For whatever reason, I haven’t played a good, honest point-and-click game in years, possibly decades (maybe not since the original Monkey Island, or even Hook on the Amiga?) so it’s fitting my return is with the sublime Excavation of Hob’s Barrow, a game which wouldn’t look out of place from the genre’s hay day – albeit with a slightly off kilter style that wonderfully complements its 19th century folklore story.
Something I’ve forgotten which makes these games special is the opportunity – no, necessity – to really take your time, poking and prodding the scenery and quizzing people over and over, motions which see you become truly rooted in the world.
Hob’s Barrow does this superbly – having you lodge above a village pub, a natural way for you to bump into locals and fellow visitors alike, is an inspired touch – and something else it does particularly well is the way you greet its strange cast.
For notable characters, the action abruptly cuts away from the established side-on view for a quick animated close-up, and these first greetings often come with an unsettling detail, such as a drunk fresh out of the pub, eyes glazed over and slowly swaying, or a friendly priest, doubling over suddenly to throw up as a grisly finishing touch.
“Jarring” is how Donlan described these moments in his review, and he’s right; I couldn’t get these scenes out of my mind, which I think is rather fitting for the game itself, as Hob’s Barrow is less about jump scares and one of slow, brooding horror as you become more familiar with the village, its residents, and the titular barrow’s many secrets.
Hob’s Barrow has inspired me to become acquainted with a genre I’ve lost in touch with – perhaps the suitably named Return of Monkey Island is my next calling? – though I doubt any other adventure will be as moreishly disturbing, or have the same snarling badgers, to measure up in quite the same way.