“Alright guys, I have the perfect pitch for a video game! Ok, so you start out as a kid playing ball on the street, minding your own business, in a quiet suburban neighborhood. Everything seems normal until you hear screams coming from one of the neighbor’s home. You see the neighbor commencing in some very questionable acts, but your curiosity grows, and you have a burning passion to find out what is going on behind those closed doors! Your objective is to break into the creepy neighbor’s home without him catching you and find out what his true intentions are.” This must have been the pitch to tinyBuild’s recently released horror/puzzle game, Hello Neighbor. I mean this in the best conceivable way, this honestly sounds awesome. This is something that you don’t see explored much in modern gaming (or ever) and I was very curious to see how well this formula worked. It’s unfortunate to see a game with such potential boil down to a mere misfire, due to some bad technical issues and repetitively frustrating gameplay. Lets dive deeper into what makes this game tick.
Hello Neighbor is a hide and seek/puzzle game at heart. You play as a young boy throughout most of the game and your only objective is to be a nosy little kid. Honestly, there are no mission objectives, no said tasks, and no hints. The game throws you in the middle of the scenario and everything else is learned on the fly through trial and error. Personally, I enjoy games like this if it is executed well. Games like Hitman, give you a very basic tutorial but then throws you into the world with very little hand holding. The game allows you to learn from your previous mistakes, but in a fun and rewarding way.
Unfortunately, Hello Neighbor seems to do the opposite. Without any guide or idea as to what you should be doing, every time you fail you restart back at the very beginning of the level with all progress lost and the neighbors AI twice as hard. You see, one of the key features of the game is that the neighbor has adaptable AI in which every time he catches you, he learns which pathways you take often and begins to trap those areas. At first it seems like a cool feature, like you can only outsmart the AI if you really put forth a worthy plan and strategy. Soon, you realize that the AI doesn’t actually become harder, only more aware of you and the patterns you take.
The neighbor AI is extremely in tune with his senses. I was caught VERY often at times when I felt I shouldn’t have been spotted. Either I was very far away from the AI or he was looking in a completely different direction. The sense of adventure and curiosity of exploring the house soon dwindled and was replaced with constant frustration. If you manage to figure out the mandatory puzzle sections of the game, which seem very random and immensely ambiguous at times, you will advance further into the house and unravel more of the story throughout the game. It’s extremely frustrating to work on a hard puzzle in the home and constantly getting caught by the neighbor and having to restart all over again. At this point, the gameplay no longer becomes trial and error, but more like speedrun challenge with a bit of luck thrown in.
GRAPHICS AND SOUND
One thing that Hello Neighbor delivers is atmosphere and tone. There are many sections in the house that seem like its pulled straight out of a Pixar or DreamWorks animated film. The bright areas are beautiful, and the creepy low-lit areas are incredibly horrifying. When it came to the gameplay, I enjoyed the exploration aspect the most. Seeing everything the house had to offer and not knowing what to expect, was a thrill in of itself. One minute you’ll be in a child’s bedroom with toys littered across the floor and a doll house in the corner, and the next minute you’re in a flooded attic with a robotic shark. Hello Neighbor never gives you a mundane environment and always delivers on the unexpected.
WHAT COULD BE BETTER
As I mentioned earlier, there were some technical issues with the game. I managed to glitch outside the map a few times and essentially couldn’t get passed a puzzle because the key I needed was lodged into the wall somehow. These types of bugs are acceptable if the game wasn’t so punishing on failure. The simplest mistake will cost you a heap of frustration and backtracking, which is not a good time. Even when lowering the AI level to an easier “difficulty” in the settings didn’t help with me constantly getting caught throughout the entire game. I hope that the devs update the game to fix some of these issues and make it more enjoyable and less of a rage fest.
Hello Neighbor delivers a truly atmospheric horror/puzzle adventure but misses its overall goal. While the game looks stunning and intriguing, it desperately needs an overhaul with the neighbor’s chase AI in order to be less about outrunning the neighbor and more about outsmarting him. I believe this is what Dynamic Pixels was going for but unfortunately misses the mark.