Harold Halibut review: Where is home?

A gorgeously hand-crafted adventure about escaping mundanity by taking chances.


Sometimes you look at a game and can’t do anything but stare in awe at the genuine human craft behind it all. Harold Halibut, a game made entirely of hand-made assets and animated in stop motion style, is definitely one of those games. Ten years in the making, German studio Slow Bros. is presenting a narrative adventure game that’s complex, sincere, whimsical, and never afraid to be weird. I marathoned this 12-18 hour story in two sittings, and every moment was just as stimulating mentally as it was visually.

Walking around in circles

Harold going about his boring day to day life in Harold Halibut
Source: Slow Bros.

Harold Halibut is a simple guy, working as a lab assistant on the Fedora 1, a space ship designed to find humanity a new home during the Cold War. After 250 years in space, the ship crashed on a planet entirely underwater, forcing the crew to adapt to a permanent stay on the ship. All Water, the company that funded the ship, runs the show including a “tube” system connecting the separated compartments floating in the water. The residents of the Fedora have spent multiple generations living on the ship, and some unclear number of years adjusting to life underwater.

From the get-go, a number of key elements of this world are introduced and we spend a big chunk of the game simply watching Harold live his life while navigating the weird ways these elements intersect. He’s constantly getting roped into doing busywork for all the strange characters living on the Fedora, getting nagged by the local law enforcement over tube fares, and quietly wondering if this is all there will ever be in life. Meanwhile there are problems bubbling underneath the surface, from aging and poorly-maintained technology, rising costs and fines from All Water, and groups like the Lightkeepers starting to disrupt the regular order of things.

Like a vault story, but everyone's a lovable doofus

Harold Halibut and another character having a conversation
Source: Slow Bros.

If I had to describe the vibe here, I’d say it’s almost like a mix between Fallout and Wallace and Gromit. It’s not just the hand-crafted, stop motion style of the latter either. There’s a certain whimsical twist on mundane, relatable human drudgery woven into the retro futurist dystopia in a way that would fit right at home in that series. It has much a more ambitious narrative scope of course, and even veers into character study territory as the story zooms in closer and closer on Harold as it develops.

What’s interesting about Harold in particular is how he ends up pushed along by whatever he runs into along his path. A lot of effort is put into the game making the player feel the mundanity. There’s no fast travel or shortcuts; we simply guide Harold from place to place, always having to pause for tube trips and retracing the same steps over and over. It’s frustrating to experience from a game perspective, and twice as frustrating for Harold from a life perspective. But he isn’t a revolutionary either, and despite his boiling frustrations with life, anything that pops up to challenge the day to day is immediately scary or uncomfortable to him.

At the same time, he’s happy to agree to pretty much anything he’s asked to do by anyone, ranging from simple housekeeping tasks to things like spying on the All Water CEO and potentially uncovering some world-shattering truths hidden away behind the corporate propaganda. Harold wants more but doesn’t know what he wants, and bumbles along until he finally does find something he cares about enough to find some aggression. The story finds a massive focus on friendship and sacrifice around halfway through, and while the game never truly grapples with some of the Fallout-like corporate-run community oppression threads it starts with, the direction it ends up in with a focus on Harold’s personal growth is just as compelling.

The power of friendship, and alien bubbles

Harold and a friend overlooking a shocking new location at a key story moment in Harold Halibut
Source: Slow Bros.

Ultimately Harold Halibut is a hopeful game, even when it comes to its examination of things like capitalism and corporate competence. At the end of the day the folks on the Fedora just want to find a forever home, and even the cynical, shortsighted business-owners are trying to do the right thing. They just aren’t any good at finding the right answers without help, and it takes a while for them to realize asking for help is a good thing. Moments of sinister-feeling foreshadowing do seem to fizzle into dead ends at times, but the game takes on so much by the end and sticks the landings it does attempt so well, it’s easy to forget until after the fact. I’m being vague because of spoiler concerns of course, but if you take the time to look at some of Harold Halibut’s trailers from over the past several months you can kind of get a broad idea of what to expect.

Harold Halibut is largely a story-driven adventure, with your interactions being mostly about moving around the environment and following directions from the game on where to go next. There are moments of point and click-style adventure game mechanics that ask you to do things like operate machinery or unscrew a bunch of metal panels, but these moments aren’t puzzles by any stretch of the imagination. If you’re looking for more gameplay juice, you won’t find it here. With that in mind, this is a pretty long and slow-paced adventure, and it doesn’t do the visual novel thing of offering branching paths or multiple endings. It’s a fully authored narrative you’re meant to experience and digest over time, not something to immediately dive back into.

2024 has been a year so full of RPGs I can’t begin to imagine ever being able to finish all of them. Coming across Harold Halibut in the middle of so many massive, complicated adventures was a breath of fresh air. Just being able to slow down, soak in all the impressive minutia of a world built entirely by hand in an art studio, and wonder about what it was like to construct and digitize, felt like a release. I was able to let go a bit of having control over every piece of a game, and still have a story in front of me that was thoughtful and engaging enough to sit with me well after the credits rolled. Even the parts that felt rough around the edges were refreshing, as they enhanced the very human feelings that are so clearly front and center here. Harold Halibut is the kind of game I discovered by accident, but one I’m grateful to have come across in that way.

Harold Halibut is available on April 16, 2024 for PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X|S. A code for the PC version was provided by the publisher for this review.

Contributing Editor

Lucas plays a lot of videogames. Sometimes he enjoys one. His favorites include Dragon Quest, SaGa, and Mystery Dungeon. He's far too rattled with ADHD to care about world-building lore but will get lost for days in essays about themes and characters. Holds a journalism degree, which makes conversations about Oxford Commas awkward to say the least. Not a trophy hunter but platinumed Sifu out of sheer spite and got 100 percent in Rondo of Blood because it rules. You can find him on Twitter @HokutoNoLucas being curmudgeonly about Square Enix discourse and occasionally saying positive things about Konami.

Review for
Harold Halibut
  • Fascinating story with weird, likable characters
  • Never felt lost or unsure of what to do or where to go
  • Amazing visuals that translate hand-built models to digital assets remarkably well
  • Absurd potential for cool behind the scenes footage
  • Deliberately slow pace can get tiring after several hours
  • Doesn't conclude every thematic thread as well as the main ones
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