Sometime during the 1800s, antiquarian Thomasina Bateman sets off from London to the misty hills of Britain’s countryside in search of a mysterious local landmark, the Hob´s Barrow. As weird incidents follow one after the other, it won´t take long for Thomasina to understand that there might be more to the old legends surrounding the ancient burial mound than it initially seemed…
The Excavation of Hob´s Barrow titles itself as a “folk horror narrative-driven adventure”, presented as a classic pixel graphic point-and-click adventure of old. The gameplay itself is tried, true, and simplistic. As you explore the game world you meet people, ask questions, gather random junk, and make use of it later in puzzles. As for the puzzles themselves, there are quite a few. Still, for most of the game, you spend more time exploring the village than engaging with brainteasers. That is to say, puzzles felt like smaller stops amidst the narrative than the other way around. Many of these are also almost trivial “hammer + nail”-affairs, with some more intricate designs in the mid-, and late-game. This might not be a such bad thing, however, since it leaves a lot of space for the aesthetics and story to truly burrow into players’ senses.
The overall presentation mixes classic adventure game vibes with something more modern. Great voice acting and photorealistic snippets in graphics deserve a special mention. Latter appear from time to time, diving headfirst into the uncanny valley, setting up awkwardly disturbing close-up shots.
Games’ story of otherworldly horror seeping into the mundane takes its time to set up the atmosphere and ominousness of the milieu, digging its roots deep into Britain´s folklore and heading from there into the unknown. The horror elements themselves come as a delicious slow burn, mixing general apprehensiveness and more specified jabs of weirdness. The village of Bewlay is full of distinct individuals, their personas working as scales of balance when it comes to the mood of the adventure – some leave you more anxious, while some offer genuinely heart-warming moments. In the end, though, this is a horror game and trepidation lurks behind many of the faces that you meet, keeping the mystery never far from your mind. Towards the end, darker tones get more and more prevalent, the ending being predictable and surprising gut-punch at the same time. Thomasina herself is a well-rounded main character, whose enthusiasm and strong-headedness juxtapose with her later musings as she (as the game progresses) recounts from the future the story of her descent. The descent, which the player is also doomed to witness alongside her.
The Excavation of Hob´s Barrow is a well-rounded whole, that can be enjoyed by anyone loving mysteries dipped in horror. Still, aside from the great production value, the game might struggle to reach above its current peers, as pixelated adventure games keep on living their renaissance. While the story will take you to some interesting places, it can be very predictable in some of its setups and twists. Also, as mentioned before, puzzles and their inclusion are not the most well-paced. I believe; however, that it is the atmosphere that will make the game an easy sell for its future fans, such as me. That sense of apprehension, those glimpses behind the veil, and the feeling of seclusion that permeates the moors of England will make this excavation a trip worth taking.
Publisher: Wadjet Eye Games
Developer: Cloak and Dagger Games
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
Release Date: September 28th, 2022
Genres: Adventure, horror, point-and-click
Pictures: Header image and picture 1 – screenshots from the game, taken by Lauri Juuti. Pictures 2 and 3 – promo pictures from the game, https://store.steampowered.com/app/1182310/The_Excavation_of_Hobs_Barrow/
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