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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Vicky Jessop

Harold Halibut game review: imaginative sci-fi tale plays like Wallace and Gromit meets Bioshock

In an industry dominated by big-budget games, it’s a nice change of pace to play something as different as Harold Halibut.

Not for the Slow Bros development team the flashy graphics of Spider-Man 2 or Baldur’s Gate 3: this game, which took a staggering 10 years to make, uses sets and characters that have been made entirely by hand before being 3D scanned and rendered on-screen.

It’s not quite stop-motion (all animations are done with CGI), but it’s still enough to make the game feel like a rather wacky cross between Wallace and Gromit and underwater sci-fi game Bioshock.

The Bioshock bit comes from the premise. A few hundred years after the spaceship Fedora was launched from the dying planet Earth – with the aim of finding a new home for the human race – it has crash landed in the oceans of an alien planet.

Among its inhabitants is Harold Halibut: an engineer-slash-plumber who works as a dogsbody/ punching bag for the rest of the ship’s inhabitants.

Condemned to live out his days as a slightly dopey object of derision from his peers, hope arrives in the form of a message: the Earth actually fixed the mess it got itself into, thanks very much. Does the Fedora fancy coming home?

And so begins the story – but really, it’s not about that. Harold Halibut is more interested in the minutiae of day to day life aboard the Fedora as it is about its future. There isn’t much gameplay or complexity here: much of the game revolves around Harold doing basic tasks for the rest of the crew: collecting rocks, fixing marriages and cleaning the fish tank filters. Or, indeed, having lots of chats with the ship’s inhabitants.

Harold Halibut (SlowBros)

As he trots around the Fedora (this is not for the impatient; I only discovered that he could run after an extremely long hour spent trudging at a snail’s pace), it’s the people he encounters that prove the most entertaining part of the entire game.

There’s a wonderfully dry humour on display here, which applies to everything from the character designs to the witty asides they deliver (Slippie, the ever-cheerful skiwear salesman, is a particular highlight).

And the set design is gorgeous, if a bit winding: a lot of time is spent in the pneumatic tubes that flush Harold between different sections of the ship like some kind of human toilet, so just as well it’s entertaining to watch.

The downside is that there isn’t a lot of interactivity. With 10 years of development under its belt, you’d think Slow Bros would have taken the time to build in things to explore, poke, prod – colleague’s diaries or cheeky graffiti. There isn’t much of that here, which is a disappointment – as is the lack of agency the game offers.

Harold (and by extension, us) doesn’t really get the chance to influence much of anything as the game progresses, which give the distinct impression of watching a film than playing a game. This is especially apparent in the ending, which presents the player with a huge, life-changing decision to make that… is then whisked out of their hands.

Having said all that, the voice acting is good; the imagination on display wonderful, and the characters engaging. The Slow Bros team have pulled off an amazing technical feat, even if the pace is a tad slow – a game to play on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

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