El Hijo quietly stood out during the PC Gamer Show for its attractive spaghetti western look and pacifist approach to stealth. Honig Studios’ upcoming title stars a six-year old boy whose mother leaves him at a monastery after bandits burned down their farm. However, the monks running his new home aren’t as altruistic as they appear. Upon discovering the truth the Boy launches a swift escape from his new home on a mission to find his mother. During E3, I got to try my hand at the game’s first five missions and walked away eager to see more.
El Hijo is a top-down stealth game that eschews violence in favor of puzzle-solving and sneaking finesse. I evaded foes by hiding behind objects such as tables, slipped behind curtains, and climbed inside of pots. These tricks fooled most enemies, but I did come across more diligent foes that regularly searched these hiding spots. Lighting plays a big role as enemies can’t see the boy if he’s lurking in the shadows (unless they’re very close, of course). You can also manipulate enemy behavior by tossing rocks to cause a helpful distraction. These mechanics won’t surprise stealth fans but they work well. I did encounter some inventive solutions. At one point I tossed peppers into a simmering pot of stew. When a hungry monk took a sip, he went bailing for the nearest toilet and out of my way.
Avoiding isolated monks shouldn’t be difficult for experienced stealth players. Things get hairier when two or more patrol together. Getting detected usually leads to capture since enemies run faster than the boy. The monks even pursued me down ladders and stairs when I assumed they’d give up and return to their assigned route. Trying to hide while discovered doesn’t work well either. El Hijo may seem like a relative breeze but failure can come swiftly, and I hit a couple of challenging roadblocks.
One particularly tight area covered by three monks took multiple attempts before I figured out a viable path forward. All of my failures stemmed from my own sloppiness rather than poor design. On the technical side, I occasionally ran into a collision glitch where enemies grabbed me despite being well out of reach. Hopefully this issue can chalked up to being preview build hiccups that will be ironed out in the final release.
The game’s 30 levels extend well beyond the starting monastery. I didn’t get to see it, but players will eventually explore the desert and make their way into a crime-infested town. El Hijo’s warm color palette and beautiful art direction have me excited to explore further.
So far, El Hijo seems like an enjoyable and charming stealth game that could potentially introduce young-un’s to the genre. Nothing about its design floored me per se, but it plays well and hides a deceptive layer of challenge underneath its friendly looking facade. Plus it's always nice when these types of games allow players to get by without snapping any necks. Keep an eye out for this western when it rolls onto PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Switch later this year.
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