Review: Harold Halibut Is a Modern Fable About Connection
Image via Slow Bros

Review: Harold Halibut Is a Modern Fable About Connection

There are so many things I could say about Harold Halibut that I find it difficult to even start. I could say how the game uses a truly unique art style, which involves a blend of real handcrafted puppets scanned and rendered in 3D along with animation that imitates stop-motion. It’s something that has never been done to this scale in the medium. I could also say how Harold Halibut is a story about love and making connections, finding where you belong in the world, and making your own “home.”

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It is the Cold War, and the Earth is on the brink of destruction. Humanity has sent the ark ship Fedora 1 out into the stars, with the hope of finding another habitable planet and for humankind to continue living. Over 250 years later, the Fedora reaches its destination only to find out that the planet is all made of water, with no inhabitable land and an atmosphere composed of noxious gasses. To make matters worse, the ship crashes on the planet, with no feasible way of relaunching into space. In the present day, all administrative and political matters in the Fedora are handled by the All Water corporation, a bunch of nasty capitalist opportunists with only their own interests in mind. After years of resignation, the inhabitants of the Fedora discover that there might be a chance to return to Earth. However, there is a limited window to relaunch and the trip back would take about 80 years, meaning that most of the current population of the Fedora would never make it home.

With these events as the backdrop to the plot, you play as the titular Harold Halibut, a lab assistant to scientist professor Jeanne Mareaux. It is his work as aid to the professor and Jack of all trades aboard the ship, as well as his kind demeanor, that puts him in the unique position of giving the Fedorans a chance to return home. Harold can come off as meek and docile, but he’s a gentle and patient human being. He’s a rather quiet and introspective individual that can show lots of passion and energy under the right circumstances. You can see a lot of his personality in his notebook sketches, and when he plays the part of “Agent Haroldson.” Harold also struggles with making himself be heard and connecting with his peers, at times being easily dismissed by others in a harsh manner. Throughout the course of the game Harold sees himself in situations where he finally has the chance to demonstrate to himself who he wants to be in life. Harold is a truly delightful person.

This is not reserved to the titular character. Every character that inhabits the world of the game feels like a fully-fledged individual, with their own lived history and connections. The voice acting helps make them feel even more real. Due to the harsh circumstances, the Fedora 1 is a tight knit community, and the writing does a great job at showing the player how these people are connected to each other. Most characters in the main and supporting cast are also faced with various challenging circumstances in life. As Harold, you get to participate in those small moments and make new connections with the people in the ship. As well as learn new concepts and perspectives from other individuals outside of the Fedora. However, I will not linger on them for too long, as I think this part of the game is best experienced knowing as little as possible.

When it comes to gameplay, Harold Halibut is an adventure game focused on interacting with the many inhabitants of the Fedora. Most of the time, players will be trotting around the ship to complete the tasks Harold has received, and talking to various people to progress. As for Harold himself, he is not a vehicle for the player. Instead, the player is a vehicle for Harold. Sometimes you get the chance to select dialogue options. However, Harold has a set personality and is his own person at all times. Do not expect an experience like that of Telltale Games, nor a point and click either. There are some puzzle-like moments, but these only serve to add some interaction and break up the pace. The game progresses in a linear fashion, and there are some secondary tasks that are not required to progress the plot. These flesh out existing characters, and I highly recommend completing them. These secondary objectives are usually along the way of main objectives, so they always feel complimentary to the pacing and whatever is happening in the plot.

I personally enjoyed that Harold Halibut offers an easy to pick-up and light experience. I could imagine some people wanting a larger number of more complex puzzles, or a more hands-on approach to character interactions, decision making, and impacting the story. However, I don’t think that every video game needs to offer a complex mechanical experience to convey its message and be worthwhile. The layout of the Fedora is interesting enough that jogging around the ship to talk to people and finish your tasks is entertaining enough as is, and with a game as stunningly detailed it makes sense that the gameplay loop is to simple *live* and soak in the environments.

To create the visuals of the game, developer Slow Bros painstakingly hand made every single character as a puppet, plenty of environment as real, physical dioramas, and scanned them to render as a video game. It is evident in the way that the numerous cloth, wood, and metal textures have a certain crisp look to them. The animation style is also deliberately made to look like stop-motion. Just on the basis of its art style and visuals, this game is wonderful and worth playing. The unique visuals remind me a bit of games like Mundaun and Saturnalia (which mix handmade paper sketch textures scanned and rendered in 3D.) However, no studio before has decided to do what Slow Bros did to this scale. Just for reference, the game took over 10 years to finish.

The use of music in Harold Halibut is very subtle. Instrumental songs appear for important cutscenes, and are used very deliberately. However, environmental sound effects are what’s most prominent in the game, and they’re used in interesting ways. The buzzing sound of lights, automatic doors opening and closing, water bubbles, along with the sound of steps are what you’ll be hearing most. You can also hear string instruments playing elongated notes in the background, creating the sensation of being surrounded on all sides. Like being underwater.

Harold Halibut looks beautiful on the outside, and it is even more beautiful once you dive into it. The visuals are an undeniable technical achievement. Its gameplay is undemanding, making the game accessible for many people, even those who are not familiar with the medium of video games. The story and narrative are easy to follow, and depict a modern fable about finding your own home, connecting with others, sharing your perspective, and finding what you want from life.

Harold Halibut will come out on April 16, 2024 for the PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, and PC via Steam, as well as Xbox Game Pass.

10
Harold Halibut

Harold Halibut is a handmade narrative game about friendship and life on a city-sized spaceship submerged in an alien ocean. Join Harold as he explores a vibrant retro-future world in his quest to find the true meaning of ‘home’. PC version reviewed. Review copy provided by company for testing purposes.

Harold Halibut uses a unique and stunning art style to deliver a story about the importance of making connections and finding your "home."

Food For Thought
  • I recommend doing the postman side task as soon as you get the chance. You won’t regret it.
  • The game features a very useful chapter system, although it is labeled as “Load” in the settings menu.
  • I understand that professor Mareaux is trying to show some tough love to Harold, but she can be so mean to him!

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Author
Daniel Bueno
Daniel is a staff writer and translator from the Spaghetti Western land of Andalusia, Spain. He got his start writing for Xbox Outsider in 2022. His favorite genres are RPGs, survival horrors, and immersive sims. In truth, he is a Dragon Quest slime in a human suit.