

“Hob” falls 100% into the pseudo-genre known as the “Artsy Indie Game.” It features an absolutely gorgeous, stylized world rendered in fully polygonal 3D. Everything in the world of “Hob” feels like it walks a narrow line of balance between organic and mechanical, though the actually artistic style is very reminiscent of Runic’s art team’s previous work on the ‘Torchlight’ games, with similar use of vibrant colors. All of the game’s visuals are smooth, clean, and gorgeous, providing a viewing experience, at least, that is thoroughly enjoyable.

Audio, on the other hand, is nearly an afterthought. The game’s soundtrack may as well not exist, with the only accompaniment to the player’s activities through most of the game being an ambient wind, perhaps interspersed with the occasional cries of bizarre wildlife. What there is of dialog in the game is fully voiced, but it’s a mumbly gibberish with no subtitles.

Technically, “Hob” was a fairly solid experience for me. I’ve read plenty of tech complaints on the game’s Steam forum, but I never had any major problems with it. It’s a slick, artistic game with native Xinput support that generally gives a solid first impression. However, I did run into a number of annoying quirks regarding world geometry, where it’s possible to fall through the ground or end up stuck in the environment (though there is a handy self-destruct button to remedy the latter).

“Hob” takes great pains to show off its Indie Artsiness in the fact that, like “RiME” and other games that came before it, it tries to convey its narrative in a completely wordless way. There’s no text anywhere in the game (outside of the menus, natch), and the meager two characters who have any dialog speak in mumbled gibberish with no subtitles, accompanied by a bit of vague pantomime. When Square Enix tried this kind of thing with Mario’s dialog in “Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars,” the results were hilarious, whereas in “Hob” they’re just offputting.

As best as I can tell, the ‘story’ in “Hob,” as it is, revolves around a rude golem waking up a young humanoid creature by breaking into the latter’s house, then yelling at said creature to go fix a bunch of machinery out in the wide, wide world that has broken due to neglect. Our vaguely humanoid hero quickly encounters large purple lumps of cancerous-looking blight that have spread across the world and ends up with a rapidly-spreading patch of the stuff on his left arm. The golem is forced to amputate, and when our hero regains consciousness, he discovers that the golem has replaced the missing limb with its own.

Thus our hero sets out to fix machinery in a world gone wrong. I guess?

Everything about the narrative is so tooth-gnashingly vague that I don’t even know who or what ‘Hob’ is. Is Hob the name of the hero? Is Hob the name of the hero’s species? Is Hob the name of the world? Is Hob the name of the golem? Is Hob the name of the purple corruption? Beat’s me!

“Hob” is not a particularly long game by any standards. My blind, incomplete playthrough took 12 hours, and I’m sure I could (if I wanted to torture myself) go back and collect the handful of items I missed in another 3 hours or less, but, ultimately, everything about “Hob” just makes it annoying and not particularly fun.

Did you ever stop and think to yourself, “Boy, wouldn’t it be great if there was a ‘Zelda’ game where the entire world was just one big, interlocking, never-ending puzzle?”

Yeah, me neither.

But that’s what “Hob” does, featuring a world that is just a thin veneer of surface atop a convoluted understory of interlocking machinery. From nearly the outset, I found myself at a loss as to where to go. While the game frequently puts a waymarker on the world map to indicate where the next major objective is, these often don’t help as reaching the waymarker involves navigating the overworld, which is absolutely filled with annoying one-way doors that don’t open until late-game, ledges that are just a tad too high to jump up and grab, and barely perceptible indicators that something can be done in a given location.

At its core, though, “Hob” is very much a ‘Zelda’-like in every sense of the word. Our hero has a sword and a golem arm (which can act as a shield or a heavy attack to complement the sword’s quick attacks), and that’s really it. Extra golem arm upgrades, like a teleporter and a grappling hook, enable access to previously unreachable areas and completion of previously unsolvable puzzles. “Hob” also attempts to blend the ‘Zelda’ formula with some 3D platforming, the likes of which have indeed been seen before in “Link’s Awakening.” Oh, and there’s a dodge-roll, because every Action/Adventure-type game needs a dodge-roll button now, apparently.

So, the player sets out with very little to go on and must struggle through an overworld full of annoying barriers and paths that funnel movement in restricted ways and make getting around generally a pain in the rear. Fortunately, dotting the overworld are fast travel pods, which look highly reminiscent of old-school pneumatic mail tubes one might find in a 1970s office building, allowing the player to avoid retracing their steps quite as often as would otherwise be required.

Across the overworld there are also entrances to a handful of… I hesitate to call them ‘dungeons,’ but they’re dungeon-analogs. These underground puzzle caves typically hold one of the major golem arm upgrades and a bunch of one-way puzzle solving that makes revisiting them to hunt for missed treasure aggravating. In lieu of dungeon maps, these underground regions are wholly mapless, instead providing a checklist of items that can be found within.

Even if the dungeon-analogs contained maps or, indeed, actual interesting design, I don’t think they would have turned out well, considering how useless the overworld map is. It’s stylized etching doesn’t do a particularly good job of showing the player the lay of the land, regardless of zoom level, and is largely useless in getting around. Even worse, it’s entirely possible to have the entire world map filled in via exploration, yet not have the icons for collectibles (which take the form of life fragments, energy fragments, sword fragments, skill talismans, and money chests) appear on the map because of how finicky they can be regarding how close the player must be to them before they appear. Even basic things like cave and dungeon entrances are unmarked, and the map is so simplistic, it doesn’t even give the player the ability to plop down their own markers.

Lastly, let’s take a look at combat: It’s sloppy. The player will face off against a fairly threadbare number of foes through the entirety of the game, but each encounter is for keeps, since enemies typically take a major beating before going down, whilst the hero’s durability is rather suspect. Dodge-rolling and exploiting the invincibility (iframes) it grants is the key to success in this lazy battling. But while conflicts with the random trash enemies that sporadically occupy the overworld is tedious, we are mostly spared the agony of ‘git gud’ boss battles due to the fact that there aren’t any bosses in any of the dungeon-analogs. Indeed, I was surprised and annoyed that there is indeed a final boss battle at the bitter end of the game, considering that there were no previous such encounters to build the player’s technical skills.

While beautiful and artistic, “Hob” is ultimately a tedious affair, with sloppy combat, puzzles that feel like they never end, poor mapping and indications of where the player can go, and a tortured, wordless narrative. Even as a freebie on the Epic Store, this is a wholly mediocre ‘Zelda’-like that will fade into oblivion, much like its ill-fated developer.

Presentation: 4/5
Story: 1/5
Gameplay: 3/5
Overall (not an average): 3/5



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