A barrow, for those of you who don’t know, is an old-fashioned burial mound. A bit like a low-cost alternative to pyramids, burial mounds heaped the earth on top of the burial chamber containing not only the recently deceased person but also potentially relics and personal items. Of course, like pyramids, these were usually reserved for the wealthy and socially important. In Cloak and Dagger’s game, you get a front-row seat to The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow.
The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow follows Thomasina Bateman, professional archaeologist and barrow-digger, after she is called to the remote English village of Bewlay by a local who wishes her to excavate the titular Hob’s Barrow. Of course, her journey ends up being not quite as straightforward as she’d like, encountering disappearing villagers, wary superstition, and horrific dreams, with every obstacle thrown in her way. What starts off as a good old-fashioned supernatural mystery quickly devolves into more fantastical horror, with a strong plot that trips itself only at the very end, in a somewhat disappointing failure to stick the landing. What works well for horror films, when you want to yell at protagonists “No! Don’t go there!” is less compelling in a game where you are the one instructing the character to go where you know is a blatant mistake.
Thomasina and the villagers are certainly an odd bunch, but most are likable enough. Our heroine has a head as hard as granite and refuses to take no for an answer, plowing her way through every imaginable obstacle on her path, including common sense, all in the name of solving a mystery and finally excavating the barrow. Much like the plot, she is intriguing and likable, right until her fumbles at the very end. Villagers include the well-meaning but stinking drunk Arthur Tillett, kind pastor Father Roache and the enigmatic and flirty Lord Panswyck. Everyone has their own backstory and motives, and they’re all suitably well-rounded. A special shout-out goes to my favorite character Herbert the Stray, a bizarre but cute local village cat who accompanies Thomasina on part of her journey.
The pixel art of The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow is absolutely delightful, bringing this creepy old world to life. There are a couple of close-up shots of things, such as Herbert and Thomasina’s eyes that have an odd quality to them with slightly stilted animation, but intentional or not, it works well for the tone of the game, adding a feeling of off-putting oddity to intermittent sections of it. The most beautiful art in the game, however, is the landscape shots of the English moors where Bewlay is situated. Thomasina and the player have several chances to gaze out into the distance and simply soak in the view, and what an absolutely gorgeous view it is.
The gameplay is a fairly straightforward point-and-click style, and I’m delighted to say that the game plays absolutely smoothly on the SteamDeck, which is where I spent most of my time playing it. The map and To Do list provided are extremely helpful, as is the mechanism for highlighting hotspots, but the game does lack a hint feature. While most of the puzzles are on an even keel and nothing is going to cause your brain to start doing backflips, there were a few in particular where a hint system would have been greatly appreciated. That said, just because the other puzzles didn’t require a hint system did not make things easy by any means, as they do offer a robust challenge. Most puzzles require using your inventory and combining items, but a few late-game puzzles add some additional challenges with deciphering hints and setting up your environment in a particular way.
The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow Review | Final Thoughts
Overall, The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow was a fun, exciting, horrific adventure. With lovely pixel art and particularly gorgeous scenery, strong but not excessively difficult puzzles, and an appropriately interesting and horrifying story, it’s well worth the time investment to start your archaeological dig.
TechRaptor reviewed The Excavation of Hob's Barrow on PC with a copy provided by the publisher.
- Wonderful Pixel Art With Gorgeous Scenic Views
- Suitably Spooky Horror Atmosphere
- Headstrong Protagonist and Intriguing Side Characters
- Doesn't Quite Stick the Landing