STAFF REVIEW of Hello Neighbor (Xbox One)

Wednesday, January 24, 2018.
by Adam Dileva

Hello Neighbor Box art We’ve all had that neighbor at some point in our lives. You know, the weirdo that you wonder why they always have their their doors locked, windows closed and the drapes drawn, year round. What if you were a brave enough kid to sneak into their house and investigate the going-ons for yourself, only to find doors with multiple locks, further heightening your curiosity. That’s the premise of Hello Neighbor, though he won’t simply let you wonder around his house, so you better not get caught...or else.

My 5-year old actually knew about the game before I did, from the YouTube videos she watches, since then it seemed interesting. When I first saw Hello Neighbor myself, I was quite intrigued, as I can’t really think of a game with the same premise. Kids are curious creatures, and I know I always imaged what the inside of people’s houses looked like when I was growing up, so getting to act that out seemed like an interesting premise. Ideas are only half the equation though, and while it’s an intriguing backdrop, the execution is something completely different.

The core premise of Hello Neighbor is that you witness your next door neighbor seemingly grab someone and lock them in a closet from afar. You not quite sure if that’s what you actually saw, so being the juvenile you are, you decide to sneak into his house and investigate for yourself. That’s the hook for the most part. If I had to categorize it, I would say that this game falls into a blend of stealth, platforming, puzzle and slight horror genres.

Broken into three main acts, it’s simply you versus the AI neighbor. The game claims that the AI will learn from your actions and play style, thus making counter decisions to thwart your trespassing. But don’t let him catch you or else you’ll be subdued and locked away as well. There’s no real narrative, as there’s no dialogue, voice acting, or anything of the sort, it’s simply you with the gameplay, as you are left to determine what the meaning behind the abstract levels could symbolize, if you can even get to those points.

Developer Dynamic Pixels did a good job at creating a neighbor that appears to give off a creepy vibe, with his old man sweater right down to his mustache, he fits the part perfectly for the backdrop. As above, not only is there no real story in a traditional sense, but there’s no tutorial, map, arrows, or nothing at all to help guide you in your mission to quell your curiosity without getting caught. It’s a shame though, as the only real help your given is the control mapping on the pause screen. Aside from that you’re on your own to figure out not only how to do things, but why and where.

It’s odd though, as a game about trying to sneak into some creep’s house, there’s no real sneaking involved. Sure, there’s a button to crouch, and I assume make less noise, but you won’t make it far if you don’t constantly run from place to place inside the home. It seems the AI does get a little smarter the longer you play. He seemed to catch me in the same spots a few times when I would retry the same entry points, like a broken window or through the front door. Luckily there’s many ways to lure him where you want, like breaking a window and going the opposite way, turning off the power, etc.

Even though Hello Neighbor is broken into three Acts, I don’t think many will get past the first one. You need to find keys to unlock padlocks that restrict access to other areas of the house, and doing so is no easy feat. This isn’t because of the difficulty that’s been carefully crafted and designed, but more to do with struggling with the core gameplay mechanics when trying to do what you want, when you want.

Should you manage to struggle through the first Act, the second plays quite differently, as you'll find yourself locked in your neighbor's house and need to find an exit. I don’t want to spoil much else, as the gameplay from this point on isn’t as frustrating, but it’s a shame that you have to endure the opening bit to even try to make it here. The difficulty is a little off putting, not because I don’t like a challenge, but the unfairness and randomness is a huge burden.

You can tell when 'the neighbor' is nearby, as the visuals and audio change slightly to be more tense, but there’s no indicator of where he’s actually at in relation to you, if he’s actually seen you, or anything else to help guide you. If you’re outside the house and he’s on the other side of the wall, the game makes the same indicator as if he’s seen you and is making chase. Since the AI somewhat adapts, what worked in one attempt will be thwarted the next, so you need to constantly try new tactics.

Even if you didn’t have to constantly worry about being caught and locked up, Hello Neighbor would stay just as challenging due to the poor platforming that’s required to progress. Remember when I said Act One would probably be as far as many will make it? This is exactly why. For example, you’ll need to get on his roof, and there’s no way to do so, at least every time I’ve tried to do so, without stacking items on a bent shelf. The problem here is, even jumping to get to the top of the bent shelf is a challenge on its own with odd physics and some clipping. If you manage to get a box, or other item, to drop exactly where you want, you will need precision maneuvering, and almost an act of god, to make the jump you intend to make, though you’ll likely fall and probably get caught by the neighbor, forcing you to start all over again.

Controls aren’t any better either. Many times I had to press the interact button repeatedly for it to pick up and move an item, even though the reticule says I’m in range. Having to do this while being chased is near impossible, and that’s if you don’t happen to run into the handful of bugs I did in my playthrough. At one point I got stuck on some object I threw, tried to pick it up, only to be launched about a mile straight up in the air, falling to my death and restarting once again. Items will clip through walls and other objects, and the sound of it constantly jamming is enough to mute the game all together.

While the game is riddled with bugs, I will say that the artistic style used is quite refreshing. It has a cartoon-like stylization to it with a simplicity, though this also means it’s difficult to determine what items can be used or picked up at times without trial and error. Sure, bugs can be fixed in time with patches, and maybe a compass or map will be added, or even an indicator of where your abductor is in relation to you, but in its current state, Hello Neighbor is a nonsensical mess. Most times when I die I’m thrown back into the street to start all over, whereas other random times I’m locked in a room, having to run to the exit, then have to start over again. I just don’t get it.

If Hello Neighbor was in Game Preview, this would be a completely different conversation, as it would be in its early stages with promises of additions and fixes, but that’s not the case. Instead, you’re being asked to pay $30 for a game that not only doesn’t feel finished, and it is severely lacking not only polish, but more importantly, fun. Oddly enough, watching someone play Hello Neighbor on their stream is almost the exact opposite experience for some reason. Watching others play that know how to deal with the frustration and poor design is fascinating when you see how it’s intended to be played, rather than struggling against it.

There was a lot of hype behind Hello Neighbor, and I've even started seeing merch at stores to purchase, but at this point in time it hasn’t lived up to it yet, not even close. The ideas are there, as is the premise and backdrop, but the execution is severely lacking in the worst possible way. Sure, some fixes might make it a better experience, but there’s no way this should be a full release in its current state. With all this in mind, I say "Goodbye Neighbor".

Overall: 4.0 / 10
Gameplay: 2.0 / 10
Visuals: 6.0 / 10
Sound: 5.0 / 10


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