At some point, you’ve always wondered what your neighbour is up to. This social pondering has been explored in classics like Rear View Window and have come alive in many a childhood. After all, especially when you’re a kid, some things just don’t add up and your mind wanders in all kinds of directions. What possible horrors could be lurking in that mysterious land just across the street? If Hello Neighbor has proven anything, it’s that such questions are better left unanswered. Even though the concept had legs as an unorthodox stealth title, Hello Neighbor offers a buggy and horribly designed experience. Even if it were still in Early Access, it would be in the bottom-most rung.
“The premise itself sounds simple enough but the game’s bugs and overall lack of polish hit you immediately.”
The high-stakes adventure revolves around sneaking into your neighbour’s house and seeing what he’s up to. Obviously it’s not that simple but that’s the basic premise that most will be entering the game for. This quest is divided into three acts where the house layouts become more complex. The game’s aesthetic looks appealing enough – the mix of cartoonish colours with an unsettling atmosphere convey the sense of grim mystery well enough. However, there’s a lack of polish in the animations. Maybe it’s just that they’re so bare-bones as to rob the game of any personality that its visuals may have offered. Either/or, in this case.
The premise itself sounds simple enough but the game’s bugs and overall lack of polish hit you immediately. Clipping issues, the neighbour’s AI, objects suddenly vanishing, the list goes on. Hello Neighbor‘s biggest fault is that its introductory gameplay hook, the neighbour himself, isn’t even consistent. Sometimes you’ll be completely undetected despite being mere inches away. Other times he’ll spot you at random. It’s wildly unfair at times but it’s also extremely random. Who knows what’s going to happen next?
Then again, it would be wildly unfair if there was some consequence to being caught. You simply start the area again with all the items you previously picked up. This doesn’t rob the game of its stealth approach but it does erase any sense of urgency that each playthrough has. With how randomly the neighbour behaves, setting up traps in places that you may visit, there’s simply no real consequence to losing.
“Yes, it’s that kind of puzzler, meant for old-school adventure fans who weren’t sufficiently tortured by the classics.”
When you strip away any consequence of being caught, there’s not much incentive to stealth, much less being moderately sneaky. When you fail to define the right conditions under which an enemy can detect the player, it’s all just one big toss-up. The Xenomorph in Alien Isolation made for great gameplay because of its intelligence and unstoppable nature, which mixed well with that game’s tense exploration and mood. Also, it’s AI incentivized you to stay one step ahead and react intuitively. By comparison, Hello Neighbor‘s titular antagonist is just a random reset button that’s meant to slow down your progress and little else.
“Losing progress” is still meant to be a big deal in Hello Neighbor because of its puzzles. However, for a game that seems so free-form, there’s only one straightforward solution in every case. That wouldn’t be such a big deal if the puzzles weren’t the kinds of obscure, cryptic horrors that want you to think outside the box, then light the box on fire and dance around the ashes wearing a wolf’s head. There’s a point where you have to hit a few levers on some pipes but the game hasn’t led you to that conclusion. You might have to pick up a toy truck and then jump on a train on the side of a building to reach a certain convoluted spot.
In fact, you’re not really led towards any kind of solution. It’s one thing to drop a player into a world and have them figure everything out. It’s quite another to create a world that’s so obtuse that the only real way to progress is by looking up solutions online. Yes, it’s that kind of puzzler, meant for old-school adventure fans who weren’t sufficiently tortured by the classics.
“Hello Neighbor started out as something nifty – an adaptive AI presented in the guise of childhood nostalgia.”
There are also instances where Hello Neighbor is really interested in platforming. This manifests strongly from Act 2 onwards (get ready for some hardcore box stacking) and while the surrealistic turn was pretty neat, especially as the game’s aesthetics shine all the more, it isn’t magically fun. The controls hurt the experience a lot with their general clunkiness. Get used to it though because they can’t be customized in any way.
To top it off, all that allure of being the naive kid investigating his neighbour’s house because he might be up to no good? There’s no pay-off as such. You grow up. You discover some stuff. It gets weird. Move on with life. Why the sudden shift in approach? Why all of this hallucinatory material that makes me feel like I’m still stuck in the latter half of Outlast 2? Maybe I just don’t get it but the experience as a whole is too frustrating, buggy and unsatisfying to make it half a brain cell.
Hello Neighbor started out as something nifty – an adaptive AI presented in the guise of childhood nostalgia. It could have been a simple albeit slightly imperfect experience with great aesthetics. Instead, we have this middling title that tries to be so many things, fails miserably and isn’t even bug-free despite it all. I doubt the core concept can be extracted and the entire game changed to fit it but anything would be better than this mess.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox One.