Harold Halibut review – sub-aquatic sci-fi adventure is a little too prog-rock

What if a game was intentionally quite boring? This feels like the premise with Harold Halibut, and at first it’s kind of brilliant. You take on the role of the eponymous janitor here, a kind of lab-assistant-slash-gofer and general multipurpose dogsbody aboard the Fedora. A crashed colony spaceship that set off from Earth some time in the late 70s or early 80s, the Fedora has now been stuck, for about 60 years, deep beneath the ocean on a predominantly liquid planet, becoming a kind of self-contained commune that only partially longs for home.

It’s a wonderful setup, enabling debut developer Slow Bros to do some of its best work. The Fedora is an extraordinarily realised piece of human craft, with the game built of hand-made, intricately worn and weathered models and sets that have been digitised for animation. Combined with the choice of era you get this kind of Aardman-style visual effect and a deeply retro-Brit kind of humour, centred on bureaucratic Post Office procedures and varying forms of jobsworth. The ship itself, for instance – green-hued, sub-aquatic and slightly industrial, like a miniature village built inside a spirit level – has been subsumed by the unremarkable small-town corporation All Water, with little CRT tellies around the place intermittently buzzed with corporate infomercials and announcements.

During these – and similar opportunities for squiggly-lined, wobbly-audioed video feeds or moments of rickety old-school lab computing – Harold Halibut is probably at its best. Animations, decorations and nice little buttons, even in deeply rudimentary puzzles, are completely enchanting. The humour, when it lands, zeros in on a niche but ever-present part of the collective British psyche, the selfishly entrepreneurial mindset of a very specific kind of small-minded, curtain-twitching, 80s-era middle class. Unfortunately, those moments are quite rare, and the better parts of the rest of the game are weakened by how relentlessly, brutally, interminably slow things are to move forward.

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