Along with Hokko Life, The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow has been one of my most anticipated games for 2023, and genuinely, it was second place on my wishlist, the first being the Steam Deck, which I now have and played the game in full. Yes, it works perfectly.
Originally titled INCANTAMENTUM, which I preferred to the newer title, but nobody asked, you play Thomasina Bateman – an archaeologist-type who travels the country, excavating relics from historic sites. Do note that this is neither Indiana Jones nor a game endorsed by National Heritage as it’s set in Victorian times, in a quiet, albeit ominous village named Bewlay. Was Beaulieu the inspiration?
Developed by the rather excellent Cloak & Dagger Games (Sumatra: Fate of Yandi, Football Game), it has that same high calibre storytelling I now expect from the team. No pressure. They must be doing something right if Wadjet Eye Games are publishing. Anyway, I digress. The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow is a point and click adventure that’s more Sierra than LucasArts, but that’s just a guideline on what to expect.
The Excavation Of Hob’s Barrow Review
Arriving in Bewlay, Thomasina checks into a local inn to meet up with a chap who’s written to her about Hob’s Barrow. After a hostile welcome from the locals and a no-show from her contact, she stays overnight, awaiting the arrival of her assistant. The response from the locals isn’t completely unheard of and quite common in tight-knit communities, but there’s something…off about this place.
After the introduction, you’ll unlock a map and be able to explore Bewlay in full, and even though your spider senses will tingle, it’s a beautiful, rural location. Fellow fans of Hammer Films, The Wicker Man, Village of the Damned (minus the kids!), and folklore will love the atmosphere. The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow feels like a B-movie, but in the highest possible regard – like a film comparable to the aforementioned. I’m not one for spoilers, but as you may surmise, things go from worse to bad for Thomasina from the get-go.
Gameplay-wise, The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow is a point and click by numbers. Again, this isn’t a bad thing. Speaking for myself, I fear change in the way of adventure games and will happily play games ‘inspired by’ Police Quest, Monkey Island and so forth until my twilight years. That might not apply to fellow pointers and clickers, so if you’re expecting innovation, you won’t see anything new here, nor any hint system either. Time to call the 0898 numbers…
People Are Strange, Where You’re A Stranger
At face value, the visuals are more nostalgic than mind-blowing. Point and clicks have, by tradition, been artistically pleasing (I’m biased, of course), but they’ve never been the focal point but go hand-to-hand with great storytelling and… illogical puzzles. Despite slight reservations, the artwork here is beautiful. Admittedly, I was won over playing the demo and noting how good the sheep looked in some establishing shots. It may seem trivial, but no doubt, a lot of time has gone into making this indie adventure. I wasn’t a fan of the close-up animations of Thomasina, though. A bit too ghetto for me.
The voice acting was great. It took a little time to warm to Thomasina as I found her to be cold, detached, and nothing like the typical bumbling idiots we root for. She’s headstrong and determined to get results; unfortunately, she’s only human and prone to making mistakes, regardless of your actions as a player.
However, further progress and some exposition lay the path on her part, and before long, you’re waving your pom-poms at her. Not a euphemism. The NPCs were a standout, and The Wicker Man/League of Gentleman ‘locals’ atmosphere was fantastic and set the mood. A bonus, but a meaty one at that, there’s an audio commentary available, too, and much like Strangeland, it’s fascinating, and I encourage you to listen after you first play through when you get the game.
The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow met my expectations, and despite those being high in terms of the storytelling, Cloak and Dagger Games delivered yet again, which was worth the wait and the name change. Will this change your life and be your go-to point and click? That’s subjective, but as a film fan, arthouse and low-key films tend to resonate with me more such as this. On that part, it’s a game I recommend – especially for indie film fans.