By Ronald Gordon
Exploration can reward curiosity, or it can punish it. There are many wonderful discoveries to be had in life, but sometimes it’s best for things to stay buried, hidden for eternity. In the case of The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow, what you uncover should have never, ever seen the light of day.
The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow is a point-and-click adventure game developed by Cloak and Dagger Games and published by Brooklyn-based Wadjet Eye Games. In it, you play as Thomasina Bateman who is an experienced Barrow Digger on the hunt for treasures. Her searches to dig graves have led her to many places, some grimmer than others, but the worst place she’s ever found herself is a small, dirt-poor town called Bewlay. Persuaded to excavate one of the town’s landmarks by a man named Leonard Shoulder, Thomasina has to work her way through the strange happenings of the town in order to even see Hob’s Barrow, let alone get permission to examine it. While Thomasina brushes off the odd occurrences as mere coincidence or bad luck, it could also be the cosmic forces warning her that Hob’s Barrow is a place that no mortal soul should enter. Without spoiling things, it is indeed shockingly horrific.
The gameplay of Hob’s Barrow is fairly simple. As in all point-and-click games, all you have to do is point your mouse and then click it. What makes the genre truly shine is the way it handles mystery and puzzles, which are a huge part of Hob’s Barrow’s story. Thomasina isn’t prepared for everything, and the entirety of Bewlay is a brand new territory filled with a handful of people who are unhelpful at best and confrontational at worst. It takes her a while to find out any information on the infamous Barrow or who Leonard Shoulder even is, and multiple days just to get close to excavating the place. In that time you’ll solve all sorts of seemingly meaningless puzzles and address issues from fixing a violin bow to milking a temperamental goat, neither of which is as easy as it sounds.
I have something to confess with this review, and it’s that when I first started playing through Hob’s Barrow, I was worried I wouldn’t get too far into it. Point-and-click adventure games have always been somewhat of a challenge for me, despite my voracious appetite for puzzles. Hob’s Barrow is another instance of a puzzle game stumping me. Some items I tried to use just weren’t the right solution, others required repeated use to solve the problem, and a lot of my playthrough was me stumbling around through the areas and trying to find something that would work. I did manage to finish the game, and I feel all the more accomplished that I did, but I also realized that I don’t pay as much attention as I should to the minute details in certain scenarios.
The art style of Hob’s Barrow is pixelated, but at some moments the blocky characters become vividly lifelike. The game often zooms into Thomasina’s eyes when she’s in shock, making you aware of how wide they are. In other scenarios, the zooming focuses on a character’s face, to show the wrinkled, twisted visage that comes from aging in a town such as Bewlay. The music heightens the eeriness of Hob’s Barrow, and the soundtrack features plenty of discordant tunes and background music that seems intentionally off-putting. Both the soundtrack and the art style boost the game’s horror aspect all the way up, which makes this simple pixelated game into an unnerving experience all around.
Despite its challenges, I was still enthralled by the story of Hob’s Barrow, and how the mystery unfolded to reveal a mind-boggling sequence of events. At the end of the game, I was left stunned by how fast and far things escalated, yet none of what happened felt like it was too outrageous or insane. I’d suggest Hob’s Barrow to anyone looking for a classic adventure game that’ll leave you thinking about how to move forward, only to knock you on your butt with how wild the story becomes.
Ronald Gordon is a New York Videogame Critics Circle senior intern. He was the first of our writers – or any intern anywhere – to complete an internship at Rockstar Games.