Review: Harold Halibut – Films, games and technology

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It’s been ten years since the announcement of Harold Halibut. Is it out of this world or is it coming back to earth?

Space, the final frontier

Developed and published by Slo Bros, Harold Halibut is a handcrafted narrative adventure game that has finally been released. The story is a complicated and far too realistic scary concept. It’s been 250 years since the Fedora, an ark-like spaceship, fled an Earth on the brink of a cold war and environmental disaster in search of a habitable planet to preserve the human race. Upon landing on the supposed ideal planet for colonization, it is discovered that the air is poisonous, causing the ship to plunge into the green waters of the alien planet. You play as the titular character Harold, a young laboratory assistant (and general handyman for the ship) to the ship’s chief scientist, Dr. Jeanne Mareaux. Harold and Mareaux tirelessly search for a way for the ship to regain control and escape the planet’s waters, even though most of the Fedora’s inhabitants have accepted this ship as their way of life.

The story is deliberately slow at first and I loved that. I loved that the game takes time to get going, allowing you to explore the ship and meet the cast of characters. It really made me feel like I had a chance to get to know all these wonderful characters before the real stakes of the story got underway. The overall themes of the game start right at the beginning, when forced to make Harold do menial tasks, he often thinks out loud and tells other characters his feelings and thoughts about his own existence and self-worth; a masterstroke in storytelling from the start. The way Harold expresses his struggles in everyday life really touched me and I could almost immediately sympathize with Harold, an incredible job for Slo Bros to have such a layered style of storytelling. Without giving away any major spoilers for the rest of the game, Harold is taken on an incredible journey of discovery, both in the literal sense of being on an alien world and in a personal sense on his journey of self-discovery. This slow-burn build certainly won’t be for everyone, but like Wes Anderson’s films (the games are clear inspiration both graphically and narratively) it will find its core audience.

Both positive and negative aspects of the story are the characters themselves. Harold gets the chance to interact with many different citizens aboard the Fedora over the course of the approximately twelve-hour story. Whether unraveling the mystery of the Secretary brothers, or completing tasks for the colorful Captain Zoya, the game features a wide and varied roster of characters, each with their own backgrounds and tasks. It’s up to you, the player, to take the initiative in narrative games like this and get to know this cast, which is beautifully and deftly voiced by a fantastic British cast led by an excellent performance from Andrew Nolan as Harold. Sometimes the cast can be somewhat negative for the player at this point, as you get so caught up in the individual stories that it can take away from the overall plot. But for me, I found the story absolutely riveting and something you have to see to behold. Of course, a game like this depends on the images, and that really pays off!

Painful precision

The images inside Harold Halibut are truly something spectacular. One of the main reasons this game has been in development for over 10 years is the process the studio has gone through graphically. Every single item in the game has been drawn by hand and then filmed and animated in a stop-motion process, creating a game that simply looks amazing. Characters are created in clay in real life and then scanned into 3D and the actors’ faces are incorporated into the game to create this stop-motion look. I mean what I say by calling Harold Halibut one of the greatest graphical achievements in video games. EVER. The game radiates style; characters look incredible and individually unique. You could honestly think these characters were in Wes Anderson’s ‘Fantastic Mr Fox’ or ‘Isle of Dogs’, they look so good. Emotions on the faces are depicted so brilliantly, allowing the player to clearly understand how they feel and think in every conversation you have. The stop motion style looks so good on screen and is animated to perfection. It fits the narrative adventure game that Harold Halibut is an absolute tee. I am absolutely impressed with Slo Bros and their dedication to this process. I sincerely hope they continue to make games in this style and format. There is a moment relatively early in the game that I don’t want to spoil, where Harold makes a discovery that is artistically nuanced and beautiful; you just have to see it to believe it – a remarkable achievement.

Locations in the game are varied and unique so the player makes them memorable, which is useful when characters are given side tasks. The beautiful images of the green ocean you are immersed in are something to behold and I often stopped on the way to a target to look out the windows of the Fedora. I could rave about the style and art of this game all day. The little details in the game are lovely too, my favorite being the notebook you can access when looking at your daily tasks. It features hand-drawn images of Harold’s conversations and adventures throughout the story, which is a brilliant way to remind the player of the events of the story.

Simple yet satisfying

I would compare Harold Halibut Unpleasant ‘Everyone went to the recording’ And ‘Fire watch’ in terms of gameplay. This game has simple and basic mechanics, in that at times the game boils down to a walking simulator. Sprinkle in some puzzles and mini-games (great retro games can be found in the arcade) and you have the main gameplay loop. They’re fine and useful mechanics for this type of game, but that doesn’t make it special. The real gameplay loop is the exploration and discovery process for Harold. By exploring each unique area, the player can get lost in the mystery of the ship and its inhabitants. Exploring each environment in search of little story details is what makes this game so special to me; it’s the little things that count, whether you’re using the water tube travel system to get to different areas that connect to a central hub, or watching in-game television with a fully animated silly show. You can really tell that the developers put their heart and soul into this game and made me want to continue exploring and exploring. If I were to really pick the game, the lack of an in-game card system could be a pain for players, but it’s such a small detail that it doesn’t impact the overall game play.

Likewise, the game’s soundtrack is incredible. At times the game deliberately uses scenes of pure silence, which really helps build tension and mystery for the player. In addition, emotional and pivotal story moments have been created with such a beautiful orchestral score that is reminiscent of classic space films from the 80s and 90s yet unique and fresh. The sound design is also a highlight, with nice touches for the game’s menial tasks, such as traversing the water system or clearing the filtration system. Harold’s big shoes rattling on a staircase or the sliding doors that open slowly with a puff of air are simple things for the average person, but it’s little details like this that make me love this game.

Pronunciation

Very simple for me, Harold Halibut is an astonishing achievement in storytelling and game design. It contains images that you have to see to believe and a story that focuses on the human mind and psyche, but also on the unknown. This game has everything for an interactive drama. Beautifully narrated by a diverse cast, deftly scored by a hauntingly beautiful soundtrack and made with so much love and care. Harold Halibut is truly an achievement in modern gaming, and one that will stay with me for a long time. I know this type of game isn’t for everyone, but for me this is perfection.