Now starved of most of its natural resources, Earth depends on the Shakhter-One mining vessel to scour the atmosphere of Jupiter. As one of the vessel’s transport pilots, you land aboard the Shakter-One and find that things have gone as far south as humanly possible. All four of its reactors have been shut down, the crew is either dead or missing, and something seems oddly familiar about the mysterious man providing clues at each terminal.
Oh, and there are space demons that want to gnaw on your face meats.
Hollow is a first-person horror game that feels inspired by the likes of BioShock and Dead Space, both in terms of atmosphere and narrative. Similar to Dead Space, the pilot is drawn to the Shakter-One in search of his missing girlfriend and discovers a weird space cult somehow plays into things.
The story is quite intriguing, as more and more clues are revealed in found documentation scattered throughout the Shakhter-One. From the jump, the player character’s inner monologue leads you to believe they’re teetering on the edge of sanity and feel as if they’ve done this all before.
This led the narrative to feel a tad predictable, but discovering the origin of the chaos and the history of the pilot was far from dull. I wish it had gone more into the cult aspect, which is largely left to brief audio quips that play out on hidden walkie-talkies and otherwise left a mystery.
I very much enjoyed Hollow’s narrative, which worked well in tandem with its quality voice-overs and gritty, sci-fi atmosphere. The game was crafted by the small team at MMEU and I appreciate the way in which they elevated the Shakhter-One’s atmosphere by hiding its visual shortcomings with a retro VHS-esque film grain effect. It reminded me of Silent Hill’s use of fog, which was quite clever back in 1999.
Hollow has this intense darkness about it and uses dynamic lighting and this distinguishable film grain effect to hide the fact that many of its assets are reused (nor do they have the highest resolution). The pilot’s view also gets distorted by a heavier layer of static whenever they begin to panic; typically by discovering the mauled corpses of fellow crewmembers, blood-caked occult relics, and other equally unsettling things. I understand film grain isn’t going to please everyone in 2018, but I found it pretty endearing.
However, while Hollow connected just fine with its narrative and atmospheric delivery, it’s kind of a technical mess as an actual video game.
For starters, the game is borderline unplayable on the Switch while in handheld mode. Throughout the game, the pilot seemingly blacks out and wakes up in a nightmarish version of the Shakhter-One. As soon as the screen dims, a slew of monsters ambushes the player and the framerate just collapses. I couldn’t aim in time to avoid death and firing off rounds just exacerbated things. It doesn’t help that the combat leaves much to be desired on its own.
There’s no iron sight aiming, which is a non-issue, but the reticle has an odd soup-bowl shape that makes landing precise shots a bit of a nuisance. The monsters are absolute bullet sponges as well, but they can be dispatched immediately with headshots — I got the impression that this is how the game wanted me to kill everything since ammo was sparse, but between the questionably shaped aiming reticle and jerky monster animations, landing a headshot was mostly a crapshoot. Should any of the monsters get within melee range, you can kick them away using the R button, but this proved unreliable as well.
Handheld performance and lackluster combat provide the lion’s share of my concerns, but Hollow has a few more questionable design choices that make it tough to recommend to non-horror diehards. If you’re a game developer reading this, I can’t stress how important quality-of-life is when it comes to player enjoyment.
The bulk of the story comes by way of the aforementioned documentation found scattered around the Shakhter-One so you can imagine that missing out on them is kind of a bummer. Navigating back to earlier areas is a bit of a hassle, though, since the in-game map system is just awful. There’s no traditional 2D map, but rather a 3D map that overlaps the game screen when toggled using the d-pad. The map is zoomed in so close that it felt useless and cumbersome.
With ammo and health restoratives being in short supply (especially healing items, of which I found none during the entire second half of the game and had to complete it with a sliver of health remaining — though, I’ll admit it was enjoyably intense!) I found myself wanting to revert to an earlier save in hopes of conserving these precious resources, but there’s only one save slot available. Dying in Hollow also reverts back to the game’s start menu, rather than offering a quick “reload” option.
The most immediate issue I discovered was how poorly translated the game’s text was. To my knowledge, the small development team comes by way of Poland, so if that’s true then kudos to them for still managing to write an intriguing story in English. However, many of the notes were littered with typos, spelling errors, and formatting issues that could have been corrected prior to the Switch version’s launch, given that the PC version released last November.
However, for all of its technical hiccups and questionable decisions that made their way into the finished product, I don’t dislike Hollow. Something about it compelled me to keep playing — it’s just hard to recommend.
I thought the narrative was pretty well-written, the voice-over work was solid, and the sound design, film grain effect, and lighting were highly atmospheric. There are some solid puzzles as well. This is a brief two-hour horror game that just felt way too ambitious for the development team or what their budget allowed for. If they can either tighten the combat or remove it altogether, get their quality-of-life stuff in order, put a little more TLC into the text translation, and address the glaring performance issues, I’d love to see what the team can do in the future with the alluded sequel.
We do not use a scoring system here at Cheap Boss Attack. Hopefully, you found the above information far more informative than an arbitrary number or a sequence of shaded-in star shapes.
A copy of the game was provided for the purpose of this review.