Harold Halibut Review

Harold Halibut header

There’s a view amongst some psychologists that boredom is a vital part of a person’s mental wellbeing. Take psychologists James Danckert and John D Eastwood, who in an article in the Guardian propose that “boredom can steer us towards realising our potential and living full, meaningful lives.” Indeed, the suggestion is that, in our tech-soaked culture, we don’t spend enough time being bored. Danckert and Eastwood believe that “boredom has been the push for much creativity, innovation, and growth” in human society. For anyone looking to improve themselves via the benefits of boredom then, I have the ideal solution: play through Harold Halibut. As good as it looks, it is sadly one of the dullest video games I’ve ever experienced.

Harold Halibut is a visual triumph, that much is certain. Each character and environment has been painstakingly built through traditional model making and sculpting techniques. As such, the stop-motion style of the graphics and animation have a very tactile analogue quality.  When playing the game, you’ll even see a sculptor’s thumb-print embedded in a metal bulkhead, or spot a finger-nail mark upon the cheek of an inhabitant of the underwater space-ship FEDORA. Visually, Harold Halibut gleams with all the eclectic charm of Wallace and Gromit or Chicken Run. Developers Slow Bros certainly lean into this influence, with a selection of eccentric characters who stand out with their bizarre behaviour.

So far, so good, but once you start to play the game instead of watching it like a cartoon, it stutters as an experience. Ostensibly a narrative adventure, Harold Halibut would be best described as a fetch-quest-athon. You play as handyman Harold, tasked with doing all the jobs that no one else wants to do.

Every task you undertake, no matter how initially interesting, results in walking back and forth repeatedly through the unending corridors of the FEDORA. Entire quests often amount to little more than enabling two characters to have a long-distance conversation. Quite why this futuristic space-faring civilization hasn’t invented some kind of phones (stationary or mobile) yet is beyond me. Though, if text messaging was a thing, then your protagonist would have little to do. Occasionally, there’s some interaction in the form of a mini-game, but somehow these manage to be even more boring than all the trudging around; undoing a multitude of screws from a control panel by simply clicking on them isn’t anyone’s idea of a good time.

Other than that, your interaction is limited to choosing some dialogue options. Though, bafflingly, what you choose to say bears little to no resemblance to what Harold actually says. This begs the question as to why you bothered in the first place. The result is a disconnect between player and protagonist. You are meant to be Harold but it never feels like you inhabit the role, simply observing whilst your avatar does his own thing.

More irritatingly, Harold steers like a human-sized bar of soap attempting to ice-skate on a tar pit. You have to be stood on just the right point to chat to someone or interact with something, resulting in much repositioning of Harold as he overshoots his destination and clangs into bulkheads. Hilariously, the game struggles to steer Harold too. Finally, get him into the right position to chat with a character, and Harold will then be automatically repositioned yet again so he can be in the right place for a cut scene.

All this would be bearable if the narrative thrust of the adventure were to prove interesting. Unfortunately, the whimsical pacing of the game is ridiculously slow and padded out. After an hour of play – which felt like two – I was unnerved to discover that nothing of note had happened. Whilst there are some interesting narrative beats later in the game, they are more submerged by pointless fluff than the FEDORA is by water.

Harold Halibut looks great, like one of Aardman’s finest, only as a video game. Unfortunately, it’s the game part that underwhelms, offering a distinctly tedious narrative adventure that is a chore to play.
  • Lovely stop-motion visuals
  • Eccentric characters to meet
  • Plodding plot
  • Far too much fetching
  • Dialogue choices are meaningless
  • Despite not having to do much, Harold is still a pain to control