Hollow (Switch eShop) Review
Much like film, horror can really be a hit or miss affair. Some can also thrive on a lower budget, the constraints of which gives rise to less orthodox ideas. Hollow clearly wears its budget on its sleeve, but unfortunately is devoid of any fresh or interesting ideas. I’ll always praise it for trying to be more than just a “walking simulator” with jump scares, but ultimately it’s a game that is only just passable.
Hollow has you playing a nameless pilot who lands on a mining facility orbiting Jupiter. The facility has been seemingly abandoned or at least had most of its inhabitants wiped out by an unknown force. After wandering around by yourself for a while, you’re invited by a mystery presence to play a game of “Hollow”, which involves turning on the power on the station and finding your way off it. As you’d probably expect from a horror game like this, the heavy details aren’t thrown in your face and a lot of the storytelling is done through optional files that you’ll find strewn throughout the station.
Those new to the genre will appreciate the few twists in Holllow’s brief storyline. Others will enjoy reading the documents they find here and there, slowly unraveling the background of what exactly happened here. Those who have played heaps of horror, read heaps of horror stories or even watched heaps of horror films will probably know what to expect here. We obviously won’t spoil what goes on in Hollow here, but it’s standard fare for the genre. Still, I’ll admit I was intrigued from beginning to end as I journeyed through the station.
When Hollow was first announced I was quick to write it off as another first person “haunted house” experience. A largely passive journey that you move slowly through while scary stuff jumps out at you. Thankfully, there’s a little bit more to Hollow that meets the eye. Boiled down to it’s core fundamentals, Hollow is a first-person shooter with survival horror elements, though it misses the mark in balancing itself to provide an experience that is both terrifying and enjoyable. Instead, it feels frustrating for the most part.
One aspect that’s especially frustrating is the combat. I should clarify that I’m happy that they tried to include combat, as most horror games are happy to just keep things as simple as possible, but the combat in Hollow doesn’t feel as well thought out as it should be nor is it satisfying. Enemies barely react to attacks, sometimes you’ll blow one’s head off, but that’s really it. Ammo is scarce, lending to the idea that this is a survival horror game, but the balance just feels off. You’ll be scrounging for ammo often and there were times where I just had to restart to get myself in a better position.
Games with combat like Resident Evil or Silent Hill provide means to defend yourself when you’ve run out of ammo. Hollow has a melee kick move, but it’s so incredibly impractical that it might as well not be included. Almost every encounter I tried to escape because I had no ammo, I’d kick the enemy to the floor, they’d have risen and been chasing me by the time I’d even turned around. This raises another issue with Hollow, the movement speed is just too damn slow. I understand slowing things down to make it a little bit more atmospheric and tense, but this is borderline useless. It’s almost as if combat was added after the game was designed without it. We can’t know that for sure, but in its present state it feels unbalanced.
There is an attempt to break up the exploration and combat with some light puzzles, though these are pedestrian and can get a little bit repetitious too. They’re also frustrating too, sometimes requiring you to mindlessly wander between locations or backtrack, except that the games plodding movement speed makes it a bit of a chore. There was even a (ground-breaking *cough*) puzzle that had me having to move crates around, but it was just so clumsily designed that it was hard to muster the enthusiasm to continue playing. A good puzzle in a game usually inspires a sense of satisfaction when you work them out. In Hollow, all I felt was a mixed sense of relief and dread that another might be on the way.
This all, unfortunately, dovetails to a grim fact – Hollow just isn’t that scary. If it’s your first horror experience, maybe; but the game just lacks any impactful scares despite its age classification. Most of the violence and gore comprises almost exclusively of naked, bloodied women, which is both tacky and juvenile. I give minor props to the developers for not exclusively relying on cheap jump scares, but everything else just fails to hit the mark.
From a presentation standpoint, Hollow is inconsistent at best. The whole thing is presented through a mish-mash of filters that I can only assume are designed to both give a lo-fi, scratchy static effect that mimics the video quality of a VHS player. While this is great, and a clever way to hide the fact that the game is technically quite bare looking, it does feel like there’s a lot of crap on your screen at once. This also makes the game feel a bit claustrophobic, which helps to sell the atmosphere Hollow is going for but can make it hard to see exactly what’s going on on-screen. Even with the map, the repetition of the environments also means it can be hard to find your way too.
The sound design is probably the best thing about Hollow, though it also falls a little bit into the cliché territory from time to time. There is a constant, ambient noise that plays when you’re exploring the space station, and it really helps to set the mood and tone. Sometimes you’ll hear distant voices or a distant clanging of some malfunctioning equipment too which will always keep you on edge. The voice work, on the other hand, is dreadful. The shallow script combined with a voice actor that feels like he’s just reading his lines doesn’t exactly help matters either. Despite this, the soundtrack and ambient sound effects do a great job to set the tone.
It’s hard to deny the ambition that Hollow brings to the table, and it’s certainly carving out its own niche on the Switch too. Despite this, Hollow feels like an exercise in tedium. Some players may be able to suffer through the slow-moving yet brief story, but ultimately it’s an average experience that even genre fans will struggle to enjoy.
Rating: 2 / 5
- Great Ambient Effects
- Twisted Story
- Lacking Scares
- Poor Combat
- Unbalanced Design