I’ve been playing The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow, a point-and-click from Cloak and Dagger Games, published by Wadjet Eye.
It’s a supernatural thriller set in the moors of England. Classic Wicker Man, Arthur Machen stuff.
The main character is Thomasina Bateman, an archaeologist hoping to excavate a notorious barrow on the moors outside a small village. The townsfolk (you’ll be shocked to find out) are a combination of helpful, superstitious, and sinister. There are flashbacks to Thomasina’s memories of her archaeologist father, and eventually strange visions that her scientific mind can’t square.
The puzzles are not trivial, but I haven’t been stuck for more than ten minutes or so. It has the look of so many Adventure Game Studio games. If you’re familiar with Wadjet Eye’s oeuvre, you probably won’t be bothered by it, but it does have those stiff walking animations and a bit of hotspot hunting. But it also deals with a lot of the shortcomings with the smart application of fade outs and jump cuts, and it has a number of handy innovations (relative to the genre) like a map for fast travel and a key to reveal all a screen’s hotspots. It also has some unique pixel art close-up animations of its characters often grotesque faces, just to unnerve you that much more.
I’m about halfway through, and I find the unfolding mystery to be quite compelling. I’m also in the middle of the new Monkey Island, but I’ve wanted to see Thomasina’s next chapter a lot more than Guybrush’s.
For those who’ve finished it, what length of gameplay are we talking? I recently played the new Monkey Island, on easy mode and finished it in 10 hours, which was honestly a nice solid and enjoyable amount of gameplay for my money without too much annoying hair pulling. What’s the range on this game?
I finished this, so some thoughts about the ending:
It’s not a happy ending, which felt mostly right to me. At the same time, the game reveals to you what Thomasina is being manipulated into and how bad it might be, but it doesn’t quite capitalize on that dramatic irony by showing her being meaningfully convinced or tricked into doing what she shouldn’t.
Similarly, and even worse, the character of Thomasina jettisons her primary personality trait, which is her desire to understand history and apply rigorous scientific scrutiny to the site of Hob’s Barrow Admittedly, I have a hobbyist interest in how real archaeology is done, so I was excited to see that portrayed. But once she’s in the barrow, it’s a string of contrived puzzles in a totally unbelievable space. Thomasina waves off dozens of pots (fragmented and intact) as unimportant… which is the last thing an archaeologist would do–even, I would say, in a site with unexpected structural features. In other words, it feels like a point-and-click puzzle fest; it feels a bit rushed; and it undermines the rest of the story, which is well set-up up to that point. I think the titular excavation could have been presented in a more realistic way and still had puzzle challenges and a spooky finale.
Overall, its sins are ones that plenty of other good-to-great adventure games have indulged in (arguably, Gabriel Knight does this elaborate ahistorical puzzle-space too). But because of how the first half of the game presented itself, I was expecting something different and more grounded.
Kind of a shame, but I still liked the game, especially as the work of a small team.
But it’s interesting to see that we agree on how the ending completely ruins the game and undermines the character! I suspect the developers wanted to:
Show that the tomb was “acting on” Tomasina, and influencing her decision, and due to all the previous psychological prep from Shoulder, the Lord, and Sexton, that she was influenced to make these decisions similar to how a “mentalists” like Derren Brown work etc. But it didn’t show any of this, so it feels cheap.
Also, the game seemed to imply that the priest and the innkeeper were also under the spell, but I don’t think it meant to?
I thought all of the goat-stuff was a nod to broken sword! And the horse-shaving to Gabriel Knight :)