Developer & Publisher: Cloak and Dagger Games/Wadjet Eye Games
Released: September 28, 2022
Requirements: Operating System, Minimum; Windows XP or higher;
Recommended, Windows 7, 8, 10 XP SP2
Processor: Minimum, Pentium or higher; Recommended, 2.7 Ghtz and above
Memory: Minimum, 1 GB RAM; Recommended, 2 GB RAM
Graphics: Minimum, 640 x 0360, 32-bit color; Recommended, Direct 3D,
DirectX: Version 5.2
Storage: 2 GB available space
The Excavation of Hobís Barrow
Cloak and Dagger Games / Wadjet Eye
The Excavation of Hob's Barrow (known until late in its developmental life as Incantamentum) is almost everything you look for in a point-and-click adventure. The different elements come together to deliver something you want to keep playing, something that might dip here and there but which remains strong throughout, and finishes on a high. While the sum of the parts matter, so do the parts themselves, and they stand up well on their own. It gave me plenty of folk-horror narrative-adventure enjoyment, and at least one reason to begin playing again immediately.
Do I need to say more? (ok, maybe a little).
You play as Thomasina Bateman, an enthusiastic antiquarian and excavator of the barrows of England. In response to an intriguing invitation, she finds herself after disembarking her train in the remote village of Bewlay. Keenly anticipating material for her book, she is immediately on the back foot; the person who invited her is nowhere to be found, the locals seem reluctant to talk to her, and any information about the barrow or its whereabouts is almost non-existent. And to top it all off, her assistant fails to arrive.
Something is definitely not quite right.
That feeling remains throughout, increasing as you go. What might be a mythical mystical tale becomes something else entirely, and I thought the game did an excellent job of building the atmosphere and tone across its length. The musical score needs mentioning here, evocatively adding as opposed to overbearingly intruding.
Hobís Barrow is classic point and click. Left click to take things, right click to look at them. Click to move Thomasina around and while she wonít run, double clicking an exit will take her straight there. Highlight hotspots with the space bar if you wish, and move the mouse to the to of the screen to bring up the inventory as well as access to your map and to-do list. It will be familiar to most, and easy for anyone.
I am always impressed by how Ďaliveí a pile of pixels can seem. Thomasina has little mannerisms suggestive of a real person; a hair fix here, a bob and bend there. She is animated when she talks, and when you factor in the excellent voice work and the environmental details Ė a board creaks as she walks across the floor of the pub for instance Ė despite her retro look there is a definite reality about her.
Ditto the broader environment (some of the long shots across the moors are rather beautiful), helped by the colour and the design. Indeed the colour is important when it comes to distinguishing e.g., a pile of trowel pixels from amongst its background. That aspect is highlighted towards the end, when a lack of contrasting colour makes some things a little hard to discern. As a result, I used the space bar a fair bit more in the particular location.
To some extent you can make Thomasina in your own image. There are many points at which you can choose from a number of possible responses; does she slap the drunk or deflect? It doesnít change how things play out (at least not as far as I am aware) but it added a little something.
While Thomasina is the central character, there are plenty of others to interact with in and around Bewlay. Voice acting is consistently good, and there is plenty to talk about. Not all of it is essential, but I didnít find any of it boring. The writing is the key, and its hard to fault.
You can choose to play with the need to click to advance dialogue, and with or without subtitles. I turned subtitles off and let it proceed without the need to click, although it didnít take the first time and I had to turn that function off and on and restart (the way to solve almost anything!) to make it happen. I find this the most natural set-up for a game (and really donít like it when games make me click to advance dialogue) and there was no reason not to utilise it here. Nothing made me want to read ahead, and I was perfectly happy letting Thomasina proceed at her own pace.
It would have been nice if she had run though, if only because I was continually double-clicking even though I knew she wasnít listening. Habits die hard.
Conundrums are largely of the find and use the right item in the right spot kind, although in the latter parts of the game you have to interpret and apply collected information in order to solve particular puzzles. The final sequence/s before the denouement are rather elaborate and rather good, which is not to say that what came before is less good, just that things build nicely as the game reaches its end point. There is a dud conundrum or two, but, as always, perhaps I missed a clue that would have made them less dud, although music puzzles (of which there is one) I can generally do without. Save for those few moments, I thoroughly enjoyed the puzzling side of the venture.
Speaking of the end, it is excellent. I partly anticipated it and partly didnít at all. It ties things up in ways that would spoil things to say too much more.
So too the less said about the influences the better, but which you can find out more about in the developer commentary. The game suggests that you not to turn this on until you have played through once as spoilers abound, and so I didnít. I have though started again with it enabled, as I do tend to like the insights provided when this element is available. You might get programmer/writer or artist commentary or both, and the game pauses as it occurs. While only a short way I am liking it a lot. I already have an influence story to check out, and have enjoyed a Will Smith joke.
The game autosaves but you can also save at will. You donít die and there are no timed puzzles or actiony bits. Tweak various settings to suit.
A very satisfying adventure.
I played on:
OS: Windows 10, 64 Bit
Processor: Intel i7-9700K 3.7GHz
RAM: Corsair Dominator Platinum RGB DDR4 32GB
Video card: AMD Radeon RX 580 8192MB