Few games stick with you after you’re done playing them. Some have moments you’ll never forget, but few games actually grab you and resonate with you in a way that lasts longer than a few hours. HoB is one of these games.
Games like Journey and Abzu rely on silent story telling and discovery to sell their experiences. HoB takes this approach but adds a Zelda-like twist to it. It’s hard to say what exactly makes HoB such a remarkable experience, because there isn’t just one thing.
It’s subtle, sometimes completely absent, soundtrack compliments the overall atmosphere of the game in such a quaint way. Faint string instruments play in the background as you try to solve a puzzle. Nature itself is probably the most prominent sounds you’ll hear during your time with HoB. A calm breeze blows through the tall grass, or your footsteps make the ground crunch beneath your feet creating their own tune as you explore the landscapes around you.
Vantage points trigger a quick whimsical tune that add gravitas to the gorgeous backdrops you’re eyes get treated to. It gives you a sense of wonder, instantly you’re struck with the thought, “I NEED to get over there..”
The environments themselves are absolutely mesmerising. Giant, overgrown mechanical structures form the world around you. The game starts with HoB waking up to a friendly iron giant freeing you from your cell. He pushes back the hulking bronze doors and mutters something in an unrecognisable language, but you know he wants you to follow him. You emerge into a steampunk-Zelda world full of aggressive plant life and some foreign kind of purple fauna battling for control over the mechanical structures they’re growing around.
Immediately you’re struck with the sense that something has gone terribly wrong in this place. The areas you explore ARE the puzzles themselves. As you scale these huge structures, it’s only after you activate a pedestal or pull a lever that you realise this. The ground shakes, the slumbering metal structures you’re standing next to fall back into the holes they sprouted from so many years ago, and the once jutted terrain levels out and slides together like giant puzzle pieces finding their place; a new path opens and your way forward is now clear.
This is one of many things this game gets right. The level design is superb. It’s only after these instances happen, and you see distant lands you once stood on now fall into place and become a new part of the landscape around you, that you truly understand how intricate the designs are. Nothing feels out-of-place once you realise it only seemed that way because it hadn’t fallen into place yet.
The world around you twists and folds in and around itself, looping you back to parts you’ve already explored better than any Dark Souls game has ever done. What adds to this is the shear sense of scale HoB achieves. You don’t see any of these parts coming together as a whole because the areas you climb are monstrous. Its only after the dust clears you realise “Holy shit, of course those two pieces would go together!” It all gives you this sense of accomplishment. You take this time to climb all these crazy ladders and run across twisting archways or jump to seemingly unreachable ledges just to get to a control point. You activate these points and all of a sudden these seemingly random structures magically become a doorway of sorts to new areas.
The “Zelda-like” comparison comes from the combat and the camera view. A semi-top down, locked view hovers over HoB and moves with you as you explore the world around you. You have a sword, a group of health bars (Like hearts), and a stamina bar for special moves. Killing enemies grants you currency, and sometimes health, that can be used to unlock new abilities like teleporting behind an enemy or an extra attack in your combo. Collectables aren’t scarce at all either. Fragments can be found to upgrade your sword, health bars, and stamina; very Zelda-like.
The controls just feel right. Square is attack, triangle is your heavy attack, circle is dodge, X is jump and holding the right trigger lets you sprint. Aside from feeling, everything is very tight and responsive as well.
The puzzles in HoB aren’t crazy hard, but you do need to pay attention to the environments in some spots if you don’t want to get lost. Subtle environmental queues point you in the right direction. What HoB does a good job of, is it doesn’t help the player at all. It trusts that we’re all intelligent enough to figure out where the hell we’re going, and I respect that.
If you’ve ever read any of my other reviews, I HATE having my hand held through the entirety of a game. Being thrown into a world with no idea what to do or where to go instantly makes a game more rewarding when you eventually figure it out. This sense of discovery and accomplishment is the embodiment of what HoB is and its commendable. Good job HoB.
The art direction is beautiful as well. Every area has its own unique colour palatte that sets it apart from the rest, while also keeping certain elements and themes the same, which creates a full, cohesive world. Including vantage points in this game was a brilliant idea, there are times when you really just need to stop and appreciate this gorgeous, stylized world you’ve been placed into.
My one gripe with the game is that I wished there was a boss at the end of every zone. You acquire upgrades for your Hellboy-like fist along the way, which grants you access to areas that were previously inaccessible. However, these upgrades are just there, you stumble upon them, instead of earning them the good old-fashioned way.
It is by no means a huge hit to this game, more so just something I think could have added to the experience. For all I know, it could have been done intentionally to separate this game from being too closely compared to games like The Legend of Zelda.
There are few things that really hold this game back from being anything other than extraordinary. It’s locked camera may create some issues and its lack of boss fights might make acquiring new techniques not feel as rewarding as they should, but aside from this game not being longer (about 6 hours), it’s a borderline god damn masterpiece. Not to mention the price point makes this game worth every penny.