Hello Neighbor is a cartoony horror game with some stealth elements attached to it. This is an unusual combination for a horror game, but that’s the experience that developer Dynamic Pixels aimed to provide players. While there are moments of intrigue and tense moments, the novelty starts to wear off fairly quickly.
The premise of Hello Neighbor is simple. You play as a kid who lives across the street from a creepy, and very secretive neighbor. One night, you hear screams of agony coming from the house and go to investigate. You noticed that the neighbor locked the basement door, leading into your mission to infiltrate the house and find out what he’s hiding. While not necessarily booming with plot details, Hello Neighbor does a great job of keeping the player interested in finding out what he’s hiding.
The weird thing is that a lot of cool story elements happen after getting captured by the titular neighbor. I spent a while thinking about whether or not these scenes would have happened if I completed my goal and finished the act without getting caught. I’ll never know because I failed countless times, but this has been in the back of my mind over the past few days.
Gameplay is simple. You need to try and break into the neighbor’s constantly changing house. During each act, the house becomes more complex, and requires a more elaborate strategy. The problem is that each act is more complicated than the one before. During the first act, the house was basic. There were a couple of rooms, a few hidden levers, and the items I needed were easy to find. Getting into the second act provided an overwhelming experience that sucked all the fun out of the game almost immediately. You run with the left trigger, pick up items with the right bumper, use items with the left bumper, crouch with the right stick, jump with A, throw items with the right trigger, and scroll through your inventory with the directional pad.
Dynamic Pixels doesn’t give the player any indication regarding how to go about your task. Approaching the second house left me scratching my head. It’s all one giant puzzle with farfetched solutions. Knowing when to continuously carry an item around or when to drop it is a matter of trial and error. The neighbor constantly moves around, making navigation very stressful. I became lost, and I dropped key items countless times. I yelled at one point, because I walked in circles for 45 minutes without any clue on what to do. Puzzles aren’t difficult; they just make no sense at all. There isn’t any sense of satisfaction when progressing in the game. Nothing feels rewarding. Hello Neighbor is a game that thinks it’s smarter than it actually is.
I say that because the neighbor learns from the actions you’ve previously done. In the third act, I was trying to get into the right side of the house so I could go upstairs. My strategy was to break the left window, lure the neighbor in that direction, and then run through the house to get to my destination. After getting captured by the neighbor multiple times, I noticed that he boarded up the window I used to get his attention. Because of this, I couldn’t adopt the same technique I was using over the past few attempts. In that aspect, Hello Neighbor succeeds in letting you know when something isn’t working.
Unfortunately, the neighbor himself is a bit of a mess. From a technical standpoint, the biggest mechanic in the game doesn’t work. The neighbor is fast, relentless, and often feels unfair because he can run, and jump to great heights to capture you. At one point, he jumped up to a balcony from the ground floor and caught me. Other moments, I would be hiding in a closet, but he would always know I was there, even when the neighbor didn’t even know I entered the house. It’s easy to identify when the neighbor is nearby because the music turns tense. It’s unfortunate to be captured when you enter a closet, the music doesn’t change, and he still knows where you are. There are too many “deaths” that feel really cheap.
The audio and visual aspects might are the best parts of the game. Although there were occasional visual glitches (especially when it turns from night to day), the art style is appealing to look at. The audio is pleasing to hear, and the tension is escalated when the music ramps up as the neighbor is stalking you.
There are a few bugs that hindered my experience, so much, that I needed to restart the entire game twice. One time, I was even in the final act. The first instance happened early on in a basement section. The neighbor caught me and then I was sent back to a checkpoint. He glitched near the windows I needed to jump through and would instantly catch me. He would not move unless I exited the window. This ended up in death every single time I respawned. The second glitch happened in the third act. This problem occurred when I was on a monorail type device. The game glitched, I ended up above the vehicle, and the items in my inventory ended up becoming stuck to the wall. They were there permanently, and the game autosaved. I couldn’t get these items back and was forced to start the story all over again.
Hello Neighbor is a game that I was very excited to play after years of hearing about it. The game features horror and stealth, two of my favorite things in video games. Unfortunately, a fantastic concept doesn’t make for a good game. Not only is the overall experience disappointing, the countless bugs, trial and error gameplay, inconsistent AI, and confusing mission objectives make Hello Neighbor more of a chore than a fun game. The main character may want to know what’s in the basement, but do yourself a favor, and stay in your house. This infiltration mission just isn’t worth it.
*Disclaimer: A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.*