The Excavation of Hobb’s Barrow is a gothic, narrative adventure game set in the small northern town of Bewley. Wary of outsiders and damp with rain, this Victorian town is the perfect setting for this excavation mystery and adventure where we follow the exploits of Thomasina Bateman, trying to solve the mystery of Hobb’s Barrow. It’s a gripping story, which ramps up the tension like the turning of a screw, so if you like your horror with a pixel-art style and a bunch of conversation and puzzle solving, this could be the game for you.
The Excavation of Hobb’s Barrow is a point-and-click adventure game developed by Cloak and Dagger Games and published by Wadjet Eye Games. It’s a folk horror tale set in rural Victorian England and focuses on the story of Thomasina Bateman, who’s been called to a small northern town called Bewley by the elusive Leonard Shoulder. Thomasina is a barrow digger, excavating ancient burial sites and looking for lost relics of the past. Leonard contacted Thomasina by letter, inviting her to Bewley to conduct an excavation of Hobb’s Barrow, however, when she gets to Bewley no one in the town is willing to help, and there are whispers of danger when it comes to Hobb’s Barrow.
Leonard Shoulder, the man who invited Miss Bateman to Bewley, is nowhere to be found, and it turns out Hobb’s Barrow isn’t even on Mr Shoulder’s land. Bewley is small, and the town folk are suspicious of any outsiders, especially Cyrill, who stands watch for any newcomers who get off the train.
Bewley itself is small, there is a pub called The Plough and Furrow where Thomasina has set up temporary residence for the duration of her expected excavation, plus there’s a local blacksmith, a rather grand church, and the town is looked over by Lord Panswyck. He’s a private man, and the townsfolk are wary of going near his manor.
Thomasina has ventured ahead of her assistant, who is due in Bewley the next day with her excavation equipment, so she sets off about town trying to find Leonard Shoulder, who’s promised her more details about Hobb’s Barrow. Unfortunately, Leonard Shoulder is nowhere to be found, and when questioning the townsfolk, no one appears to have seen him for a long time. Leonard lives out there on the Moors and checks out his house with the local Vicar, but again, he’s nowhere to be found, so Thomasina attempts to solve the mysteries of Hobb’s Barrow by herself.
This is a classic point-and-click adventure, with great characters, and an interesting story that managed to hook me quite quickly, plus it has great pixel art graphics. If you are familiar with point-and-click games from the 90s or have played any of Wadjet Eye Games’ recent releases like Unavowed or Strangeland, then you’ll be familiar with this style. One nice feature here is you often get close-ups of characters’ faces, which are very detailed, and often harrowing illustrations of characters.
The Excavation of Hobb’s Barrow is gothic horror, one that ratchets up the tension as you play. The music, the supporting cast, and the environments all add to this slowly rising tension, and it’s a great experience. The game is split into various days, where you have a set number of tasks to do per day, and when you move along to the next day, the characters reset themselves in new configurations, new locations, and new conversations to keep the game moving and mixing things up nicely.
This is a game all about talking to characters, getting to know them, cross-referencing details from one character to another, to uncover new dialogue choices. There are various items to collect and store in your inventory, which can then be used to help solve puzzles or to trade with various characters to help you move to the next step. I would say the puzzles are the right amount difficult, it’s not too easy, it’s not too hard, which is a tricky balance to get right. There was only one occasion I found myself getting stuck, I couldn’t figure out how to get my equipment out of the store room. it was being guarded by a very chatty man, who you’d have to invite to the pub, and he’d go on and on, without letting you get a word in edgeways, finally to finish up his drink and head back to guard the store room. I won’t give away the solution, but when the penny dropped it was a very satisfying puzzle, that also had a trace of humour.
It’s not a largely funny game, not slapstick like Day of the Tentacle, for example, however, there are funny little moments. Overall, I’d say the main theme throughout the game is tension and mystery. Why was Thomasina invited to Bewley by Leonard Shoulder? Where has Leonard gone? Plus why are all the townsfolk scared of Hobb’s Barrow?
Throughout the story, there are flashback moments which really add to the character development of Thomasina. She isn’t very close to her mother, and she idolised her Father. He had a mysterious accident one day when she was a child, and he’s bedridden unable to communicate or move. Her Father was also into excavations and taught Thomasina much of what he knew about the practice, hiding treasure in the garden for her to find. Her mother blames her for what happened to her father, and Thomasina carries that weight around with her.
The UI in the game is nice and clean, with simple left and right clicks, plus a hidden menu at the top, which appears when you hover over it. Once you leave the Plough and Furrow on the first morning, you’ll get access to a fast travel map, which is a nice time-saver. There’s also a neat feature where you can hold down the spacebar on every screen to highlight the interactive objects. Most of the time this isn’t an issue, although sometimes objects can blend into the background, so the highlight feature does come in handy.
You can also head back to the pub and find different characters there throughout the day, who may or may not provide clues as to the next steps. If you are stuck on what to do, you can check your to-do list, which will provide you with high-level direction on what to do. It won’t tell you specifically where to go and who to speak to, but it’ll give you hints in broad strokes, which are enough to progress.
Overall, The Excavation of Hobb’s Barrow is a great package. The story is gripping, it’s got some modern features implemented on top of classic point-and-click adventure game mechanics, and the tension keeps ramping up, coaxing you to come back for more, in a mildly-uneasy way like someone at a carnival might ask for you another round at the shooting range. 2022 has been a good year for adventure games like this, with the recent release of Return to Monkey Island, and if you are in the mood for more great adventuring, then I don’t think you can go wrong with The Excavation of Hobb’s Barrow. If you haven’t played this type of game before, and you like gothic horror, again, it’s recommended by me. Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of the game.
Developer: Cloak and Dagger Games
Publisher: Wadjet Eye Games
Release Date: 28th September 2022