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  • Writer's pictureSofi

Harold Halibut (2024)

Developer: Slow Bros

Game Pass has really been doing the most for me this year as it’s kept me on top of a lot of new indie releases. I honestly didn’t know much about this title beyond the stop-motion handmade style shown off in its trailer, but when I saw it was available to play on day one I figured I should try it out. Harold Halibut is a narrative adventure game about a man’s life on a spaceship on an alien planet, 250 years after the ship left Earth. Harold Halibut is definitely memorable, as I’ve never played a game quite like it, but it can also be frustrating in its pacing, lack of direction, and limiting gameplay. 

 

You play as the titular Harold, a (20-something-year-old but looks older) man who works in the laboratory aboard the Fedora I, a spaceship that left Earth hundreds of years ago and crash-landed on an alien water planet. We are introduced to Harold’s life by seeing him get dragged out of his room by an officer to pay his late fees on his tube ticket. This apparently happens a lot as he finds the constant changes made by the “All Water” company to the tube system very confusing and unexpected. His boss, Professor Mareaux, shows up to pay his fee and take him back home. Aside from this, Harold’s life is a series of fairly monotonous events - cleaning the filter in the lab, delivering lab samples, running errands for Mareaux, and occasionally checking in on friends in other parts of the ship. This all changes when he begins to see graffiti messages from an anonymous group called the “Lightkeepers”, secrets come out about All Water’s company practices, and then, one day finding a fish-like humanoid creature passed out in the water filters.


“Waiting for your mom to pick you up from school” vibes.

Harold Halibut’s unique and detailed stop-motion art style using hand-crafted models is undeniably impressive. The way that these models move both during gameplay and dialogue scenes is incredibly life-like and fluid. Sure, this comes at the cost of some of the characters having kind of weird-looking faces - but overall, it gives the world a lot of personality and depth. The soundtrack in this game is similarly artsy and surreal. Sometimes the slowness of the music made me sleepy, other times it succeeded in making the scene feel trippy and ethereal. There are a couple songs I’d like to check out again that I don’t know how to look up because they were in foreign languages, but as of now I can’t find anywhere to stream the soundtrack. 

Despite being inside a metal ship, you get to have a view of this strange water planet that feels mysterious yet beautiful.

I found myself often wondering who the intended audience is supposed to be for Harold Halibut. The characters can feel very one-dimensional, their relationships are kind of goofy, and conversations are often simple, much like in a Childrens’ book. Yet, the overall mood is melancholy and the aesthetic of the world is dreary. It’s interesting because a child would probably see Harold and think “he’s nice but a bit doofy'', while an adult will see how Harold moves through life and think “huh, that guy might be severely depressed.” Harold comes off as someone who is crushed by the daily grind of life. Even on this spaceship far from earth, he lives in a capitalist society where he makes little money, sleeps in a shitty, uncomfortable little room, and every day the cost of transportation (that he needs to do his job) goes up. In a way you can relate to Harold’s exhaustion, but at the same time, he’s so mentally checked out and listless a lot of the time that it’s hard to figure out much about him or his backstory. However, this is the reason why the end of the game was more impactful to me than the rest of it - you start to see a change in Harold when he takes an interest in something and feels that there are things that make his life worthwhile after all.

Harold’s frustration about his ancestors having created both the problem and the “solution” of leaving Earth is an good parallel to current-day climate crisis sentiments.

The gameplay wasn’t a strong point for Harold Halibut, but I was willing to accept that in exchange for a good story. Most of the game is running back and forth around Fedora I, from tube station to tube station, talking to characters in order to complete tasks. Occasionally, you had to operate machinery with strange symbols, being told what to do by another character, but it never involved what I would actually call puzzle-solving. For the most part, the dialogue answers you give aren’t real choices and they don’t affect the story. This is fine as well, but there are moments where it seems like the obvious thing to do or say is something different from Harold is doing or the options you’re given. If you spend enough time talking to people, though, you’ll be able to complete side-quests that lead to interesting conversations and scenes, giving you a little bit more insight into the characters’ lives. I think I ended up doing most of these since I wanted to explore all the dialogue and secrets of the ship.


There’s certain parts where the camera angle kind of fights you while trying to move and makes things feel a little off.

Perhaps my biggest complaint is that there were a lot of moments in Harold Halibut where I felt the story going in a certain direction and thought “okay yes, this is cool, tell/show me more” about this, but then it quickly went into a different plotline. This means we didn’t get the answers, whether it be about Harold, life before the Fedora I, or All Water. It felt like the story had a lot of different directions it wanted to go in and it couldn’t decide which one to follow. Harold even performed a pretty impressive solo for us once and that was never addressed nor brought back ever again - I thought, if Harold’s a good singer, that’s going to come into play somehow… right? Also, it felt like all the “villains” or potential problems on the Fedora ended up just sort of fizzling out. For a while, it felt like the game was really going in an interesting direction in regards to portraying a society run by a company instead of a government (this place is literally a company town in spaceship form), but it ends up doing pretty much nothing with that in the end. I can understand not getting more lore about the Fedora I (which still would have been cool), but not reaching a satisfying conclusion with All Water was especially frustrating. Again, this is why I felt like despite the abstract, artistic lens and slow pace, this is ultimately a simple-resolution Childrens’ story, with non-serious villains and consequences.

I know this particular part is supposed to come off as “great, so no real change” but it still felt like the whole All Water plot was just dropped and forgiven.

However, despite everything, the ending of Harold Halibut paid off to me, at least as far as character development for Harold. There’s a lot more I would’ve wanted out of this game, both gameplay-wise and story-wise, but it did some incredibly interesting things and made me think about what it means to survive vs. what it means to live. It shows how deeply interactions with others can change who we are and how we understand the world. I would recommend this game for its voice acting, art style, and music, with the caveat that the story has its ups and downs. 


Harold Halibut is available on PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X|S


Played on: Xbox Series S

Last Played: 5/8/2024

Playtime: 13 hrs


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