On the surface, Hello Neighbor appears to be a colourful, slightly-twisted, stealth/horror title with an emphasis on creative breaking and entering. Underneath, Hello Neighbor is a frustrating exercise in trial-and-error, a bug-laden slog, and an unfulfilling grind to try and get from A-to-B.
Indie developer Dynamic Pixels presents a horror/stealth title that ends up feeling like a 1st person 3D point and click adventure game. What I expected was to feel like a child Solid Snake; planning my infiltration of my strange and villainous neighbour’s home to uncover the dark secrets he keeps there. What I got was a confusing, clunky puzzler that, while initially tense, reduced the “horror” down to a rinse-and-repeat tribulation.
The colourful street that sets the scene for Hello Neighbor is a bright and zany sight to behold, with something sinister permeating through the pixels; like a Doctor Suess book in nightmare form. The neighbour’s strangely proportioned body and thick black gloves easily mark him as a villain, and the surprising athleticism he possesses is disarming the first time you see him vault out a window and come bounding towards you.
Indeed, the first few times I heard the music ramp up, saw the screen darken and begin to shake, and turned to see Mr Neighbor barrelling towards me my heart rate surged and I froze in fear. As he leaps through a window, shattered glass can be heard and he effortlessly sails towards you. Sinister music rises and your vision blurs as he looks down upon you, his victim, and the game truly is frightening for a few seconds. Unfortunately, with no gruesome follow through or terrifying consequence for being caught, the tension and fear-inducing chases quickly boiled down to a slight annoyance as I was sent back to the start of the act to try again… and again… and again.
Mr Neighbor always seems right on top of you, a product of the game’s well-advertised AI system, which just ends up making what should be a terrifying encounter with the villain into, “oh, he got me again”. At times, I thought this was just me being bad and predictable, as the AI is said to learn your patterns and play style to combat you, but regardless of what I did, Mr Neighbor was close by; he always knew which cupboard I hid in, or what door I ran out. After awhile, it loses its scare-factor and just becomes a pain in the ass.
“…for me this completely broke the ‘tension’ and reduced the threat of the old man to that of a bulky pigeon, flapping away pathetically as I made my escape”
The game has spent a lot of time in Early Access across several alpha builds, which allows it a smidgen of grace when considering bugs and what-not. However, more than once as I ran away from Mr Neighbor, he would become stuck mid-jump over a fence, floating, while his arms still moved in a running motion. I don’t know about anyone else, but for me this completely broke the “tension” and reduced the threat of the old man to that of a bulky pigeon, flapping away pathetically as I made my escape. Picking up items became a gamble to whether the game would register my button inputs, with one particular box requiring me to mash RB upwards of 6 times before picking it up, and then repeating the same struggle to drop the bloody thing. As a full retail release, and after so much revision across the alpha builds, it is a little more than frustrating that these sort of issues persist.
For me, the greatest frustration comes from the complete lack of direction the game has at the start. Now, I don’t need my hand held in games, but a little guidance can go a long way. With a very poor control layout shown on the pause screen, there is little else in the way of tutorial or instruction to be found in Hello Neighbor, which in turn made the first hour or so a dull and difficult experimentation session to see what I was able to interact with, how I was able to use it, all while the seemingly omniscient neighbour interrupted me and forced me to restart my progress.
Now, I’m no stranger to puzzlers or adventure games; I grew up in the hey-day of Lucas Arts point-and-click classics like Full Throttle and Day of the Tentacle. The bizarre genre mash-up in Hello Neighbor takes some of the basic concepts of those games, puts a 1st person spin on it, adds in “horror”, but leaves out all the things that were compelling and enticing about them. The game becomes more enjoyable as you uncover more about the house and the neighbour, but is it worth the headache to get there? I don’t think so. All I can say is thank the lord for the Steam community and Early Access, for without their guidance I may have never made it off the front lawn.
The Bottom Line
I don’t enjoy writing unfavourable reviews, but Hello Neighbor falls short on just about every front. Even after several bouts of alpha testing and Early Access the game fails to impress and is riddled with bugs that break the tension – and isn’t that what “horror” games are all about? There is a compelling game somewhere in Hello Neighbor, I just don’t think it is worth the struggle to find it.