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Harold Halibut impressions: Claymation brings a charming city to life

Suspension of disbelief is a phrase that we hear constantly nowadays. The movie we are watching or the video game we are playing gives us a set of rules that we must accept in order to become immersed in the world it has created. Immersion is very important for media, especially video games, to make us, the players, invested in not only the world and environment but also the characters and their lives that we are about to witness. Harold Halibut accomplishes this better with slice-of-life characters and clay animation than many AAA titles that we have seen in recent years.

I got a chance to sit down with a preview of Harold Halibut for the Tribeca Film Festival. I was given over twenty minutes with the game to see some of the characters as well as the city that the game takes place in.

Circle of truth

To give a quick overview: 250 years before the game starts, a group of humans decide to leave the planet to avoid the potential devastation of the escalating Cold War. After traveling quite a distance, they arrive at what they think is a paradise planet. Unfortunately, there are no landmasses above the ocean, and the atmosphere is toxic for human lungs. So they are forced underwater and use their ship as the foundation for a new city to live in. You play as the titular Harold, a janitor in this subaquatic city, who goes around helping people with their problems and unlocking the mysteries of this planet.

A scene from the game showing two characters in a dimly lit room.

If you watch any of the trailers for Harold Halibut, I guarantee you will be instantly drawn into the game solely on the strength of the animation. This game utilizes real-life crafts to create the world and the characters in it. Every character in the game is hand-sculpted with clay and digitized for animation. The result is a stop-motion appearance but the control and spectrum of movement we expect from today’s games.

I experienced some of the gameplay that Harold Halibut entails, and it felt like an old-school point-and-click adventure game in many ways. You walk around the underwater city and talk with the residents, who give you tasks to perform. For instance, you might have to help a scientist out with a 3D printer that is on the fritz or help settle a dispute with a young child being chastised by an authority figure. The gameplay preview did not tease any of the underlying mysteries that are in the game; it just showed me what life is like in the city.

Honestly, it was all that I needed to become fully invested in this underwater world.

The titular Harold and another character from the game sit side by side.

Suspension of disbelief is really a conversation we have with the media we consume. Usually, there is the ask, the pledge, and the circle of truth. So a game might ask you to believe in a world filled with giant robots that act like animals that you can hunt. It then pledges that the high-fidelity graphics and intense action will make this world enticing to be in. Then finally, the circle of truth is when you, the player, enter the world and accept it for what it is.

Harold Halibut asks players to step into a world where a whole civilization lives in an underwater city and still wears ’70s-style clothing 250 years in the future. It pledges a mystery to uncover so players can enter into the circle of truth without hesitation. However in my preview, I did not see a grand mystery to uncover; I saw a mailman and a model running around the city streets because they are in a jogging club together. I listened to the general store owner as he confided in me that he is worried that his wife might be more interested in the aforementioned model than him. Each moment and interaction oozed with personality and character that I could not help but feel invested in. I didn’t need highly detailed facial expressions or photo-realistic environments. The hand-crafted characters and backgrounds were more than enough to keep me enthralled.

Harold interacts with a shop owner.

Harold Halibut is a game that is going to be on many people’s radar. With the concept of a hand-crafted world, it is hard not to pay attention to a pitch like that. However, this is only a small facet of the game. A very enticing one of course, but the characters I met and the lives I witnessed were more than enough for me to keep following this game, regardless of the mystery or animation it has.

Harold Halibut does not currently have a release date, but it’s expected to launch on PC, Nintendo Switch, PS4, and Xbox One.

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Andrew Zucosky
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