What is the main objective of a horror game? To scare the player and make them feel alone? To tell a story? To make them feel paranoid? Horror games like Amnesia and Detention rely on atmospheric tension and world building to facilitate their frights, whereas games like Resident Evil 4 and 7 rely on their gameplay mechanics to create stressful situations. In this case, each design philosophy has its own merits and can successfully create a haunting experience. Hollow on Nintendo Switch takes cues from both of these game development strategies, and while it’s clear to see what the overall vision was, it fails as both a horror experience and a video game.
Hollow follows a relatively simple plot involving the main character being sent to a seemingly abandoned space station with no obvious goal in mind. It’s later revealed that he’s looking for his (ex?) wife somewhere on the space station, and must turn on all four power stations in order to do so. A third character communicates with him through a series of notes and messages left around the station, and while it’s a premise that many other games in the genre have used, it simply doesn’t work well here. The notes quickly begin to feel pointless and the story isn’t engrossing in the slightest. It doesn’t help that the notes often contain misspellings and odd sentence structure.
The gameplay itself is Hollow’s biggest blunder. It plays out like a first-person shooter, except everything and everyone is covered in molasses. The walking speed, running speed, turning speed, enemy movement speed, etc. all feel unbearably slow and awkward. Even the melee attack is so slow that enemies that fall into range normally still get a hit in before falling to the ground. Aiming and shooting at your enemies is almost impossible because of how stiff the camera controls are, and running is normally not the best option considering it’s nothing more than a hobbled walk. Every enemy encounter feels more like a chore than an exciting experience because of this.
The only thing frightening about the enemies themselves is how monotonous they are to kill. There are two main enemies in the entirety of the game; one slowly runs at you while an annoying sound effect plays on repeat, and another attempts to shoot slow moving balls at you that completely stop moving as soon as they hit the ground. Neither of them are scary in the slightest, and the game often throws groups of them at you to just mindlessly mow down in a hallway.
There are also only two kinds of guns featured in Hollow; a blaster that fires like a handgun and a semi-automatic ray gun. They feel identical, save for the fact that one has a bigger clip. It’s next to impossible to line up a proper shot with either of them, especially considering headshots are the most efficient way to dispatch the enemies.
The game is mostly non-linear, requiring the player to open up new doors by finding passcodes and backtracking at times. The D-pad brings up the map in real time which displays all of the collectibles and doors in each room. Sometimes it can be helpful, other times it will show the character outside of its boundaries. It’s difficult to figure out exactly what’s going on or where to go at times, which becomes even more frustrating due to the main character’s movement speed.
Hollow also suffers from some major performance issues when multiple enemies are on screen at once. There were two instances in which the framerate dropped to around 10 FPS, maybe even less. Some areas just become unplayable with enough enemies, however, it doesn’t pervade the entire experience. It’s also difficult to play this game for extended periods of time, as the motion blur and lens filters can make it hard to see what’s going on. Players that are sensitive to motion may have a hard time with Hollow, as it’s fairly easy to become nauseous while playing.
Even the sound design is just unbearable, as the music just repeats on a loud loop whenever you encounter an enemy. Luckily, you can turn the music off completely, which is highly recommended. Instead of making the player feels nervous, it frustrates them further. The music and the sound effects form a mishmash of auditory confusion that will undoubtedly make gamers rush to grab some earplugs.
Unfortunately, there really isn’t any kind of gamer that Hollow would be a recommendation for. It fails in all attempts at being a horror title while also being one of the most frustrating experiences on Nintendo Switch. The gameplay simply becomes agonizing after the first enemy appears, and running throughout the map is as painfully slow as it confusing. The game just doesn’t feel finished at times, with plenty of bugs pervading the experience from start to finish. Hopefully, these issues can be addressed in the sequel (yes, there’s a sequel in development) because Hollow is an impossible recommendation in its current state.