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Harold Halibut is a bit like visiting an aquarium for the umpteenth time โ€” yes, it’s visually interesting, offering a glimpse into a submerged alien world, but once the initial intrigue is gone, you’re essentially on a long, and quite dull, walk. This narrative-focused sci-fi adventure starts off with a promising premise and enchanting art style, but it doesn’t take long before the facade falls to reveal what is ultimately a protracted and shallow game.

It probably doesn’t help that the titular character seems fed up from the off. Having spent his whole life aboard the Fedora, a ship that’s been stuck at the bottom of an unknown planet’s ocean for 50 years, we’re not really surprised by Harold’s vacant stare and reserved personality. It’s a great concept to kick things off, though โ€” generations of humans far removed from life on Earth, who only know the metal corridors of a colonial spacecraft. While life trapped in an alien sea has become the norm, however, the ship’s top minds are hard at work to get the Fedora flying again, and back to finding a new home for humanity.

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Until then, though, the game has you navigating Harold around the accessible areas of the ship and chatting with other inhabitants. To start with, the game’s aesthetic is enough to carry you along; everything you see was made by hand, then scanned into the digital realm. The result is a game with the look of a claymation film (though not animated like one), and it’s very effective. Each environment is fun to discover because of all the meticulously made props.

For as good as the game looks, though, there’s very little to actually do in it. The overwhelming majority of what you do is walk from one cutscene to the next, opening your PDA every so often to check objectives. Harold’s not in a rush, either, moving at a snail’s pace even if you hold down the run button the whole time. Again, discovering all the locations is initially interesting, whether it’s the colourful Agora Arcades or the Social District’s small residential spaces. The trouble is that nowhere you go offers much meaningful activity, leaving the game to lean almost entirely on its story and characters.

That’s not to say there’s nothing outside of conversations to change things up, but these moments are fleeting and scarce. You’ll clean some graffiti once or twice; you’ll unscrew some panels on a 3D printer; you’ll try out the universe’s shortest indoor ski slope; and there are, occasionally, dialogue choices. It all adds a touch of flavour, but there’s nothing here that really fires the imagination.

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It all comes down to the narrative, then, and unfortunately it doesn’t quite live up to its potential. Chatting to the ensemble cast is nearly all you do, and while there are some interesting personalities to meet, like Buddy the cheerful postman, and Harold’s old flame Sunny, dialogue is often longer and more complicated than it needs to be. There’s a certain offbeat charm to the script that shines through on occasion, but the writing regularly veers off the mark. Quite a few story beats are left to hang, or left us scratching our head.

Things do pick up a bit as you get further in, though. There are optional side objectives to complete if you want to get to know some characters a little better, and once Harold meets an alien friend, the main story starts to take some more interesting turns. Clocking in at roughly 12-14 hours, Harold Halibut’s best moments are definitely in its latter half โ€” it’ll depend on you whether or not all that flavourless walking about is worth it to see them.

This has the energy of a quirky indie movie that’s been stretched into a game six times the length. We really do love the visual style and the world developer Slow Bros. has built, and there are some bright moments dotted throughout. However, traipsing about the same environments bouncing between cutscenes doesn’t make for particularly compelling play. Some will vibe with what’s being presented here, but for us it doesn’t really come together.

Conclusion

We really wanted to love Harold Halibut, and there are some redeeming qualities. Its wonderful aesthetic is unique and detailed, it has a great sci-fi hook, and there are some good moments throughout the story. Unfortunately, these aspects depreciate due to a prolonged runtime, most of which is filled with slow, repetitive treks from one scene to the next. The narrative is left to hold everything together, but it sadly doesn’t quite stick the landing thanks to pacing issues and some iffy writing. This is one fish you might want to let get away.

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