Thomasina sits in an empty train carriage, gazing at the English countryside through her dirty, rain-speckled window. A flock of sheep is startled by the rattle of the wheels, one of the animals raising its head with curiosity. Thomasina and the sheep lock eyes for one brief moment, which, in her head, stretches to eternity. An endless spell of time where she sees herself as a child, a teenager and an adult all at once. Her life passes her by, whistling like the trees in front of the train which is slowly grinding to a halt. Suddenly she finds herself alone on a platform, Hob’s Barrow is waiting.
The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow (aka Incantamentum) is a point-and-click adventure by Cloak and Dagger, a small three-person indie studio. We guide young barrowdigger (not gravedigger!) Thomasina Bateman in her visit to the small town of Bewlay, where she has been called to by the letter of a mysterious old man to excavate Hob’s Barrow. In doing so, not only will she discover what is hiding under the site, but she will also come to terms with many of her personal mysteries.
The game was developed with the use of Adventure Game Studio, following in the footsteps of games such as Primordia. Expect beautiful backgrounds, but slightly more pixelized sprites than usual; think of it as being closer to The Last Door in that regard, than, say, Unavowed. While it can be described as a horror adventure, it definitely works on atmosphere and psychological terror, rather than horrific scenes with blood and gore.
Puzzle-wise, Hob’s Barrow feels like it sits on the easier end of the point-and-click scale. I was stumped only once during my 6-hour playthrough, and that was only because I was overcomplicating things by philosophising, rather than just looking at what was in the room itself. The puzzles are, overall, well balanced and fair, and care and attention have clearly been put into them. The first couple of hours are incredible and thick with narrative, with many characters that feel like fully rounded people, rather than just being there to serve as puzzle givers.
Unfortunately, the first part’s wonderful pacing and gripping narrative come to a grinding halt when the game starts piling up quest after quest that have little connection to the story, but rather are just there to give some padding – something I question whether was needed at all. At one point, I found myself with six connected tasks: finding a key to gain access to a terrace to grab things needed for an ointment that I had to give to a man who, in turn, had to provide me with an item that I needed to talk to another guy. It all felt a bit too much.
Honestly, the pacing in the second half is the only bad thing I can force myself to think about Hob’s Barrow, as otherwise the game works perfectly. It is not often that I find myself completely engrossed in the story and disregarding all other games in my backlog. The story – with the exception above – seems to be overall well-paced, even though, by the end, it feels like Thomasina has become a little too accepting of what is going on around her.
Every character’s motives feel believable and their roles in the story are defined, no one is there just to be a simple plain part of a bigger puzzle to solve. Voice acting, with Wadjet Eye and Dave Gilbert directing actors, is incredibly solid, as expected. If I really had to nitpick (yes, it’s my hobby), Thomasina saying “Curses!” always in the same tone does start to sound a bit weird, especially at the end.
Graphically, Hob’s Barrow does not feature the most attractive pixel art that money can buy, but it still works in its disquieting way to immerse the player in the damp and unwelcoming English countryside. The sparse ambient soundtrack is pretty strong throughout, marrying the sound design perfectly in some scenes, like Thomasina’s visit to the pub’s restroom, which ends up being much more dangerous than it might sound on paper.
The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow is one of this year’s best horror classic point-and-click adventure games. It has solid puzzles, engrossing writing, and simple but effective graphics. I really wish the pacing had been a bit smoother in the second part, spacing out the various quests a bit more, because then we would be looking at one of the greatest point of clicks from the last few years. But, in the end, what’s there is a great game that fans of the genre should, without doubt, play.
Our The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow review was made possible with a key provided by the publisher. The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow is available on Steam.
The Excavation of Hob's Barrow: The Excavation of Hob's Barrow is a solid atmospheric horror point and click, while suffering from some pacing issues in its second part, the solid writing and graphics concur to make it one of 2022's best horror adventures. – Damiano Gerli